Should I Be Watching USA’s Benched?

Benched Pilot Eliza Coupe
Benched (Photo: NBC Universal)

This whole system’s out of order! And other things you’d expect someone to shout on a lawyer show!

Show

Benched, Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30c on USA.

Premise

Nothing special about this one – Eliza Coupe (Happy Endings, the final season of Scrubs) plays Nina, a successful lawyer whose ex-fiancé informs her he’s getting married shortly before she’s unfairly passed over for promotion. Yadda yadda yadda goes righteously ballistic, becomes a public defender, has bizarre coworkers, starts to learn some things about herself and people, and has to face off against ex-fiancé.

The conceit matters very little on a show like this – it’s fundamentally a workplace comedy, so the less plot the better. Most of the above description was dispensed with in three minutes at the top of the pilot.

Lineage

No names stuck out on the production side1 but the cast is chock full of funny people you’ve enjoyed in funny shows. Jay Harrington (Better off Ted) is a stubbly smiling cynic with a gambling problem, Maria Bamford (Arrested Development season 4) is a spectacularly entertaining spectacle of a failure as a lawyer, and Oscar Nunez (The Office) is in the office somewhere.

Who is Benched For?

Me! It’s got a bunch of my favorite workplace comedy actors being all quirky and needlessly erudite and witty2 while occasionally being a decent person. Fans of any of the above shows should find something to like about the general sensibilities of Benched. And this looks to be Coupe’s show above all else, so if you dig her, she doesn’t let you down.

What Works

Let’s compare Benched to Brooklyn Nine Nine for a moment, which is a pretty apt comparison. Both are ensemble shows with a main focus (Coupe, Andy Sandberg) that use the situation of situation comedy but don’t ever wander into setup-joke-setup-joke-laugh-catchphrase-wooo! territory. Both are vessels for the comedic personalities of their varied characters who are more archetypal than stereotypical. Both hit you with jokes you didn’t necessarily see coming.

What Doesn’t Work

Benched veers dangerously close to maudlin – or, worse: uplifting! – several times. Nina actually takes a moment to make a (valid) point about justice and help someone, whereas Jake Peralta exists in a world where crime, criminals, victims, etc are barely-seen often-referenced concepts to be mined for comedic gold. Go too far from that and you wind up sappy instead of momentarily heartwarming. Benched isn’t there yet, but I’m keeping my eyebrow raised. In addition, with a cast the size of this you’d expect more interplay and, resultantly, rapid dialogue and more jokes. Brooklyn Nine Nine seemed to hit that stride sooner, but at least Benched‘s pilot didn’t drag.

Does This Pass the Bechdel Test?3

Huh. I just sort of assumed it did. No, it definitely does – in fact, lawyering talk and career commentary might actually outnumber the mentions of Nina’s ex-cum-nemesis.

Verdict

Guilty! Of… making me laugh. And keeping me in love with Eliza Coupe. The court mandates at least three episodes probation – Benched better keep its nose clean and its plots light or something something lawyer sounding.

  1. Though various folks were connected with various solid shows, like the never-figured-out-what-it-wanted-to-be Trophy Wife.  
  2. I’m looking at you, Fred Melamed, you wonderful bear of a barely-holding-it-together judge.  
  3. 1. Two named female characters 2. have a conversation 3. about something other than a man.  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles
He does things. That's all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv