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Preview: Benched 1x1 (US: USA)

Posted on October 18, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Benched

In the US: Tuesdays, 10.30/9.30c, USA. Starts October 28

And lo! It came to pass that the USA Network, the motto of which was “Characters Welcome”, decided that it was going to make comedies. Because if you make hour-long dramas and comedy-dramas, surely half-hour comedies are just as simple, right?

And first it did commission a weak-arse adaptation of Channel 4’s Sirens that still managed to be one of 2014’s best-rated basic cable comedies. And then it did commission Playing House, which made the weak-arse Sirens look like Fawlty Towers.

Then after a mere eight months of thinking about whether it was sure about this whole comedy thing, it did commission a third comedy, Benched, which apparently was enough for USA because although they’re ‘fully committed’ to it (translated: will drop it like a hot potato as soon as possible), there are going to be no more USA comedies for the foreseeable future.

So let’s appropriately enough start shouting “Dead man walking!” as Benched trundles across our screens, waiting for its imminent execution. It’s a shame really, because it stars Eliza Coupe, who after starring in both Scrubs and Happy Endings, would normally be onto better things than her Happy Endings colleague Casey Wilson, yet who has the (slightly) superior Marry Me on NBC. Coupe plays a corporate lawyer who’s first dumped by her fiancé and then overlooked for partner at her firm, prompting an outburst (and demolition) at her firm so strong that she’s not able to work in corporate law any more and is forced to take a job as a public defender. There she meets a motley collection of similarly failed lawyers and demented defendants, and has to do her best to both survive and look after those she’s charged with defending.

And there’s a guy. There’s always a guy.

Coupe does her best and the script does explore areas of the law that most legal shows don’t bother with, ranging from why you should be nice to security guards to the shoddy treatment that the poor get at the hands of the law. But despite all Coupe’s delivery as well as physical comedy skills, the show is woefully unfunny, with a script bereft of any jokes that might cause you do anything more than smile or titter. While the characters are at least more bearable than those in Sirens and have greater maturity than gnats, unlike those in Playing House, a particularly sarcastic judge that Coupe has to deal with is really the only one you’d voluntarily see again, and basing a series on Coupe’s legal wrangles with her ex- as a proxy for their relationship issues doesn’t really make you want to watch more than another one or two episodes tops.

Benched could get better over time, but we’re talking about a pretty poor foundation for everything. And given how little USA apparently wants to stay in the comedy business, I doubt the show will get renewed after its first season unless it gets some very, very good ratings.

So pray for Coupe to get something better, but expect Benched to be benched before the year is out.

Here endeth the lesson, but starteth the trailer. You may titter at it a bit.

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Review: Undateable 1x1-1x2 (NBC)

Posted on June 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Undateable

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. At least, for NBC’s Undateable it was.

As the title suggests, this is a comedy about a bunch of hopeless male nerds who are basically undateable: they don’t look good, they don’t know how to talk or act around women, yet all they want in life is to win over some woman's heart. Into their midst comes an alpha male, a modern Fonzie, who is the master of the one-night stand and small talk with the ladies. And he’s going to show them how to win it big with the girls.

Ordinarily, that would sound pretty horrible and given it stars Chris D’Elia (Whitney) as the neo-Fonz and is a multi-camera comedy filmed in front of studio audience in the worst traditions of CBS comedies – the success of which NBC is desperate to emulate – that potential for horrible only manages to near cesspit level depths.

But right now, thanks to the tragedy of Elliot Rodger, lonely nerds who have problems with women aren’t exactly a popular subject in the US – particularly ones that seek help from pick-up artists in shows that tell nerds that yes, your princess is in the same castle. Couple that with Elia’s decision to take to task in the worst possible way women around the world for the hashtag #YesAllWomen, which emerged following Rodger’s murders, and you’d presume, perhaps even hope, that Undateable would die a fiery death on arrival, just like any other NBC comedy you could care to mention, lest we all get the plague and die from its suppurating sores.

Yet, strangely, Undateable got the highest-rated summer debut for a network comedy in five years. On NBC.

WTF? What’s going on?

Well, Undateable isn’t quite what you might think it is. For one thing, it’s from Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs, Cougar Town and Ground Floor, so it was never going to be as stupid or as offensive as anything that the Chuck Lorre channel was going to throw our way. It’s also based on a book by two women – 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won't Be Dating or Having Sex – and written by romcom specialist Adam Sztykiel (Made of Honour).

But more importantly, it’s not a programme that portrays women as objects or that shows that constant one-night stands are a good thing. Indeed, Neo-Fonzie isn’t the hero – just as the nerds are going to learn from him how to flirt and be confident, so he’s going to learn from them that actually, maybe his life is a bit empty and lonely and he needs to treat women better.

In a sense then, TV has never needed Undateable – a show that teaches nerdy men how to be nice to women, not to expect them as a prize and shows them that women are people with their own problems, too – more than it does right now.

I just wish – as I do with pretty much every NBC comedy – that it was a bit funnier.

Here’s a trailer or two:

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Review: Enlisted 1x1 (Fox)

Posted on January 15, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Enlisted

In the US: Fridays, 9.30/8.30c, Fox

If there’s one genre of comedy that the US does particularly well, it’s military comedy. Think The Phil Silvers Show. Think MASH. Think Private Benjamin. Don’t think Down Periscope.

But there’s been a bit of a lull of late. Wonder why. In fact, despite largely the conclusion of the Iraq war and the withdrawal of US troops from both there and Afghanistan, many are questioning if it’s ‘the right time’ for another military comedy.

Is there ever a right time?

All the same, a cautious greeting I think to Fox’s Enlisted, a welcome, funny comedy from Kevin Biegel, a former Scrubs writer and the co-creator of Cougar Town, that sees a 'super soldier’ (Geoff Stults) sent back from Afghanistan for punching a superior officer. He winds up at a 'rear detachment’ base in Florida, which coincidentally happens to be the same base where his two younger brothers are stationed - one who hates the army but is quite a good soldier, the other who loves the army but is a terrible soldier. Put in charge of them and the rest of their platoon of losers, Stults finds himself having to deal with not just his new, less prestigious mission, but competition from another sergeant (Angelique Cabral), his superior officer who also happened to raise him after his parents died (Keith David)… and a lost dog.

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