Benched, a new sitcom that airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 CST on USA, is catnip for the Bean household. It boasts a cast we love, a winning creative team, and a concept that promises more thematic heft than the typical sitcom. The show is about a corporate lawyer who loses her boyfriend and her job in brutal fashion and lands at the public defender’s office. Yes, you already know where this is going, but it’s the potential journey that has us excited. It’s love at first sight over here, but let us break down why we’re so excited about Benched.
Coupington! It’s a thing. Get into it.
Real talk: the reason we checked this show out is its lead actors. Eliza Coupe was our favorite cast member on the beloved Happy Endings playing the pathologically organized Jane Kerkovich-Williams. Her comic timing and fearless commitment to the performance eventually became a bedrock for some of that show’s best comic bits. Opposite her is Jay Harrington, who played the titular lead on the also-beloved Better Off Ted back from 2009-10. His alpha male good looks hides a deft affability that made Ted Crisp an incredibly winning center to that shows’ zanier efforts. Combining these two is a guarantee of Bean-love. So Benched already has that in its favor.
Equally importantly, it’s great to see them playing characters with real flaws. Coupe’s Nina is an ace lawyer because she is a high-strung mess in the rest of her life. Harrington’s Phil is a former golden boy who couldn’t take the taste of failure and fled to a job where failing is the expectation. The pilot makes no apologies for these prickly qualities, which is a welcome challenge to audiences.
Plus, Harrington and Coupe have both tweeted with Alex.
— Jay Harrington (@jayharrington3) November 4, 2013
— Eliza Coupe (@elizacoupe) October 29, 2014
Oh, and the creative team includes a bunch of writers, producers, and performers from Better Off Ted, Party Down, and Trophy Wife. That is one hell of a comedic pedigree!
It’s a New Show That Already Feels Lived In
Ever noticed that everything on TV looks nicer than real life? That’s no accident. TV, like a lot of American mass media, presents aspirational images for audience. Especially in the past 15 years or so, that has been manifested in TV abandoning stories about working class people and settings. While the shrill nouveau-riche stereotypes on Modern Family won an endless cavalcade of Emmys, the America that most people know was left to fringe shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, sub-culture offerings like House of Payne, or artier fare like Orange is the New Black. While it’s still early, Benched looks and feels like a representation of the worn-down and overworked America that Hollywood forgot. The public defender’s office, courtrooms, and bars that these folks spend their frustrated lives in are shabby. That shouldn’t feel monumental, but it is in 2014. Old vinyl blinds! Mysterious smells! Endlessly milling repairmen! Much more familiar than the immaculate sets on USA’s other shows like White Collar.
Social Awareness and Unconventional Stakes
Jumping off the previous point, Benched doesn’t takes that working class setting for granted. Going off the pilot alone, it feels like a series that will be acutely aware of the society that exists outside of TV. Like the aforementioned Orange is the New Black, its comedy will deal mainly with the ungainly and inhumane legal system that treats the poor like criminals simply because they are poor. In the pilot, this is exemplified by Coupe’s Nina having a grandstanding court moment to get a client out on bail. That sounds typical enough, but her alleged crime is not: stealing diapers. The D.A. wants her to post $2,500 for bail, because she was accused of stealing a product worth a few dollars and couldn’t make a previous court date because she was in jail…awaiting her bail hearing. That’s a far cry from the operatic stakes of The Good Wife or the endless murders and rapes that fuel Law and Order. It’s also much more common and problematic in our country. Kudos to this show for recognizing that from the start.
Becky’s Favorite Pilot of the Fall
Alex hasn’t watched enough to pass real judgment, but Becky said that Benched was the best pilot she had watched this Fall. Would she ever steer you wrong when it comes to TV? Never! (Editor’s Note: She did watch every episode of The Cape, though. Take that with a grain of salt. – Travis)