March 22, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on BENT:  Alex (Amanda Peet) is recently divorced–her husband cheated on her, lost all their money and is in jail–and trying to make a new life for herself with daughter Charlie (Joey King), in Venice, California.  Both figuratively and literally, she needs to renovate, and for the latter, she hires irresponsible Lothario contractor Pete (David Walton).  Pete is a reformed gambler who’s bankrupt himself and living with his fringe-level actor dad Walt (Jeffrey Tambor).  Alex can’t stand Pete’s casual approach to work and life, Pete goes for women who are a lot less trouble than Alex (like, for example, Charlie’s nanny), and can you see where this is going?  If it’s not obvious enough, Charlie adores Pete while despising just about everyone else, and Alex’s sister Screwsie (Margo Hershman)–really, that’s her name–tells Alex repeatedly how hot Pete is. 

Episode 2:  About a week in TV time has gone by since the pilot, and it turns out Alex has a boyfriend, Ben (Matt Lescher), a rich doctor (he has his own plane) whom she’s been seeing for a month but hasn’t slept with yet.  In tonight’s second episode (which aired back-to-back with the pilot because NBC is burning off its 6-episode order over 3 weeks), written by series creator Tad Quill and directed by Mark Buckland, Alex is determined to have sex with Ben within the week, because that will mark a full year since the last time she did the nasty.  Meanwhile, Pete stumbles into sleeping with his jealous ex-fiancee Natalie, and everyone, including Ben, tells Alex that the guy she really has the hots for is the one fixing her pipes.

In a season that’s given us Whitney, Man Up!, Work It and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, Bent is far from the worst sit-com to hit the airwaves.  It’s not relentlessly crude, and it allows some air between the punchlines.  But the show is built around one fundamental pillar–the irresistible attraction between Alex and Pete–and as much as Bent helpfully reminds us in every fourth line of dialogue how drawn the two of them are to each other, the chemistry just isn’t there.  Peet and Walton seem, at most, destined to be good friends, and with that the series implodes.

With no combustion between the supposed romantic leads, it’s all too easy to note how cliched the characters are.  Pete is what Schmidt in New Girl would be like if he lacked all quirkiness, insecurity and self-awareness–he’s just a walking douche jar.  Alex is so singlemindedly repressed that she might as well wear a cowbell around her neck and a sign that says Needs To Get Laid.  Devices like Alex’s daughter and sister mooning over Pete are ham-handed and repetitive.  Although Peet, in particular, has proven her charm and crack comic timing in other shows, here she’s all strain and no charm, while Walton comes off as more smarmy than likable.

With no center, the only pleasures Bent offers are on the edges, with ringers like J. B. Smoot and Jesse Plemons as guest stars on Pete’s construction crew, and of course Tambor as Pete’s dad.  The show is pleasant but not funny, easygoing but not enjoyable.  NBC clearly has zero confidence in Bent, giving it the pathetic Are You There, Chelsea? as lead-in and throwing the episodes on the air as quickly as they can pull the shrink-wrap off the tapes, so in 2 weeks Bent will be broken and all involved–including the viewers–will move on.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel
PILOT + 1:  Just Wait, It’ll Be Over Soon

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."