Bob Odenkirk is a comedy writer I admire not only for his work, but for his unflinching words about his work. It’s in evidence in this recent interview with Bob (with David Cross) on Vanity Fair on their upcoming HBO sitcom David’s Situation. The interviewer brings up The Ben Stiller Show as a show – like Arrested Development or Mr. Show – that was canceled too early by the network. Odenkirk instantly objects, stating:
The Ben Stiller Show was a complete fucking mess. Watch that show. Just watch that show. Please!
It was not a cohesive show. The voice of one scene was completely different from the voice of another.
Look, I think the show was not completely realized, and we were all very young and we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. None of it held together. I mean, c’mon, what was your favorite moment of Ben hanging out with celebrities between scenes? Was that non-stop hilarity for you? People talk about that show like it was comedy genius, but in my opinion it never even came close. It had some high points and sometimes it could be offbeat, but it was mostly a lot of comedy sludge.
And generally you can trust his own self assessments. This weekend I caught part of the Odenkirk directed “Let’s Go to Prison.” I watched the first half hour and was pleasantly surprised how much I was enjoying it. I had remembered Odenkirk admitting some troubles with the film in an AV Club Interview. I had some run and ended up recording the rest on the DVR while I was out. Picking up where I left off, the prison setting started swallowing the humor, black comedy turning into bleak comedy. I had to go find what Odenkirk said in that AV Club interview. Sure enough, he described the film as lacking a target and ending up as “darkness to no end.”
There’s a reason why people think of Odenkirk as a premiere comedy mind. He doesn’t romanticize his own writing. He’s able to be unsparing critical and at the same time incredibly productive. So much of comedy - or any bit of creativity - requires some tunnel vision and denial just to get it done. How Odenkirk can create with such a powerful critic inside is remarkable. (Not that it saved Let’s Go to Prison, but you can be sure that he won’t make the same mistake next time.)