S1: Engaging and generally entertaining, with good potential but it stalls and stutters too often, never really being consistently free, natural, and fun
I was checking out the director of a short film called The Grey Matter when I spotted this show listed as one of his credits (he was DP here); the name of this title caught my eye and reading only a little bit made me interested to see it. Essentially the show is a talk-show (or a talking show, as it is phrased) with Buscemi meeting and interviewing people using a park bench as their "couch". During interviews he occasionally has to deal with passers-by (both regular people and fellow celebrities) and also compete with his brother, who (by total coincidence I'm sure) is filming a talk show called Bench Talk, with a very similar concept.
My first obstacle was dealing with the joy of AOL's streaming video service, as this short webseries is their original output; I'm not sure what else is on there worth watching but I was genuinely surprised how terrible it was I have a very good internet speed but it was taking 15-20 minutes to watch each 10 minute episode, which made things difficult until I got myself a work-around for their weak service. Anyway, actually watching it one is instantly put in mind of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, not only because it is a webseries led by someone very famous, but also because the approach is just chatting. It is not a great comparison to make however, because Park Bench is not as good as that show, for several reasons but the main one is one that will hit you right away the sense of it being organic and natural.
Although it is called unscripted, the show is of course designed and in many scenes things are very stiff and uncertain; a very good example of this is in final episode, where Jessica Williams plays faux- embarrassed by being involved, and unsure of what she or they doing I assume if it put-on, but at the same time it seems so justified and real that it is hard to be sure (but she does have a very good deadpan). There are plenty of small moments through the season like this where it plays out a little awkwardly. Again, to compare with the majority of Comedians in Cars, this stands out because that show manages to have the natural and spontaneous feel (even though of course it is nothing of the sort). This is a real shame because Buscemi speaks about the idea for the show coming from him sitting with Geo (a guy he pulled from a bar as an extra) and just chatting while making another project and that this because the basis for this show, but that sense of freedom, naturalism and just relaxed chatting doesn't come through.
This is not to say it doesn't work, because a lot of it is actually engaging and good to watch in 10 minute bites. The guests are far too Boardwalk Empire-centric, giving the feel of being all a bit driven by favors rather than real interest in the project. The chatting also doesn't always work; mainly due to the lack of natural spark but often because the conversation doesn't flow. Buscemi himself is engaging as a host and has some good moments, but occasionally he is also the problem, seeming to stall conversations or struggle to get them going. Geo is a nice idea as a presence when it is just him and Buscemi, but when the guest is there it doesn't always work.
Despite all the limitations, I did still enjoy the series and would very happily see it return for a second run; albeit with the hope that they can do a better job to capture the experience of the spark, fun and freedom that originally gave Buscemi the idea in the first place.
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