Jon Benjamin always has great ideas for sketches, but his execution is usually only so-so. "Suicide" was the best example of this: Each sketch began as a promising premise, building only sporadically throughout, and ending on flat, unsatisfying notes. To the show's credit, it got things started right outta the gate: Jon visits a town known for its high suicide rate—a fact the mayor, played by Jerry Minor, exploits in a funny tourism video—and discovers his good friend Leo Allen has fallen victim to the town pastime. Only he's discovered with a knife in his back. The show knife, specifically. As I discussed last week, this made for a welcome departure from the norm; the main story thrust the episode forward, and the rest of the sketches provided a break. There wasn't a feeling that "Suicide" failed to start.
The problem was everything else, though. The action kept cutting back to the interrogations of Benjamin and his team by the town police, which were really quite mundane. There isn't much you can do with a sketch where people are sitting and talking for 90 percent of the time. What do you do, though? Have them blame each other for the guns, the "placebos," Nathan's mom, etc—until you introduce footage of Leo stabbing himself at the last minute. Despite the fact that the town traffics in suicide, there wasn't much surprising or unexpected about everything, and the main storyline ended with Benjamin walking out as the police officer gave him a weird look. That was it. Given how neatly things tied together in "Border" and "Breakdown," this was a major disappointment.
The rest of the sketches similarly fell victim to, "The beginning and middle were okay; the ending was a nonending." Every single "Shame On Me" is beginning to run together, just giving that actor an excuse to yell pantsless and make general self-deprecating remarks. Then there was the sketch where Jon Benjamin makes people look like their pets, which was the highlight of the night. Benjamin played the thing with such forced enthusiasm—and his disgust bled through on more than one occasion—that he started to find the funny even in innocuous moments. Every time he peeked around the corner and repeated, "How's it going making you look just like your pet?!?", I lost it. But again, there wasn't much of an ending: Benjamin took the girl to therapy, she left unaffected, and he jogged off.
The sad truth about Jon Benjamin is that he's constantly in danger of being a non-presence on camera. He's got excitement for his sketches, but it doesn't manifest itself in his actions and onscreen charisma (at least not in and of itself; the dog sketch had a lot of that, but feigned). What he's great at, though, is crafting ridiculous situations, then playing them completely straight. When the situations aren't that ridiculous though, like tonight, his deadpan demeanor reads as a lack of enthusiasm, and it makes me check out of what's happening. It's certainly nice to see comedians break away from their bread and butter—and Jon Benjamin Has A Van provides many opportunities for Benjamin to do just that—but the show should contain enough material in that comic's wheelhouse to temper the risk. And "Suicide" just didn't have it.
There were certainly plenty of one-off shocking lines, like "Mr. Nathan's what I call my cock," though. That's something Jon Benjamin Has A Van always has at the ready.
- I appreciated a couple little editing tricks the show must have picked up from Tim & Eric. One that works in moderation: The cut to something that lingers just a little too long. Tonight's example of that came when the promotional video touted the town's private enclosed car ports, then we watched exhaust seep from the garage door for a while.
- "Finally, a murder. That's awesome."