March 21, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
BENT –  Midseason on NBC:  Change the Channel

NBC is holding its sitcom BENT until midseason, so perhaps they plan to give it an overhaul.  This would be good news, since right now the show is basically a Katherine Heigl movie for the small screen–which is not a compliment. 

Romantic comedy is one of the things television can do extremely well, whether the couple is Jim and Pam on The Office, Brennan and Booth on Bones or Leslie and Ben (or Andy and April) on Parks & Recreation.  TV has the advantage of time, allowing characters to play out their attraction gradually; the best TV relationships are as much about friendship as love at first sight.  Movies, on the other hand, have an hour and a half to get their couple together, often leading to a lot more contrivance.  Of course, over the years there have been many classic movie romances that do this brilliantly, but the other side of that coin are things like the Heigl pictures, which to date have followed a very basic storyline:  Heigl is a repressed Type A careerist who at first loathes but is ultimately thawed by her seemingly irresponsible but, in the end, irresistible guy (Gerard Butler, Josh Duhamel, etc).  
In Bent… well, that is the storyline of Bent.  In Tad Quill’s script (he’s a longtime sitcom writer for shows like Samantha Who? and Scrubs), it’s Amanda Peet in the Heigl part, as Alex, a lawyer who runs her life on a rigid schedule and has no interest in men (her recently ex-husband cheated on her and is in jail for white collar crimes).  She’s repelled by/attracted to her own Butler/Duhamel in the person of David Walton as Pete, the contractor she’s hired to remodel her kitchen–and, implicitly, her life.  He, of course, while seemingly an unrelaible slacker, has a good heart and an instant emotional connection with Peet’s young daughter; she, inevitably, can’t help but be charmed even as she scolds him.  After the 22 minutes of the pilot, it already feels like the popcorn’s run out and it’s time to leave the theatre. 
However predictable, Bent could have been sustained by strong chemistry between the stars.  That’s absent here:  Peet throws herself around, whining at all the other characters, and Walton basically gives the same performance he did in last season’s Perfect Couples (again, not a compliment).  Director Craig Zisk, who’s done a lot of Showtime half-hours, keeps the action moving but is unable to give the proceedings much personality.  
The title Bent is actually the most interesting thing about Quill’s script, because it suggests a less generic show than this one currently is.  It refers to a line repeated several times by Pete’s father (Jeffrey Tambor, his peerlessly dry timing wasted here), who says that he, Pete and the contracting crew are “bent but not broken.”  The idea seems to have been that all these characters are damaged and trying to reassemble their lives–which could have been a promising place for a more provocative show to begin.  But while remnants of that theme exist in the pilot (Pete attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings), the show as filmed doesn’t have the courage to probe into any potential darkness, using the characters’ troubles instead as ammunition for glib zingers. 
It’d be nice to think that in the interim before Bent hits the air, that idea of a couple who come together by helping to rebuild one another could be rediscovered and explored with some depth–but don’t hold your breath.  For now, what we have is a simplistic comedy that smashes two moderately obnoxious characters together and asks us to believe they were meant for each other.  Viewers might as well wait for Life As We Know It to show up on HBO.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."