Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pilot Review: Bent

Bent (Wednesdays at 9:00 and 9:30 on NBC)

Well, color me pleasantly surprised. No one could have expected much from a series that was ordered almost a year ago and is finishing its entire run in a quick three-week burnoff. But Bent somehow manages to be better than that.

Following a messy divorce, lawyer Alex (Amanda Peet) moves into a new home with her young daughter Charlie (Joey King). The kitchen is a disaster, so she hires a contracter to renovate. The guy who gets the job is Pete (David Walton), a slacker surfer who still lives with his father (Jeffrey Tambor). Pete is a womanizer, and he has a reputation about town for losing contracting jobs after sleeping with the clients (or the clinents' wives). Alex will have none of that; she's too bitter about her divorce, not to mention that her ex is now in prison for insider trading. And Pete, a recovering gambler and former stoner, is far from her type.

Bent feels almost entirely different from any other sitcom currently on the air. It has the feeling of a romantic comedy, and it generally works in the show's favor. It has plenty of cheesy moments that are rom-com cliches, but they somehow work because it's not a shallow 90-minute affair. Maybe this could be a lesson to romantic comedy film writers: if you develop your characters a little more and make your supporting players more than stock characters you won't come across as tired cliches. I digress. Bent succeeds on this premise of bringing the romantic comedy to the small screen. It's a cute little show, particularly the moments between Charlie and Pete. He becomes an unlikely and initially unwilling mentor to Alex's daughter in one of the pilot's more touching moments.

That's not to say that Bent isn't funny, because it is. The banter garners several laugh-out-loud moments, and the performances are universally amusing. David Walton walks away with the show. His Pete is charming, ridiculous, occassionally offensive, and ultimately endearing. He has wonderful chemistry with everyone around him (especially the females), and he plays both the funny and the heartwarming moments perfectly. Amanda Peet's character is strangely underdeveloped so far, though her chemistry with Walton is the strongest part of the entire series so far. Jeffrey Tambor and Margo Harshman have very amusing supporting turns as Pete's struggling actor father and Alex's flirty sister Screwsie (best name ever), respectively.

The real strength of the show is that creator and writer Tad Quill (Scrubs) has managed to take a concept that is in no way new and made it feel fresh. We've seen this conceit of a love triangle, a "will-they-or-won't-they" back and forth romance, but Bent is so well-executed that we forget about it. And the central plot of Alex's house needing repairs just as much as her life does, and the most unlikely repairman coming in to help her rebuild, is an adorable little metaphor. Like the house, these characters are "bent, not broken." Fortunately for us the series is neither bent nor broken, but built on a strong foundation.

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