In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, NBC
There are some people, it seems, who can more or less kill any project they're in, just through proximity. Jennifer Aniston, talented actress though she might be, can pretty much guarantee that any movie she's in will be terrible.
Then there's David Walton. Walton is the ebola virus to the immune-deficient patient of NBC sitcoms. He was in NBC's 100 Questions, which had its episode order cut down to six before it even aired, after which it was promptly cancelled. Then he joined one of NBC's 2011 mid-season replacements, Perfect Couples, which was practically DOA.
Now he's one of the two stars of Bent, in which he and Studio 60's Amanda Peet (could she be the next Jennifer Aniston?) are 'bent (but not broken)' individuals, she an up-tight newly-divorced lawyer, he a gambling- and sex-addicted contractor, both on the inevitable rom-com path to togetherness.
And despite the fact it has an excellent pedigree behind the scenes, zingy dialogue, and one interesting supporting character, there's not more than two laughs in the first two episodes (not even one laugh per episode) and it's got spectacularly low ratings, even for an NBC show.
David Walton has killed another show. Watch it splew blood in your face if you dare.
Here's a trailer, which actually doesn't look that bad. Don't let that fool you - wear a mask.
"Bent" is a romantic comedy about a womanizing, surfer dude contractor and his beautiful, no-nonsense, type-A client, who work together to remodel each other's lives as they renovate her Venice, California home.
On the surface, Alex (Amanda Peet, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") and Pete (David Walton, "Perfect Couples") could not be more different. The recently divorced Alex is a hard-working, high-strung lawyer who is raising her 10-year-old daughter, Charlie (Joey King, "Ramona and Beezus"), as a single mom following her husband's incarceration for insider trading.
Unwilling to let anything get in her way, she downsizes into a smaller house and hires the charismatic Pete, a free-spirited ladies man and recovering gambling addict who desperately needs this gig with Alex to jumpstart his life - and prove that he is no longer a screw-up. Upon hiring him, Alex quickly realizes that she has met her match in Pete, who - along with his motley construction crew - will not only tear apart her kitchen, but also transform her worldview in the process.
Adding to the charm of Alex's family life is her wild younger sister, Screwsie (Margo Harshman, "Sorority Row"), who unfortunately for Alex, seems to be cut from the same reckless cloth as Pete. Meanwhile, Pete's home life includes his narcissistic, live-in father, Walt (Jeffrey Tambor, "Arrested Development"), a perpetually unemployed actor who still yearns to get back in the game.
Is it any good?
Parts of it are, but watching it is very much like a trip to a highly skilled dentist whose only tool on the day you turn up is, unfortunately, a wrecking ball.
The main problem is the characters, particularly the main two, who are in no way likeable. That's partly the writing, but also partly the acting. Walton, who's basically played the same character in every show he's been in, isn't great and his unsubtle performance would be better to suited to a multi-camera show with an audience. Peet lacks any of the charm she displayed in both Studio 60 and The Whole Nine Yards, although that's more a problem with the writing of her character than her - it's still a little her, though. Even when they're written as likable and doing likeable things, as when Walton takes Peet's daughter to play piano with his father, his performance means you still end up not liking him.
Worse still, the supposed potential romance between the two leads feels like a purely by-numbers bit of writing: they're the leads, it's a rom-com, they must be attracted to each other and end up together, even though there's no real chemistry or reason their characters would like one another. Even the attempts to give the unlikely duo Moonlighting-like dialogue falls flat on its face.
Then there's the supporting characters. Alex Breckenridge-alike Margo Harshman is actually quite good and her character is reasonably appealing - if this were a show about her, it would be more interesting and probably funny. But she's pretty much the only one, and the rest of the supporting characters, including Jeffrey Tambor as Walton's dad and Eli Stone's Matt Letscher as Peet's rich boyfriend, are uninvolving and/or unlikable as well.
And all of this is a shame, because there is some decent writing and plotting. Okay, a little homophobia and some incredible stupidity as well (a character called Screwsie? Seriously?), but the scripts are intelligent and thoughtful - just more dramedy than sitcom.
I can't even work up the energy to watch the third episode, as I normally would, because this got about 2m viewers, which is non-existent, even for NBC - the show will be cancelled and replaced with re-runs of a The Voice clips show within about a fortnight, I reckon.
- March 30, 2012: Third-episode verdict: Bent (NBC)
A review of the first three episodes of NBC's Bent
- September 4, 2012: Preview: Go On (NBC) 1x1
A preview of NBC's Go On, starring Matthew Perry