The Mr. Bill series is proof that we enjoy the misfortune of others.
Mr. Bill was a character who started off on Saturday Night Live in 1976 as a result of a prompt by SNL to send in home movies. Created by Walter Williams, 'The Mr. Bill Show' was a parody of bad animation and children's shows in general. Mr. Bill (voiced by Williams) was a little Play-Doh clown who would start the show wanting to entertain the kids until things would ultimately take a violent turn with the 'help' of Mr. Hands (originally Vance DeGeneres; yes, Ellen's brother), a set of talking hands who manipulated everything on screen, and Sluggo, the silent antagonist who Mr. Bill would always fear was "going to be mean to me'
Every episode would end with Mr. Bill and his dog Spot horribly mutilated, crushed, maimed, or in some other way destroyed, only to come back next episode to do it all over again.
Williams was hired to be a writer on SNL in 1978, and the shorts became a regular part of SNL's fourth and fifth seasons. After leaving SNL in 1980, Mr. Bill returned thrice in the next two seasons, including the sixth season finale's cold open, before moving to Los Angeles in a short film in October 1981. Mr. Bill would subsequently appear frequently on the 1980s USA Network variety series Night Flight, and in the ill-fated 1986 Showcase pilot-turned-TV movie Mr. Bill's Real Life Adventures.
In the 1990s, Mr. Bill resurfaced on the short lived Fox Family Channel show Ohh Nooo! Mr. Bill Presents (where he presented a number of British comedy skits), in the 1993 short film Mr. Bill Goes To Washington (preceding Ernest Rides Again in theaters and on home video), and in a number of home video releases, like Mr. Bill Goes Hollywood, Mr. Bill Does Vegas, Ohh Nooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's 20th Anniversary, and Ho Ho Noooooo!!! It's Mr Bill's Christmas Special!, along with a few compilation re-releases of his SNL sketches. By the 1990s, Mr. Bill even started appearing occasionally via computer animation.
Most recently he's made appearances on shows like Jeopardy! and Medium, and has done commercials for MasterCard, Ramada Inn, Subway, Burger King, Lexus, and Wonderful Pistachios, and appeared in anti-drug PSAs and even a 2004 campaign to save Walter Williams' home, the wetlands in Louisiana. Williams also created a Spiritual Successor in the form of "The Pizza Head Show", a mid-1990s series of Pizza Hut commercials, the title character of which was more or less Mr. Bill as a slice of pizza (with Steve the pizza cutter in the Sluggo role).
This series provides examples of:
- An Arm and a Leg: Played literally a few times. In one of the Ramada Inn commercials, that's what Mr. Bill had to pay to stay at the fancy hotel that Mr. Hands convinced him to stay at over Ramada.
- Baby Sitter From Hell: According to Mr. Bill's family album, his first baby sitter was Auntie Sluggo, who crushed baby Bill under a hot iron, fed him baby food with needles in it (and feeding Spot poison), and brushing his mouth clean off while his mother watched in horror from outside the window
- Big Bad Friend: Mr. Hands is a very not-at-all subtle example.
- Big OH NOOO!: by Mr Bill when he gets hurt.
- Blatant Lies: Mr. Hands insists that Sluggo will not hurt Mr. Bill, but Mr. Bill knows better.
- Black Comedy: Possibly the king of this trope. All of the humor of this series derives from the misery and dismemberment of Mr. Bill and his friends at the hands of well... Mr. Hands and Sluggo. To the point where you either find it hilarious or you just feel sorry for him.
- Bottle Episode: A rare in-universe example. In one season 5 SNL sketch, Mr. Bill attempts to host his show inside a dark closet, so that Mr. Hands won't find him and inflict more abuse. Mr. Hands was naturally bummed out, as he wanted to take Mr. Bill bowling, so he put his bowling ball back in the closet, inadvertently (for a change) dropping it right onto Mr. Bill.
