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Friday, March 23, 2012

Not exactly 'Smitten' with Bent

This week, NBC's Bent finally premiered with two episodes, "Pilot" and "Smitten." In "Pilot," Alex Meyers (Amanda Peet, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, 2012) reluctantly hires Pete Riggins (David Walton, Perfect Couples, 100 Questions) and his crew to renovate her kitchen. They flirt, but he's a player, and she's got a boyfriend, Ben (Matt Letscher, Eli Stone, Brothers & Sisters), whom she forgets to mention, and isn't sleeping with. In "Smitten," Alex and Pete's dance continues, and Ben still isn't getting lucky. Though Pete is, just not with Alex.

For the curious who missed these episodes, the "Pilot" of Bent is free on Amazon right now, and "Smitten" is available for a small fee. Watch it, then come back and read this article.

Looking at the stars listed in the paragraph above, a pattern begins to emerge. Bent is full of terrific actors who have been in excellent television shows that were canceled before their time. Bent is not one of those excellent shows, and its imminent cancellation, which seems a very likely possibility, especially given the show's April premiere date, will not be mourned the way others have been.

The actors are great, and many of the names should be familiar. Besides the three listed above, Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) plays Peter's washed-up-actor dad, JB Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm, a former writer for Saturday Night Live) is Pete's gossipy friend, Clem, Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights) is Pete's taken-advantage-of-apprentice, and Joey King (Ramona & Beezus) is Alex's daughter. Additionally, Pasha D. Lychnikoff (Deadwood) and Margo Harshman (Even Stevens) round out the cast.

But the problem with Bent is that there isn't much material for the performers to work with. The whole concept is that Pete is redoing Alex's kitchen? How long can that be stretched out? What happens when the work is done? Does he redo her whole house? Unless Pete and Alex are a couple by that time, there isn't much of a reason to merge their social circles. And if they are a couple, where does the tension go, as their interplay is the only real plot arc developed thus far?

Also, Harshman's character is called Screwsie. Whether that's because she likes to have lots of sex, or because she unscrews the top off many a bottle of cheap wine, the cutesy nickname is way too on the nose. Seriously, a grown woman goes by the name Screwsie? Does she want to be labeled an easy, alcoholic, slut?

Along the same lines, in the "Pilot" Tambor's character says that he's "Bent, not broken." If you need to explain the title of your series, the show needs a new title.

There are some hints of goodness. The bond that Pete forms with Alex's daughter, Frankie, is sweet. That is clearly his 'in' with her mother. If one can win over the kid, one can get the mother, and Pete has done that already. But since it's happened right off the bat, there isn't a lot of room to develop this further, and this relationship is not enough to carry the series on its own.

This cast would be great in a better written show. The chemistry is wonderful, when they get to use it. Perhaps that's what should be done. Keep them all together, but write totally new characters. Or figure out a different direction for Bent, quickly. Otherwise, it's destined to be yet another failed project for this very talented group of people who just can't find the right show.

Bent airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC. In Columbus, NBC is analog channel 4, satellite 382, and high def cable 1004.

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