I've been trying to write about Mr. Show, and it's not working.
I tried a long narrative that tied a bunch of concepts together before reaching a conclusion. I tried a short, punchy summation. There was even a footnote at one point. I've been grappling with Mr. Show, and my reactions to it, since I first saw it a couple months ago. I came to that party 20 years late and with very high hopes.
Mr. Show disappointed me and pissed me off.
There probably isn't much point explaining Mr. Show if you haven't watched it yourself -- sketch comedy, 1990s HBO, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, you can use Wikipedia and Google. A lot of it is available online; this is a pretty representative sample if you're curious. It's a critical darling, a hotbed of alt-comedy, the breeding ground for many of today's influential creators.
It's kind of dumb and predictable.
Lots of things piss me off, but I have a special place in my anti-heart for smart people who choose to make stupid stuff. There's not enough smart stuff in the world as it is. Turning your back on being smart so that you can have the vile smarmy Jack Black prancing around in a sketch about someone sticking his penis in an automated milking machine? Not gonna forgive that any time soon.*
Now, most of their sketches weren't that dumb. Instead, many of them were flat -- they telegraphed punches, their humor was only going to resolve in a certain way. Some were great, thankfully; I have a particular fondness for the "Blowing Up The Moon" sketch on several levels. Mr. Show could have been an entire program of things like that. It wasn't. Was it budget? Laziness? A different view of what constitutes comedy and/or entertainment? Snakes?
Doesn't matter. The show's beloved. And it's been dead for 20 years. And I still don't like it.
The most useful observation I've come across -- the catalyst for writing this, really -- was an AV Club review by Leonard Pierce. He wrote of Mr. Show that "many of their sketch ideas were pretty fucking stupid. They were not, as a rule, telling ten-percenter jokes." That frames it up nicely. I'm a ten-percenter; I want smart stuff. There isn't enough of it in our world. I get tired of wading through the sludge to find the occasional gem. And Mr. Show occasionally sparkled. But that mostly just cast light on all their dumb stuff, and that somehow makes it all worse.
*It seems apropos here to note that I also just watched Animal House for the first time ever. Or at least I got through about 2/3 of it before just shutting it off and finding something else to do. "I was surprised you watched that at all," said my wife, who knows me well. "You don't like crude." NOBODY SHOULD LIKE CRUDE. ESPECIALLY NOT SMART PEOPLE.**
**Hey, we got a footnote after all!***
***It wasn't that Animal House was crude, anyway. It was, again, dumbness and predictability. I've already seen MASH, and the original had better acting and directing.