- Butt-Monkey: Mr. Bill in spades, though Spot generally exists just to be killed or maimed by Mr. Hands without reprecussion before worse happens to Mr. Bill
- The Casino: Mr. Bill is brought to one in Mr. Bill Does Vegas, where he pulls three Sluggos on the slot machine, and sees his head become a roulette wheel ball, among other mishaps. He also gets to open for Wayne Newton at a casino in Vegas, leading to him headlining at the Aladdin to an empty house, during the building's implosion.
- Catch Phrase: "Ho ho kiddies!", "He's gonna be mean to me!", "OHH NOOO!!!" "Why? Why?", and in shorts where he's more self-aware of Mr. Hands and Sluggo's abuse, "Leave me alone!"
- Cerebus Syndrome: Refer to the Story Arc entry.
- The Chew Toy: Mr. Bill, Spot, and by extension, Ms. Sally
- Christmas Special: Two of them; 1980s' SNL short film "Mr. Bill's Christmas Special" and 1996's home video release "Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special!", with the former included as a bonus feature with the latter.
- Circus of Fear: The early "Mr. Bill Goes To The Circus" home movie ended up like this for Mr. Bill, which certainly wasn't his intention. How many circuses do you know that end with the ringmaster shot out of a cannon (in pieces), while his arm floats around tied to a balloon?
- Comedic Sociopathy: In spades.
- Dartboard of Hate: During the Christmas Special, one of Sluggo's kids is throwing darts at a board with Mr. Bill's photograph on it.
- Depraved Kids' Show Host: Mr. Hands.
- Excited Kids' Show Host: Mr. Bill tries to be one, but Mr. Hands and Sluggo never give him the chance.
- Domestic Abuse: Possibly the darkest joke in the entire series. In Mr. Bill Goes to Court, Mr. Hands calls Mr. Bills mom to the stand. When she speaks in his defense, District Attorney Sluggo 'cross-examines' her alone in the back room. All we hear is beating sounds and Mr. Bill screaming in horror. When Ms. Bill returns, both of her hands are missing, her arms are wrapped around her torso and she sports two black eyes, and now speaks against Mr. Bill right before she falls off the witness stand.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The original home movies submitted to SNL gave Mr. Bill and Mr. Hands higher-pitched voices. The production quality (such as it was) was even worse, with Mr. Bill looking more off-model than he would as a regular feature.
- Everyone Hates Fruit Cakes: Father Guido Sarducci brings a fruitcake as a gift to Mr. Bill in "Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special!", which accidentally (for a change) is dropped on Mr. Bill's foot. Later, when Mr. Bill suggests serving that very fruitcake to eat, that is conveniently Father Guido's cue to leave.
- The Faceless: Mr. Hands. The best you ever get is occasionally seeing Mr. Hands with sleeves
- Fantastic Racism: The Sluggos hate the Bills, for whatever reason.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. In a parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mr. Bill travels to Jupiter (Getting blown up and melted along the way) and gets his own 'Baby Bill' floating in a glass orb, only for it to be disintergrated by a meteor.
- Karma Houdini: Sluggo and Mr. Hands, they pretty much make life hell for Mr. Bill and friends and never get any comeuppance for it.
- Limited Animation: If you've never seen Mr. Bill outside of still images, you may expect this to be a Claymation series, but it's just Play-Doh people and a dog, with a pair of hands manipulating the action. Acknowledged on air at times when Mr. Bill tries to remind Mr. Hands that he can't do a specific human action very well/at all, usually in vain, and immediately before something horrible happens to him.
- At times, it's shown that Mr. Bill clearly is capable of movement on his own (computer animated segments aside), just never on camera, a'la Thomas And Friends. It depends on when it best suits the convenience of the script. One good example: Mr. Bill's Burger King commercial, where he is shown holding a tiny Whopper, with the screen then immediately wiping into him smiling with no burger, commenting that it was delicious (shortly before Mr. Hands drops a full-sized Whopper box on top of him.)
- Made of Plasticine: Mr Bill is literally made of Play Doh and is about as durable as you would expect.
