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October 6, 2015

Short-Lived Shows: Mr. Show

by Adam Finley, posted Dec 13th 2005 6:58PM

mr. showThe idea for Short-Lived Shows came from an IM conversation Bob and I were having one day about shows which were taken away from us too soon. There's no set rule as to how long a show must be on in order to qualify as a "Short-Lived Show," but I've tried more or less to adhere to my own rule that the show shouldn't have been on more than three years. I think four or years or longer is a pretty good run for any show.


I'm going to stretch my "rule" an extra year for this installment however, because while Mr. Show did enjoy four seasons on HBO from 1995 to 1998, I believe it was snatched from the airwaves just as it was beginning to hit its stride. Besides, the first season was only four episodes long. 

David Cross and Bob Odenkirk started Mr. Show not long after writing for an even shorter-lived program, The Ben Stiller Show. Like all good comedy, it defies categorization, which is great when you're watching it, but it makes it almost impossible to write about, but what the hell, I'll try anyway. The show was not simply a disconnected collection of sketches, each with its own distinct beginning and end. Instead, the show worked as a kind of stream of consciousness experiment, seamlessly segueing from one sketch to the next, some of them done live in front of an audience, some of them pre-taped, and some of them mixing both elements together at the same time. The result was some of the most schizophrenic comedy this side of Monty Python. A quintessential Mr. Show moment came in the first season in a sketch involving the Founding Fathers trying to come up with a design for the flag. One of the Founding Fathers is Abraham Lincoln, and not just Lincoln, but Lincoln with a Brooklyn accent. This anachronism is never mentioned, because to do so would completely ruin the gag. If that sounds obvious, consider that if the same sketch were done by SNL, the whole thing would be about nothing BUT the fact that Lincoln shouldn't have been there. Mr. Show always kept things nice and surreal.

Beyond its manic weirdness, the show also worked layer upon layer into its comedy, revealing more and more with each viewing. The show tossed more at its audience in a single half hour than any normal mind could grasp, making it pretty much necessary to tape each episode in order to go back and catch all the stuff you might have missed the first (or twelfth) time you saw it. Mr. Show didn't simply parody the mainstream, instead it went straight for the zeitgeist, creating a funhouse mirror reflection of the world and taking it into some of the oddest, most bizarre corridors imaginable. Perhaps late night on HBO was the only place where such a show could thrive, even for a short time. By the third and fourth seasons the show crammed more comedy into a single half hour than SNL could ever hope to spread over an hour and a half, and it still remains one of the best, and weirdest, sketch shows ever created. Mr. Show didn't just tickle your funny bone, it got inside your head.

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Perhaps the best Mr. Show moment ever was in the first episode when, right in the middle of a sketch, David Cross broke character to rant about how HBO didn't provide them any kind of a budget and how the show was taped in a restaurant. Another great one is the sketch about the service that has models calling you at all times of the day and it turning into a horror scenario.

But then, pretty much all of my favorite things came from the first season, so the end of the fourth season might have been a the right time to end it.

Also, a couple SLS suggestions: (though one may seem a little obvious): Futurama and Beat the Geeks

January 01 2006 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how about the one with the nude male magazine with the guy that was "all taint"! now that's funny...

December 14 2005 at 12:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Suing people to see a crappy movie, they loved sticking it to authority, creating the greatest sketch comedy show ever. Not even Monty Python can hold a candle to it. and the Comedy writing sweatshop was brilliant

December 14 2005 at 9:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gordon Werner

I would have to agree ... "Welcome to Drugachusetts", "Blow Up The Moon" et al are some of the funniest segments I have seen on TV

December 13 2005 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

I am going to have to disagree with you. Mr. Show was a wonderful awsome show. But Season 1 and 2 (and only a little of 3) were any good. The rest of 3 and 4 were TERRIBLE. You could tell that they were trying really hard to find ways to connect the sketches and things just werent funny anymore. Id say this show lived on too long.

December 13 2005 at 7:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you for acknowledging Mr. Show! I only watched it in college for one season, and it was fantastic. Bob Odenkirk made the show for me, and it was, in fact, exactly what the Ben Stiller Show would have been had it been on HBO. Brian Posehn, David Cross--all three of them were on Newsradio as Dave's old friends one episode and it was like Mr. Show came back from the dead for a half-hour.

December 13 2005 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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