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TV Review: Jon Benjamin Has a Van – “Border”

Comedy Central’s newest show is Jon Benjamin Has a Van. Premiering last night, though it will normally run on Wednesdays, including tonight, the show is made up of a series of sketches, some short, some long, starring comic H. Jon Benjamin. Benjamin’s distinctive and easily recognizable voice provides life to the title characters on both Archer and Bob’s Burgers, but this series is live action. The conceit is that Benjamin has a van, so he can pretend to be a newsman, though the van is almost completely absent, at least in the first episode.

In “Border,” there are several short bits, as well as a longer one which finds Benjamin shoving his producer (played by Matt Walsh, Outsourced, Human Giant, Dog Bites Man) over the borders of several countries without a passport. The poor man must repeatedly build a new life for himself, only to have Benjamin find him a year later and do it all over again. For some reason, this is hilariously funny, even though it’s Benjamin being a total jerk. In the end, Benjamin gets his, when left to militants without his own passport.

If pushing someone into another country and leaving them isn’t funny to you, even in a fictional setting, you probably won’t like the show. It’s certainly a unique viewpoint, and not one that can be compared to any other series currently running. Benjamin’s delivery is often deadpan. He knows what he’s doing, but he’d rather amuse himself than worry about other people’s feelings. The humor can be offensive, but not disgusting or profane.

I guess some may argue against that point after “Cash Stall,” a short bit about a game show played in bathroom stalls, but there are no bodily functions or fluids in the sketch, so it’s not really gross. It’s more misunderstandings that cause all the commotion. After the headlines of the past few years, the men Benjamin propositions to play his game may think he’s looking for sexual activity, though there is never any indication that he is.

Other snippets include “OCD After Dark,” which is someone washing their hands by candlelight, and “You Can’t Shoot Here,” where Benjamin goes into places where cameras are not allowed, such as stores and private buildings, with a camera. He is, of course, swiftly kicked out, but often with much confusion. Like “Cash Stall,” it’s hard to tell whether this is scripted or spontaneous. Faces are blurred out, and reactions seem authentic. The newsman vibe to many of the segments lends it an air of reality, though it is likely not.

Finally, Benjamin interviews a man who lost his voice screaming in terror during basic training. He diagnoses himself with “Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” It’s definitely a strange circumstance, as the soldier in question never actually made it to war. This may be the only bit that some could actually be offended by, but even Benjamin treats the man like he’s a bit crazy, and it’s mostly likely completely fictional, too, so it’s OK.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van delivers a fantastic first episode, chock full of laughs. If you are not chuckling out loud, you may want to have the doctor check to see if you still have a funny bone. The series continues tonight at its regular night and time, 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.

About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com