Comedy takes a couple of steps back this week with two new shows. We go back in time with Netflix's With Bob and David, an homage to HBO's '90s cult hit Mr. Show with Bob and David. Meanwhile, USA Network takes us back to the dark ages before humanity discovered laughter with Donny!, Donny Deutsch's embarrassing, humorless, sexist attempt at being funny.
Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, whose sketch series Mr. Show ran for four brilliant seasons on HBO, have reassembled most of their team for Netflix's limited series, With Bob and David. The subscription Web service will post all four half-hour episodes and a making-of special Friday morning.
The two comics, who injected the HBO show with an intelligent, surreal edge, have some serious hipster credits under their belts. Odenkirk has been brilliant, first on Breaking Bad and its spinoff, Better Call Saul, and Cross has given the world the character of Tobias Fünke in the sitcom Arrested Development.
In the opening episode of With Bob and David, the duo emerge from a porta-potty. It's a time machine, you see, which they entered just after wrapping the last episode of Mr. Show. They walk out to find their costars are still there, including John Ennis, Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn, and Jay Johnston.
The team is as funny, outrageous, and controversial as ever. A series of interrelated skits has Odenkirk become the world's first Jewish pontiff, Pope Jonah. He shoots ads for a brand of "kosher goyim delicacies" called Heschel's that includes turkey bacon, turkey oysters, and an edible Jesus figurine made of, um, turkey.
A particularly brilliant bit features Paget Brewster as a Charlie Rose-like talk show host. Cross plays her guest, a filmmaker who has remade an upbeat version of Roots called Better Roots.
"We don't use that word," he says of the term slavery. "We prefer helpers," he says. A scene from his film has field workers rebel because the white plantation owner forces them to take lemonade breaks and offers to hug them when they are upset.
You're not likely to find better sketch comedy on TV. It's a shame there are only four episodes.
Wharton School grad Donny Deutsch has made it big in advertising. So big, he can afford to buy $30 million houses on a whim. He has name and face recognition after publishing several books and hosting a CNBC talk show.
Guess being rich, famous, and good-looking weren't enough. Deutsch, 57, had to become a Hollywood star, too. So he tried his hand at a mainstream chat show with CNN's (Get to) The Point, which died after a week.
Now, he's taken his shtick to the USA Network to launch, of all things, a sitcom. Set to premiere Tuesday at 10 p.m., Donny! is a singularly unfunny self-referential show about a rich ad exec turned celeb named Donny Deutsch who hosts a successful talk show.
The result is just as bad as the concept. Deutsch, who had a winning, if rather aggressive, personality in his nonfictional TV appearances, is incredibly stiff and uneasy here. And his character is insufferable - as are the three very hot young personal assistants, the maid, and the two adoring children who share his luxurious digs.
Each of the first two episodes made available to critics opens with an excerpt from the talk show that sets up the story line. In the pilot, Donny becomes a laughingstock when he texts a topless photo of himself to his daughter's teacher. In the second episode, he decides to date age-appropriate women and goes out with an incredibly uncomfortable-looking Christie Brinkley.
This is awful stuff. Awful.
Premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on USA.
With Bob and David