“Bent” certainly isn’t broken, but its timeslot is. Representing the kind of charming romantic comedy TV frequently aspires to but seldom delivers, the show’s scheduling appears inexplicable, with NBC rapidly exhausting its six episodes via back-to-back airings — opposite ABC’s “Modern Family,” no less — over three successive weeks. The concentrated run has an almost-British feel to it, in that the program actually comes to a rather elegant conclusion. And given the way NBC’s handling it, the opportunity for additional remodeling will likely hinge on the network making allowances for what will likely be fixer-upper ratings.
At its core, the series requires a bit of whimsy and suspension of disbelief, similar to Eldin the ever-present house painter on “Murphy Brown.” In this case, newly divorced attorney Alex (Amanda Peet) hires a contractor, Pete (David Walton), to redo her Venice digs. Except Pete — not only an inveterate womanizer and occasional surfer but also a gambling addict — becomes a regular part of her life.
Pete’s past behavior has alienated his crew, and his extended circle includes his dad, Walt (Jeffrey Tambor), a struggling actor still basking in the glory of past mini-triumphs, like a “China Beach” arc cut short (he says) by his uncomfortable chemistry with Dana Delany. Alex, meanwhile, has a shy and precocious daughter (Joey King) and a sister (Margo Harshman) as sexually well-traveled as Pete, to the point where the two have to think to be sure they haven’t previously hooked up.
Created by Tad Quill (a “Scrubs” alum) and saddled with a near-meaningless title, “Bent” traffics in rat-a-tat banter that’s increasingly common in sitcoms, but rarely this well executed. Since Pete torpedoed an earlier job by sleeping with his married client, for example, Walt takes one admiring look at Alex and cracks to the work gang, “Get your money up front, boys.”
Granted, the opposites-attract formula hardly crackles with originality, but Peet and Walton (a “Perfect Couples” co-star whose looks and charisma augur bigger things, whatever “Bent’s” fate) sell it, in a relationship that proceeds in mildly serialized fashion. “I can smell the repression,” he mutters when Alex insists she enjoys sex.
Beyond the principals, the supporting cast features “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” J.B. Smoove and Jesse Plemons (“Friday Night Lights”) as Pete’s workers, though no one steals scenes as consistently as Tambor, who — in a later episode — zeroes in on a potential wedding conquest in a moment worth the price of admission alone.
In a rare move, NBC made all six episodes available, which at least says they know there’s something to see here — and only makes the scheduling strategy more puzzling. Yes, it’s an awkward fit with the web’s comedies, but given its superiority to most of this year’s new half-hours, why not plunk it behind “The Office” and hope for the best?
Admittedly, the premise is a little fragile for syndication — who ever heard of a five-year remodel? — but “Bent” is so breezy as to sort of beg for more. And if NBC can’t find the show a home, sister wing Universal Television should seriously consider seeking more hospitable real estate on a network that can.