Is it possible to devote so much time to your career that everything else falls apart? What happens when that time could have been put to much better use? Will you be able to recover from the wrong turn that you made with your life? That’s part of the premises of the new USA comedy “Benched,” which one successful woman having to relive the worst day of her life on a regular basis as she tried to redeem herself. Sadly, the female redemption comedy has been done before on the big and small screens with much better results than this, which is a shame due to a decent cast that can earn laughs doing almost anything else.
“Benched” followed once successful corporate attorney Nina (Eliza Coupe) who believed that she was really close to being her law firm’s new partner due to her putting in really long hours for at least five years. She sacrificed her relationship with her former fiance Trent (Carter MacIntyre) to maintain the chance of making partner. Nina was recently dumped by Trent who decided to call her on the day of the announcement to tell her that he managed to get engaged to someone else in a matter of months. The annoucement made it hard for Nina to fathom as she tried to drink away her sadness, but the true disappointment came when she found out that the promotion was given to another lawyer who was less qualified and that the boss had a serious crush on. The news came as a shock to an already fragile Nina who ended up having a legendary meltdown that led her to breaking things, saying more than she should and leaving with the promise that she’ll find work elsewhere. It turned out that her meltdown made it impossible to employ her, even after six months went by. She ended up working in the Public Defender office where she had to defend a number of clients on a regular basis and getting paid a lot less than she was used to. Nina was paired with Phil (Jay Harrington) who was a once promising lawyer that gave it all up in order to have a good time and take nothing too seriously. Phil’s partner in silliness was fellow attorney Carlos (Oscar Nunez) who wanted to be like Phil, but he could never truly measure up. On her first case, Nina was forced to cross paths with her ex Trent who was now a high profiled prosecutor looking to make a name for himself. With the help of Phil and intern Micah (Jolene Purdy), Nina was looking to settle a score by making Trent look bad in as many cases as possible. Will Nina be able to make her new job work to her advantage or will she accept that her life will never be the same?
In terms of questions, the show only posed one big one as to whether it had the staying power to make it past the first season, which was unfortunately a resounding no due to the show’s way too familiar tone and lack of substantial jokes. The show’s strongest scene came from the series premiere when Coupe’s usual put together Nina completely went off the rails in a way that most people would envy, until the money ran out. The show’s legal sitcom tone had been done way too times and often with a much better execution. The series would’ve been better served taking a little more of an unconventional tone by turning it into a dark comedy where they would be allowed to get away with more of the show’s crazier antics and often leaving some episode on a less than satisfying note where not everything was wrapped up in a nice bow. “Benched” often came across as a 2014 version where regular lawyers and other courtroom employees dealt with the day-to-day chaos of less than high profile cases and included an even smaller paycheck that went with it. The show also seemed uncertain whether each episode should focus on Nina’s cases and dealings with her colleagues; or her budding relationship with polar opposite Phil. Sure, the Nina/Phil story had some potential, but it’s too early to tell whether viewers should root for the characters when the show was already on shaky ground. Future episodes should focus on establishing Nina’s relationships with her co-workers before throwing the character into a workplace romance too early on. It also would prevent the chance for Mehcad Brooks’ fellow defense attorney to return, because he did have a nice rapport with Coupe that allowed the actress to show Nina’s feathers get ruffled in a way that she hadn’t been as of yet. Let’s hope that the show find its footing in order for Brooks to return again at some point. Only time will tell if that’s the case.
As for breakout performances, Coupe and Harrington led the pack as their characters were often the driving force behind most the episodes stories. The series premiere established Coupe’s Nina and Harrington’s Phil as polar opposites that could be professional rivals one minute and friends the next as they confided in each other when something didn’t go according to plan. Coupe’s Nina was the perfect embodiment of how the best laid plans don’t always go according to plan. The character thought that she was going to have it all, until the moment everything went up in smoke. Coupe was best served in her scenes when Nina was allowed to cut loose, which often had the character doing something reckless that had comedic consequences for everyone involved. Her strongest scenes involved Nina’s most wreckless moments, which led to the occasionally appropriate chuckle. Nina’s series premiere meltdown was one of legends, and the best part of the show so far, where she was able to let her feelings rip as she tore into the colleagues who stood idly by as it happened. Another funny moment came when Nina got paranoid about Brooks’ defense attorney where it got to the point that her behavior forced her to spy on him. When she was caught in the act, Coupe sheepishly grinned as she tried to explain the character’s motives and realized that she made a complete fool out of herself for nothing. Harrington’s Phil, on the other hand, had the challenging task of trying to breathe new life into the typical goofball role to Coupe’s usually Type A character. He brought a sense of casual comedy that helped to make some of the less than stellar plots a little more tolerable, but he didn’t always succeed in doing so. Harrington managed to give his character some surprising depth in a recent episode where his character tried to be a serious lawyer to prove a point to Nina, which ended up backfiring in a lightly funny way where Phil got punching in the face for his efforts. Sadly, the show hasn’t had that many genuinely funny moments yet. Let’s hope a few more comes its way before the season, or series, ends depending on which way the network wants to go.
“Benched” premiered on October 28th and airs Tuesdays at 10:30 PM on USA.
Verdict: Coupe delivered a charming performance in an otherwise disappointment series that needed to sentenced to a quick cancellation.
TV Score: 1.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)