"The Curse" started as a pretty standard sketch episode, which was par for the course on this show for a while. Then Jon accidentally hit a gypsy woman while receiving road head, and the episode dipped into the show-within-a-show stuff it does every time around. But "The Curse" was one of the stronger episodes of the show because the distinction between the regular show and the breakdown was abundantly clear.
A curse is placed on Jon Benjamin and his crew: The curse of the "terrible episode." Suddenly Jon is waking up and wondering if the entire thing was a dream. He has a wife and a kid, and a laugh track. He and his son switch bodies. "Every cliche," the cursing gypsy had shouted, and the show digs in to find a bunch of fun ones to play with. What I liked most, though, was that Jon Benjamin Has A Van retained its dark edge, even when committing to playing a very specific episode game. Sure, he switches bodies with his son, but then the son kills another gypsy woman, gets sent to jail, and spends 40 years growing up to be Jon Benjamin. (Also a nice touch that he's visited by his son, now an old man who at one point looked like Jon Benjamin. He's killed, the episode ends, then continues for five more minutes.
"The Curse" is the episode that draws the line in the sand between fans of Jon Benjamin Has A Van and those who are sick of the show's conceit. At its core, it was a pretty standard episode of the show. But once Jon Benjamin walks in on the old gypsy man in the control room, it becomes clear that the episode's show-within-a-show-within-a-show premise is a pretty heady one. At times I find myself applauding the show's ambition more than I'm purely enjoying it. But it's becoming clear that when Benjamin's very ambitious, the most basic jokes stand out, and are elevated. "Breakdown" was an episode that involved total silence for about 10 minutes, yet the old man writing "JK" on the piece of paper was the highlight of the episode. Similarly tonight, I found myself drawn to elegantly simple, or elegantly inexplicable bits in the midst of the main story. There was obviously the fact that the kid grew up to be Jon Benjamin (obviously, since it's his son), but also Benjamin walking into the control room in a dress for no real reason.
I also say this was a divisive episode because the other sketches showcased JBHV's variety. There was the opening bit, which found families exploiting coma babies for sympathy dollars, and ended on the pitch-perfect note of a baby finally waking up, and the dad silently sighing "Shit." I also thought "Reaction Jackson" was effortlessly silly, with the best part being Benjamin's own non-reactions—and the camera lingered on his face just long enough to be slightly uncomfortable. He also attempted to steal from a surveillance store, and asked people to hang up their calls in a very "You Can't Shoot Here" way. It was all Jon Benjamin being his dry, playful self, and understandably it might not be for everyone. But I'm digging this show for how different and weird it can be. And hoping the coming weeks are just as ambitious as this one was.
- I also liked, "How stupid can you be?" when the surveillance store employee discovers Benjamin's got stuff in his pocket.
- I'm not sure the "Previously on…" segments do much good. Are people really coming in to the middle of this merely half hour-long show?