Anyone who has loved an acclaimed series and fervently wished for its return, only to watch, crestfallen, when it does and is either a shadow of its former self or actively taints your original fond memories, has reason for apprehension approaching "W/Bob and David," the Netflix reboot, of sorts, of the acclaimed HBO comedy series "Mr. Show With Bob and David."
The original production — uproarious, absurd, self-reflexive, occasionally head-scratching — ran for four seasons during the '90s. The series accrued a small but devoted cult audience, which grew over the years thanks to word of mouth, YouTube, and downloading. A steady drumbeat for a reunion show has grown louder over the years as Bob Odenkirk and David Cross have gone on to even greater acclaim in other projects, including "Breaking Bad," "Better Call Saul," and "Fargo," for the former, and "Arrested Development" and "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret," for the latter.
On the occasion of the show's 20th anniversary, Odenkirk and Cross got the band back together for four half-hour episodes. They begin streaming on Netflix Friday.
While not a strict continuation of the HBO show, "W/Bob and David" is similar enough in tone that fans of the original can breathe a sigh of relief, but different enough that newcomers shouldn't feel compelled to binge on the old episodes as some kind of research to enjoy the sketches on offer.
Netflix made two episodes available for review. Both prove that the duo — and most of their orignal repertory company, including Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn, and Jay Johnston — still have a love for anarchic, Python-esque approaches to comedy, right down to the opening credits, and an affinity for bleeding one sketch into the next in ways both seamless and silly.
One episode features a long arc about a group of friends and their seemingly ridiculous New Year's resolutions, including a Jewish man who aspires to be the pope. Another features a multi-layered bit about a filmmaker who tries to create a brazenly inane piece of revisionist history in which slavery is recast as "helper-ism" and plantation owners thanked, paid, and hugged their slaves — um, "helpers" — in addition to giving them snack breaks and coupons for free hugs. And the sketch about "Shangy" the nonsense-spouting tech guru — who just keeps blurting out "Digital!" and sports a British accent even though he is from Indiana — is particularly timely.
Friends like Paget Brewster, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Keegan-Michael Key come along for the ride and eagerly get into the duo's spirit, which includes a jubilant throw-it-all-against-the-wall sensibility and balances fourth-wall-breaking laughs with pure, theatrical commitment to the moment.
While not every moment works — or even makes sense — the most vital link between old and new is Odenkirk and Cross's almost-sacred dedication to following the funny as they see it. Viewer mileage always varies the most when it comes to comedy, but dedicated "Mr. Show" fans will likely be happy to spend a little more time "W/Bob and David."
W/BOB AND DAVID
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, David Cross. On Netflix. Begins streaming Friday at 3:01 a.m.