If you expected the guy behind your cartoon crush, Secret Agent Sterling Archer, to be handsome and charismatic, you may be disappointed with Jon Benjamin Has a Van.
You see, H. Jon Benjamin, the Emmy-nominated, captivating voice behind the hilariously scathing men of Archer (FX) and Bob Belcher (Bob’s Burgers, Fox) sounds more debonair than he is. The 45-year-old comic with the receding hairline on Comedy Central’s new sketch show is funny — but not cartoon funny.
This isn’t Benjamin’s first TV role in human form. On Important Things with Demetri Martin back in 2009, Benjamin revealed comedic range by playing dozens of characters. (His Benjamin Franklin spoof was the best.)
In Jon Benjamin Has a Van (he’s dropped the “H”), Benjamin plays an investigative reporter, weaving short, unscripted bits between longer, scripted mockumentary pieces.
In one, he pulls a prank on show producer Rob Shutterman (Matt Walsh, Outsourced, Children’s Hospital) by shoving him across the Mexican border and waiting a full year to go check on him. There are some guffawworthy moments, but the mean joke stretches thin.
“Area 54” was a more successful use of time than the border prank. It involves investigating the existence of the 1970s “top-secret discothque” inside Area 51.
Benjamin also gets beat up by mobsters for his involvement in a turf war between Little Italy and Little Little Italy, a miniature brownstone neighborhood with eight-inch-tall New Yorkers.
In an interview with “Private” Nathan Glaser, Benjamin uncovers “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder” interviewing a whispering almost-veteran who lost his voice during basic training screaming about “what war might be like.”
But the most laugh-out-loud skit is “Ca$h Stall” (a fusion of Candid Camera and Cash Cab), in which Benjamin nearly gets his ass kicked hassling the man in the next bathroom stall to play trivia for a $100 bill.
Benjamin’s a more solid actor than Demetri Martin and he’s surrounded himself with successful writers, like Bob’s Burgers co-star Dan Mintz. But like many quirky sketch shows, JBHV lacks mass-audience appeal. If fans of his other shows tune in and spread the word, the show may survive.
Still, Benjamin’s just so much stronger, funnier and handsome as a cartoon.
(Wednesdays, 10:30 pm, Comedy Central)
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