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Benched is not very original, but it is funny, and has a terrific cast.

TV Review: ‘Benched’ – ‘Pilot’

USA’s newest comedy, premiering this week, is called Benched. A smart lawyer named Nina (Eliza Coupe, Happy Endings, Scrubs) suffers a breakdown after being dumped by her fiance, Trent (Carter MacIntyre, Undercovers, Drop Dead Diva), and being passed over for promotion at her company. Her explosion is spectacular, and leaves her lucky to find employment in the crummy public defender’s office. Here, though, she might just find a sense of purpose amid the downtrodden misfits.

Benched doesn’t have much that one could call fresh and original. The Jerry Maguire-opening and tale of a person who finds deeper meaning than money is nothing new. There are quite a few other shows like it on television, both dramas and comedies, and so it seems like USA is just repeating a common structure. But there’s something charming and breezy about Benched that makes for good entertainment, even if it’s not exactly high quality.

One thing Benched has going for it is the quirky supportive cast. Like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, our lead is surrounded by a number of cartoonish players who give the proceedings a hyper reality. Sheryl (Maria Bamford, Adventure Time) looks to be very near the edge, even as she’s flighty enough to not let much in her day bother her. Oscar Nuñez plays Carlos, a role that, at first glance, seems quite similar to his part in The Office, non-showy, but still funny. Micah (Jolene Purdy, Under the Dome) keeps Nina going, the intern who tells the hard truths. Phil (Jay Harrington, Better Off Ted), a compulsive gambler, serves as a love interest and cautionary tale for Nina. And Trent is still around, often facing Nina in court. Because of these various personalities, I like the show.

Coupe is a great leading lady. She has proven her worth as part of an ensemble, and as much as I enjoy seeing her do that, she can also carry a program as the protagonist on her own. The second fiddle here is Harrington, who has been desperately missed on television, a few years having passed since his last starring role, and together the pair have terrific chemistry. It’s a no-brainer match, one audiences are sure to eat up. I did.

In the first episode, a lot of time is spent establishing the premise. We have to see Nina get to where she’s going to be. Still, it seems like there is time for her to start to find her footing, giving viewers an idea of what Benched will be on a regular basis. Nina spends time in the court room, sparring with Trent, Judge Nelson (Fred Melamed, Silk Stalkings), and a grumpy bailiff (Cedric Yarbrough, Reno 911!). While the case isn’t all that important, just watching the cast interact is good enough, and will probably be the best part of any installment.

Benched is genuinely humorous, well-crafted by creators Michaela Watkins (last see on-screen in Trophy Wife) and Damon Jones (Tammy). Even if they didn’t come up with many ideas of their own (maybe they were instructed not to by the network?), they show great talent in putting the various pieces together to make them work. Not every effort in this vein is nearly as good as Benched is. It takes some people who know what they’re doing to pull it off, and given the small writing resumes of the creators, this is a fine first big effort to be proud off.

Benched is far from perfect, and it has a lot of work to do if it wants to become anyone’s favorite show. Yet, there are some excellent ingredients here, well stirred, so it’s worth checking out. Given how funny those involved can be, it is likely there will be payoff if you start watching and stick with it.

Benched premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET on USA.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome is the creator and writer of It’s All Been Done Radio Hour, a modern scripted live comedy show and podcast in the style of old-timey radio serials, and the founder of the Columbus-based entertainment network, IABDPresents. He is also the Chief Television Critic for Seat42F.com and a long-time contributor for Blogcritics. Plus, he works fiction into his space time. Visit http://iabdpresents.com for more of his work.

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