- Minimalist Cast: Bill, Mr. Hands, Sluggo, Spot, and (later) Sally, their son Billy, and Mr. Bill's mom are the only characters in the series. Averted for the 2004 Louisiana wetlands protection PSAs, which introduced The Estuarians, a new group of Play-Doh animals indigenous to the area that Mr. Hands talked for.
- No Sympathy: Unless Miss Sally or his mom in the short, Mr. Bill gets absolutely no sympathy. Almost averted in the season 6 finale cold open, where Chevy Chase meant well after finding Mr. Bill in a garbage can, but slapstick and pratfalls were inevitable (this was a Chevy Chase SNL cold open, after all.)
- Officer O'Hara: "Sgt. O'Hanahan" in "Mr. Bill Strikes Back", who's nothing more than Mr. Hands in a police station with an Irish accent (and impeccable police sketch drawing ability.)
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Mr. Hands poorly disguises himself whenever he takes up a new profession, including such totally-not-obvious new names as "Dr. I.M. Hans" and "Sgt. O'Hanahan." Mr. Bill falls for it every time.
- It doesn't work on Sluggo, though. Mr. Bill always spots him right away, but he's powerless to stop his and Mr. Hands' abuse.
- Parody Commercial: "Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special!" has two of them, with the same family playing Monotony (a boring & endless parody of Monopoly) and the Stubix Cube (a Rubix Cube with the same colour on each side.)
- Physical Fitness Punishment: "Mr. Bill Shapes Up" gives us this when Mr. Hands and Sluggo LaLanne (get it?) put Mr. Bill through a strenuous workout regimen after he and Spot eat too many snacks. This did make Mr. Bill skinny, though the path to get there wasn't at all how he'd have liked it to have went.
- The Pollyanna: Mr. Bill's MasterCard commercial was a good example, as he always seemed to find a silver lining in all of Mr. Hands' torment. Overfilled hot coffee scalding him? He always wanted brown shoes. A treadmill going too fast hurls him into the air at a busy gym? He lands on an open exercise bike. Knocked out of his office window by an opened briefcase? The on-schedule city bus windshield is where he lands. The commercial ends before we find out if he was optimistic over being flung off the bus via it's windshield wipers.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: In 1986, an attempt was made to make a live action Mr. Bill series for Showtime. In this, Mr. Bill, Sally, and their son Billy were humans who were the size of their clay counterparts. Sluggo was the Nosy Neighbor who used to bully Mr. Bill when they were younger (and still does.) The series wasn't picked up, and the pilot was released as a TV movie named Mr. Bill's Real Life Adventures.
- The Runaway Mr. Bill tried to become this on SNL in season 4, donning sunglasses and a fake beard while attempting to hitchhike out of New York to try and escape Mr. Hands and Sluggo. Of course, Mr. Hands finds him and convinces him to come back in his car (which eventually goes over a cliff with Mr. Bill alone inside)
- Sadist Show: The humor comes from Bill's misfortune.
- The Shrink / Herr Doktor: "Dr. I.M. Hans" in "Mr. Bill Gets Help", who's nothing more than Mr. Hands in a psychiatrist's office with a Freud-ish accent.
- Silent Antagonist: Sluggo. Mr. Hands does all the talking for him.
- Something Completely Different: The VHS release The Best of Saturday Night Live: The Mr. Bill Collection features one non-Mr. Bill sketch that Walter Williams directed, with no setup beyond it's inclusion on the box. The sketch in question is "A Public Service Announcement: Highway Education" from the 1980-81 season premiere, about a new federal program putting the classic works of literature on road signs so vehicle passengers can read while driving.
- In "Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special!", a surprisingly long time is given to showing a home video of Father Guido Sarducci attempting to find a real Christmas in Los Angeles. Aside from this being shown at Mr. Bill's house when Father Guido visits, this has nothing to do with the rest of the special.
