by Naomi Odenkirk
The cult of Mr. Show remains ravenous. Five years after the HBO sketch comedy program ceased production, fans continue to trade (and sell) tapes, quote lines, imitate voices, and memorize trivia in order to initiate anyone who hasn't yet heard the gospel. For those who haven't, the first two seasons are out on DVD, and countless websites exist to archive interviews and arcana relating to the show's creators, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.
Despite its short run, Mr. Show ranks with the great modern TV sketch shows--not as great as Monty Python, but up there with Kids in the Hall, certainly, and way better than most of Saturday Night Live. Because of its short run (30 episodes), Mr. Show is fertile ground for comedy completists. I know several people who have seen every episode several times. I have seen every episode several times. If you are the kind of person who has seen every episode several times, then you're certain to appreciate What Happened?!, a gorgeously designed encyclopedia of Mr. Show written and compiled by Naomi Odenkirk.
The self-published book contains a show-by-show breakdown, including commentary from the writers and performers, and several chapters about the creation and evolution of the program out of the early-'90s good-comedy ghetto in Los Angeles (via Boston and New York), plus profiles of the collaborators and tons of candid photographs.
Unlike most publications devoted to memorializing TV shows, What Happened?! is after more than mere collector nostalgia--just as its subject was after more than most TV shows. The book's close access to the creative personnel provides genuine insights into the process of writing and performing a series founded on rigorous standards of originality and produced on an extremely tight budget for a largely indifferent network and a relatively tiny audience. Bob and David are ruthlessly critical of themselves and each other, which makes it all the more credible when they downplay their evident professional and personal pride in the cult they created. Predictably, the book is also funny throughout--laced as it is with the familiar voices of various supporting players--and like the show it commemorates, is a complete pleasure to look at. Repeatedly. SEAN NELSON