There are some actors whose personalities are so compelling that I would watch them do their taxes. Steve Buscemi is one such actor—and so I’m more than happy to watch him sit on a park bench and gab with a motley crew of guests, from Rosie Perez to Dick Cavett to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his aptly named Web series Park Bench.
Part of AOL’s push to produce more original video, Park Bench debuted its first set of episodes last month, with a fresh batch premiering yesterday and a third bunch slated for July. Like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Park Bench is an amiable show that doesn’t quite fit into traditional TV categories. Buscemi hesitates to call it a talk show (though he admits it is “a talking show”) and insists that it not be constrained by rules. His episode with Fred Armisen is pure comedy; the two actors mock-trash Martin Scorcese (“Taxi Driver—what was that? That was a mess!”) and reminisce about a made-up play they never co-starred in. With Cavett, the humor is warm and understated as the pair converse about the art of conversation. “Do not take hold of a wart on the other person’s face,” Cavett advises, “and go ‘honk honk.’ ”
Other episodes venture into more serious terrain, though Buscemi’s laidback demeanor keeps the mood light. He discusses compassion with Buddhist nun Ani Trime Lhamo and asks de Blasio why the development of affordable housing is so often tied to luxury condos. As the bench travels from park to museum to the ornate drawing rooms of city hall, Buscemi proves that it's not the talking that makes one a good host but the listening. Oh, and not that he cares all that much, but it’s pronounced “Bu-semi.”