- Spiritual Successor: The Pizza Head Show, a Pizza Hut commercial campaign airing from 1993-1997, which was also created by Walter Williams and harboured a very similar structure (albeit condensed to half minute ads.) Here, the cheerful inanimate star was Pizza Head (a talking slice of pizza), and his tormentors were a new Mr. Hands (though never referred to as such), and Steve, a pizza cutter in the Sluggo role. The common catchphrase from Pizza Head over Steve's entrance was "Hey, he's not a/no _____", reflecting Steve's alleged profession or persona, with Mr. Hands typically replying "Suuure he is.". 16 commercials aired in the campaign, with many ending with a miniature Pizza Hut being destroyed during/after Pizza Head's torment. Notably, the Pizza Hut association allowed Pizza Head to mingle with licensed properties Mr. Bill never could thanks to Pizza Hut promotions, like Star Wars and Jonny Quest.
- Status Quo Is God
- Stock Shticks: Mr. Bill's stand-up routine in Mr. Bill Does Vegas typically includes a nervous variation of the "I just flew in from ______, and boy, are my arms tired!" joke, to the amusement of no one. Laughter only arises when he is greviously injured, as usual.
- Story Arc: Saturday Night Live season 5 had this for Mr. Bill, starting with "The All New Mr. Bill Show" and the introduction of his girlfriend Miss Sally, which slowly devolved into his house getting destroyed, his building a new house (that also gets destroyed), getting thrown onto the street, seeing a psychiatrist, trying to report Mr. Hands & Sluggo to the police, getting framed for armed robbery, thrown in Sing Sing Correctional Facility for 20 years, and ultimately gunned down after Mr. Hands broke him out of jail.
- Stylistic Suck: EVERYTHING! Even the computer animated Mr. Bill segments were done cheaply, though whether that's for consistency with the original quality or for budgetary reasons is up for debate.
- Subverted Kids Show
- Surprisingly Happy Ending: "Mr. Bill's Christmas Special" from SNL's sixth season in December 1980. While Mr. Bill, Miss Sally, and Spot remain homeless following the events of season 5 (spending the duration of the short huddled around a fire outside in snowy weather), they're still together for the holidays, and Mr. Hands and Sluggo are nowhere to be found! The flashbacks to Mr. Bill's childhood Christmases, on the other hand...
- There Are No Adults: Mr. Hands aside, there's not even any human beings to be seen in most shorts. Exceptions include the guests in "Mr. Bill Goes To A Party" (including host Vance DeGeneres not as Mr. Hands), guest spots by SNL cast members (like Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello in multiple home videos), and the Ramada Inn commercials, where Mr. Bill did interact with hotel clerks. Massively averted in Mr. Bill Does Vegas, which is loaded with celebrity cameos as Mr. Bill attempts to get advice for his stage show.
- They Killed Kenny Again: Mr. Bill always comes back after being destroyed, including being eaten by a dolphin, being run through a wood chipper, and being disintergrated in a toxic river.
- Time Marches On: Mr. Hands aside, all of the core Mr. Bill characters are made of just the original four colours of Play-Doh (red, yellow, blue, and white.) Even after Play-Doh introduced every colour of the rainbow into their product range, the characters' basic looks have never been updated. Averted with Miss Sally, who wears a green dress.
- Viva Las Vegas!: The entire plot of Mr. Bill Does Vegas, where his manager gets him an opening slot for Wayne Newton, leading Mr. Bill to try and get advice for his stand-up act from various celebrity guests. As usual, nothing goes according to plan.
- Vocal Evolution: By the 1990s, Mr. Bill's voice was slightly deeper, and he couldn't really do a full on "OOH NOOOO!" scream like was seen often on SNL and even Night Flight.
- Voice for the Voiceless: Sluggo (and by extension every other incarnation of him) hated Mr. Bill, but Sluggo himself never seemed to speak, so Mr. Hands would tell Mr. Bill what Sluggo says, as well as carry out whatever harm Sluggo wanted to befall on Mr. Bill.
- Yet Another Christmas Carol: In 1996's "Ho Ho Nooooooo!!! It's Mr. Bill's Christmas Special!", a short CG-animated cartoon parody of A Christmas Carol is included, starring "Ebenezer Bill", a kind businessman who donates to charity. However, the ghosts (all played by Mr. Hands) will have none of that.