Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van: "Van Scheme"

Illustration for article titled Jon Benjamin Has a Van: "Van Scheme"

Last week I talked about how Jon Benjamin is really great at playing outrageous scenarios—mostly of his own devising—completely straight. I had another thought tonight: My favorite things Jon Benjamin does are when he's most oblivious. "Van Scheme" basically had Benjamin oblivious throughout its entirety, and I thought it was one of the stronger episodes of the season as a result. It wasn't as finely crafted as something like "Border", but it mostly played to the show's strengths, and allowed itself to be extremely weird at times.

This week there wasn't even a fake news story to lead us into the show. It begins with a helicopter shot of a guy running in hospital scrubs and face bandages—parkour-ing like it's going out of style (and it has). "One week earlier" flashes on the screen, and we see Benjamin, Leo, and Nathan after a raging bender. Rather than face Joel their producer, Benjamin asks his friends to pour acid on his face, trash the van, hide it, then blame the entire thing on black satanists. The specificity pays dividends further on: Benjamin's story becomes something people sympathize with, and he gains a wee bit of fame for his tale of woe. Hey, he even gets a spot on Celebrity Parkour alongside Andy Richter! When a real black satanist throws more acid on his face, parts of his story start to not add up; the cops realize he's been crying wolf, and the chase is on.

At the very least, "Van Scheme" was an excuse to say the words "black satanists" over and over, which for whatever reason tickled me in my black, black heart every time I heard it. It also offered the story some variety: For every heavily edited shot of Benjamin in bright colors doing parkour, there were slower, more drawn-out scenes where Benjamin and a cop bond over the loss of his van. (Because he can get a new face, but that van…that van was irreplaceable.) We had Leo and Allen talking about what happened, plus the news reporters commenting on every new story development. The main thrust of the episode was played out from multiple angles, and the further Jon Benjamin got into this jack story, the more it became clear how many people he was about to let down.

Once the pieces snapped into place, it was a little disappointing to see the action cut right back to where we started, with no new information—and who among us didn't know it was going to be Benjamin all along? I felt the same way about the extra sketches throw in for good measure. They were both very conceptual, and they were both repeated. One was "Consensual," where Benjamin obtains footage of couples hanging out together, shows them the footage three seconds after taking it, and makes sure they know they're in a consensual relationship. The other involved Jon Benjamin's own version of 911—where people call him, tell him their emergency, then he dials 911. Again, while the sketches were strong, they didn't quite bear repeating, especially since the second iterations were basically the same sketches as the first iterations.

The strong parts of Jon Benjamin Has A Van have been really strong, but for once I'd like to see the show just freakin' frontload an episode with a ton of great stuff. Like, there's no reason they couldn't have condensed the second 911 segment into the first, and replaced it with a whole new short sketch akin to "You Can't Shoot Here" or something. The show's been picked up for 10 episodes, but I'd rather see eight great ones than 10 that seem to just get going when they're cut off. It's nice to see they have an eye for the bigger picture, though—with things like bringing back Nathan's mom, and having Joel's call icon be a naked photo of himself, like the other guys have had. At this rate, maybe the finale will be the frontloaded episode I've been waiting for.