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.