In 2014, a number of the writers and performers who’d worked with David Cross and Bob Odenkirk on the beloved cult favorite sketch series “Mr. Show” got an email. As Paul F. Tompkins told Indiewire earlier this year, it said (paraphrased), “Hey, we want to get together and look over some unproduced scripts and punch them up and maybe come up with some new stuff, because it’s going to be the 20th anniversary of ‘Mr. Show.’ So let’s get together and see what happens. Hopefully there’s a place that we can do this.”
Turns out, there was a place — and the time is now. “W/ Bob and David,” featuring Cross, Odenkirk and many other familiar faces, comes to us courtesy of Netflix. The four episodes which premiered this week might feel familiar to “Mr. Show” fans, but there’s a modern edge this time around.
Speaking to Indiewire just prior to the series premiere, Cross and Odenkirk revealed how they first came to collaborate with each other, how they went about acknowledging their past without letting it overwhelm the new series and “W/ Bob and David’s” epically bizarre opening sequence.
I have to say, that opening sequence is mind-blowing.
ODENKIRK: I’m so glad you like it! It’s an artist, a British graphic video artist that David told us about named Cyriak, you heard of him?
Oh yes, I’ve seen his work before, and it’s incredible.
ODENKIRK: Tell everybody, please! Really, he should get some attention for his short films and stuff.
CROSS: He’s a real soft-spoken guy who doesn’t promote himself. I had to deal with him on the phone and he was just quiet and a little nonplussed, but his work is amazing.
I definitely sense a Terry Gilliam, “Monty Python”-esque thing coming from it.
CROSS: That actually wasn’t a conscious decision. You can definitely see some influence, but it wasn’t why we sought him out. I remembered this guy and said, “Check this guy’s YouTube channel out,” and everybody loved it. We’ve only gotten nothing but positive responses out of it. He does the music, too.
ODENKIRK: He’s so shy about it. “My music isn’t very good, it’s just me,” and we’re like, “It’s so great!”
It strikes such a chord, especially in contrast to… Okay, I hate bringing up “Mr. Show,” because “W/ Bob and David” is a different thing — something you guys acknowledge right at the beginning.
ODENKIRK: I think we knew that we probably write very similar stuff because we’re still, comedically, the same guys. We still love that very silly, smart, kind of pissed-off attitude and energy, but we wanted the freedom to do different and new stuff.
Not to have to be like, “Where is this character? Where is that character?”
CROSS: I think that initial sketch, which acknowledges [“Mr. Show”], was about, “Here is this thing, we’re acknowledging it, now let’s move on and never have to bother with it again.” Not in a negative way, but in a practical way. It’s still a funny opening. It was our idea initially that that would be the opening piece, and that it was okay to address it and then all move on and enjoy this new stuff. It’s the elephant in the room if you don’t acknowledge it.
ODENKIRK: I almost didn’t want to use it. We did a version that didn’t have it in, that opening scene, but it’s so funny.
CROSS: I think it’s good because it does what we wanted it to do.
You guys have collaborated since “Mr. Show” ended…
ODENKIRK: We did some tours, and we wrote a show for HBO called “The David Situation.”
CROSS: We wrote a bunch of movie scripts.
So what makes this really special for you?
CROSS: We got to do it.
ODENKIRK: We are at home when we’re doing sketch comedy. We’re strong, we know what works, we just know it. We’ve both written so much sketch comedy, David and I. It goes back to shows like “The Diamond Club” and the whole alternative comedy scene, which at the time included Janeane Garofalo, Patton Oswalt, Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Karen Kilgariff, Jack Black, Tenacious D. We did those sketch shows and clicked, but really, I remember meeting in my apartment with David and talking about taking the idea and having it evolve and getting the links to happen, and you were like, “That’s what we did in Cross Comedy,” and that’s when I was like, “That’s what I did in college, too.”
CROSS: I saw your show because I had a set at the old Improv in Santa Monica back when it existed, and he was at the Upfront Theater, and we knew each other from Ben Stiller and were friendly.
ODENKIRK: But not too friendly.
CROSS: We had a lot of mutual friends and so forth, but that’s when it hit me. There were elements of what we did in “Mr. Show” that were in your one-man show with plants like Andy Dick in the audience. We did these things in “Cross Cut,” a sketch show I had in Boston. The sensibilities were there, the seeds were there.
ODENKIRK: Once we really started listening to each other, which took a while… I mean I really did give David shit on a number of occasions. And I really tortured him a little bit. I didn’t dislike him, I just didn’t know him!
CROSS: To be fair, I think I would have done the same thing. I can easily see myself acting the same way. I really can.
ODENKIRK: Once we really listened to each other, we clicked right away. It stayed that way and we’re just having a great time and to be on Netflix, where we have the freedom we have and we have the support we have to just do the thing we love so much.
I was fortunate to interview Paul F. Tompkins several months ago, and one of the many things we talked about was him getting the email that said, “Hey, we thought it would be fun to get the guys back together and look at scripts.”
CROSS: One of the best days of my life was that initial meeting. It was so much fun. I hadn’t laughed that hard since 9/11, really. Since 9/10, I should say.
“W/ Bob and David” Season 1 is available Friday, November 13 on Netflix.