First thoughts: "Jon Benjamin Has a Van"

Comedian Jon Benjamin is the voice behind such classic characters as Coach McGuirk on Home Movies and Ben on Dr. Katz. Currently, he’s pulling double-duty as the titular characters on Archer and Bob’s Burgers. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s now starring as a fictional version of himself on Comedy Central’s Jon Benjamin Has a Van.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van (airing Wednesdays at 10:30) lampoons news magazines with a combination of sketch comedy and real-life pranks. Tearing down news mags has been done before, no doubt; for most of its history, The Daily Show featured such parodies, but none were anchored by a deadpan as vicious as Jon Benjamin’s. And none had a news van as creepy, either.

In the first two episodes, Jon’s interview subjects have been riffs on the “heroes” usually featured in such programs. In one, sketch comedy veteran Jay Johnston (Mr. Show, The Sarah Silverman Program) played a reporter who bravely interviewed a man disfigured by a grain thresher. In another, Jon’s contempt for a man wounded in basic training, played by Delocated‘s Jon Glaser, is plainly visible: “That helicopter sound must not remind you of war, ’cause you were never there.”

Jon Benjamin Has a Van Weds 10:30/9:30c
Injured Veteran
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The centerpiece of each episode is a long-form or recurring sketch, whether crossing the border with UCB alum Matt Walsh or investigating a battle between Little Italy and Little Little Italy (think Lilliputians). In the latter, Jon gets caught in a mafia war and romances the tiny boss’s daughter. A fun genre parody, but the image of Jon Benjamin writhing in ecstasy is now burned into my brain.

Nino: …I trusted you with my little girl… and you slept with her!
Jon: With all due respect, sir, she’s a full grown woman. She can make her own decisions.
Nino: She’s 15, you sick fuck!
Jon: What?… I couldn’t tell, the scale was off, she’s so small.

The pranks find Jon in the role of the man-on-the-street talent, ad-libbing with the same acerbic wit of his written material. Asking real people for their opinion of gay marriage at inopportune times is funnier than it should be; even when the bit falls apart, like when a man in a movie theater actually engages him, it’s still effective. A highlight of the pranks is a parody of Cash Cab called Cash Stall that nearly gets his ass kicked.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van Weds 10:30/9:30c
Cash Stall
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Not everything works. “You Can’t Shoot Here!” is a one-gag bit, and ridiculing how the elderly use the Internet is too easy. So far, there have been as many gun battles as there have been episodes; the violent conclusions will either become redundant or one of the show’s trademarks, it’s still too early to tell. But with a talent like Jon Benjamin at the helm, the show hits more than it misses. Here’s hoping Comedy Central doesn’t take his keys away any time soon.

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