TV Review: ‘Benched’

Benched TV Review

Stop me any time if this sounds familiar: A lawyer at a big corporate firm is denied a promotion, engages in a spectacular meltdown, and finds herself, after a period in purgatory, taking a job as a public defender, uniting her with wacky office mates (including one who’s kinda dreamy) and a new array of unpleasant smells. “Benched” plucks its leads from defunct ABC comedies — Eliza Coupe of “Happy Endings” and “Better Off Ted’s” Jay Harrington — and generally presents the sitcom version of a recycling program. The greatest indignity might be that its unscripted lead-in, “Chrisley Knows Best,” delivers more laughs.

Much like USA’s “Satisfaction,” the outburst by Coupe’s Nina, delivered to a shocked conference room full of colleagues, helps set the plot in motion. Not only does the bridge-burning eruption result in her frequent humiliation — since the legend surrounding the actual event seems to grow in each retelling — it puts her back in contact with the former boyfriend and rising district attorney (Carter MacIntyre) who dumped her, and who is now engaged.

Coupe certainly throws her all into capturing Nina’s elitism and distaste for the unsavory realm in which she has been forced to slum. But aside from the occasional line that’s slightly bluer than what can be gotten away with on most network fare, there’s precious little here to distinguish the series.

The same largely goes for the character’s modest chemistry with Harrington and the supporting roster, which includes “The Office’s” Oscar Nunez. Indeed, each of the three previewed episodes (created by Michaela Watkins and Damon Jones) feels pretty formulaic, including as a subsequent plot where Nina is tricked by her new coworkers into getting arrested so she can better understand the ordeal her clients must experience.

Having established its dramatic identity, USA has been less successful in finding a logical path to expand its sunny approach into comedy, which sheds some light on reports that the channel intends to retrench its development in that arena.

“This is not going my way, is it?” Nina asks in the middle of her opening rant, exhibiting a rare moment of self-awareness.

Of course, that observation also applies to “Benched” in general, which — deriving a meaning from the title separate from the courtroom — makes the kind of weak case for watching that doesn’t merit a place alongside USA’s first-string players.

TV Review: 'Benched'

(Series; USA, Tues. Oct. 28, 10:30 p.m.)


Produced by the Mark Gordon Co. in association with ABC Signature.


Executive producers, Michaela Watkins, Damon Jones, John Enbom, Mark Gordon, Andrea Shay, Michael Fresco; producer, Pixie Wespiser; director, Fresco; writers, Watkins, Jones; camera, Giovanni Lampassi; production designer, Kristan Andrews; editor, Andrew Doerfer; music, David Schwartz; casting, Wendy O’Brien. 30 MIN.


Eliza Coupe, Jay Harrington, Oscar Nunez, Maria Bamford, Jolene Purdy, Carter MacIntyre

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  1. Alyson says:

    The show was smart and funny, which makes it very little like other shows, there’s even a joke later on when a kid asked if public defenders are so important, why are they never the focus of any of the Law and Orders on TV? It did for our broken legal system what Scrubs did for our broken healthcare system. Also, the leads’ chemistry was more than “modest” – so much more convincing than most sitcom and even drama relationships. A scene with them standing a foot apart fully clothed in the second to last episode and I felt like I needed to avert my eyes. If a reality (but not really) program makes you laugh more, well, maybe it was over you head, which is sad, since it’s not that cerebral despite being the smartest sitcom I’ve seen in a long while. And now we’re left hanging because USA couldn’t deign to give us a proper ending. The lesson? Don’t bother giving one of their shows a try.

  2. Jen Brehl says:

    So Sad its being cancelled, was hoping it would do well and have many seasons ahead.

  3. John says:

    This reviewer should find another line of work. Great show…much better than the tripe that passes as comedy on network TV.

  4. Paul says:

    Watched 10 minutes and had to turn it off,, If this is what passes for entertainment we ae truley doomed.

  5. Laurie says:

    I watched one episode last night on the recommendation of friends and ended up watching every episode aired so far. Loved it!

  6. Lois says:

    She’s nasty, watched a couple of shows and that will be all.

  7. Marta says:

    I could not disagree more. Coupe is not only adorable, she is quirky, funny and relatable. I love how she shuffles up to her desk and into the courtroom. Her comic timing is natural. She makes me laugh outloud. Her male counterpart is also perfectly matched to her personality. I’ve watched each episode two times each already. Look forward to the next week’s episode. Coupe is rare as she is not capitalizing on her beauty (which she definitely has); characters are very likeable. Reviewer could just be jealous I suspect.

  8. What a stupid, cheap-shot review. This is actually a well-written, well-acted ensemble comedy piece that grows on you with each viewing. What a snotty reviewer.

  9. What the? says:

    I watched the pilot online and thought it was great.

    • Kaity Dewitt says:

      Eliza is incredible! But the script material/writing – horrible and dated. How OLD are the writers? USA is keeping its yawnworthy rep alive. It’s 2015 almost…ACT like it! And cliche to make fun of a successul beautiful blonde…ENVY and BITTER called.

      • Lauriea776 says:

        I loved that she was a beautiful mess in the tradition of Lucille Ball and Debra Messing.

      • Alyson says:

        The show didn’t make fun of her for being blond and successful. Men are allowed to be antiheroes but women have to be perfect all the time? People can relate to her character precisely because she has flaws. Also, it makes her successes later on that much sweeter. To quote The Dark Knight Rises, why do we fall down? So we can pick ourselves up! And that’s just what she does.

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