H. Jon Benjamin has one of the more recognizable voices in animation today. While other voiceover actors like the cast of “The Simpsons,” or even Seth MacFarlane, try to offer up lots of different voices, Benjamin has just the one very deep, very grave voice, which has been largely unchanged from “Dr. Katz Professional Therapist” all the way through to his two current gigs in the title roles of FOX’s “Bob’s Burgers” and FX’s “Archer,” which returns for its second season tomorrow night at 10. Benjamin’s voice is so distinctive that I’m actually distracted now when I see him do live-action work, like on Comedy Central’s now-defunct “Important Things with Demetri Martin.”
Yet even though Benjamin always sounds roughly the same, it’s remarkable how many different roles seem to fit that voice. On “Dr. Katz,” he was the main character’s layabout twentysomething son. On “Bob’s Burgers,” he’s a long-suffering husband and father stuck in a family of misfits who are constantly on the verge of ruining his business. And on “Archer,” he’s the world’s deadliest secret agent – but also its most juvenile and narcissistic one.
“Bob’s Burgers” took a few episodes to grow on me, but the most recent one, in which Bob’s family became attached to a blonde-wigged steer that a documentary filmmaker was using as a prop in his anti-beef new film, was so strange and hilarious and disturbing that I think I’m finally hooked. That it airs on a broadcast network – even one that’s home to Homer Simpson, Stewie Griffin and Roger the alien – and is actually doing well seems kind of miraculous.
“Archer,” on the other hand, took no time at all to hook me. I loved the show – whose central thesis is that even an elite spy agency can be plagued by the same kinds of human resources issues as any other workplace – last season. And tomorrow’s premiere (which I first saw at Comic-Con back in July) is one of the show’s raunchiest and funniest yet, suggesting that there’s at least one boundary even Benjamin’s Sterling Archer won’t cross: sex with an underage girl.
The other six episodes I’ve seen have their ups and downs, but that’s kind of the nature of the beast with comedies that push the outer edge of the envelope of taste and common decency; their batting average will be lower than their comedy peers, but their slugging percentage will be higher. (See also “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which always offer up at least a couple of complete duds per season.) And the ones that hit – including Sterling’s mother (Jessica Walter) trying to sell the agency, or the secret origin of Archer’s boot-licking butler Woodhouse (George Coe) – are demented in the genius that creator Adam Reed and his team bring to them.
When I first watched the “Bob’s Burgers” pilot, I joked with Fienberg that Benjamin shouldn’t be allowed to front two different series at the same time to avoid confusing me. Now, I couldn’t be happier to have him on my TV twice a week.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org