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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by Tad Quill; directed by Craig Zisk; TRT: 22:35)
The network's description: ""Bent" is a new romantic comedy about two people who suddenly find themselves attracted to the qualities that typically repel them. 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 resilient and tough lawyer who now is raising her eight-year-old daughter, Charlie (Joey King, "Ramona and Beezus"), as a single mom. Unwilling to let anything get in her way, she downsizes into a smaller house, and she hires Pete, a recovering gambling addict and unapologetic womanizer, as the contractor to re-do her kitchen.
The remodeling job is Pete's last chance to prove that he is no longer a screw-up -- but he doesn't know what's about to hit him when he encounters the force of nature that is Alex -- nor does she realize that she's met her match in Pete, a man unafraid to call out her flaws. Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development") also stars as Pete's father, Walt, an out-of-work actor, while Margo Harshman ("Sorority Row") stars as Alex's wild younger sister Screwsie. This romantic comedy from writer and executive producer Tad Quill ("Scrubs," "Spin City") and director Craig Zisk ("Nurse Jackie," "Weeds") will prove that these resilient characters are "bent, not broken." The series is produced by Universal Media Studios."
What did they leave out? Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Bert Belasco and Rick Gonzalez also co-star as Pete's amusing contracting crew.
The plot in a nutshell: Pete (David Walton) and Alex (Amanda Peet) are both in need of a fresh start. He's a wake-and-bake surfer, a recovering gambling addict and an unabashed womanizer who's trying to rebuild his contracting business. She's an overwhelmed single mom, still reeling from her divorce and frantically trying to balance her job as a lawyer with being there for her 10-year-old daughter Charlie (Joey King). And so when Alex puts her housing remodel out to bid, Pete's improbably the one who wins the job with the caveat being no "monkey business." At the first sign of trouble, he'll be fired.
Not helping matters: Alex's flirty sister/day drinker Screwsie (Margo Harshman) and Charlie's nanny Simone (Susan Park) drool over him at first sight. Thankfully, Pete has a dysfunctional support system in his father Walt (Jeffrey Tambor), the womanizing block he's a chip off of; his begrudgingly loyal crew: Brett (Bert Belasco), Arturo (Rick Gonzalez) and Vlad (Pasha D. Lychnikoff); not to mention his GA group. Sure enough, Pete does indeed screw up and lose the job. Thankfully, he left just enough of an impression on Charlie to show Alex he just might be worth keeping around.
What works: To its credit, it's one of the few single-camera shows that doesn't rely on flashbacks, narration or confessionals for easy jokes or cheap laughs. And while that may bring down its jokes-per-minute average, it does give the show some room to breathe and find its voice. Walton, playing what feels like the umpteenth iteration of his stock character, and Peet are likeable enough together albeit not particularly memorable (Alex: "Why are you cocky? Is there some universe where 35 and constantly being baked is cool?" Pete: "Yeah, Venice."; Alex: "Those dimples don't make you any less late." Pete: "Come on, they make me a little less late.").
It's the supporting cast that is actually the catalyst for its few legitimate laughs, most notably Tambor and Belasco. Tambor's Walt is a sobering reminder of what Pete's future will be if left unchecked (Walt: "What's our contraception situation?" Pete: "Uncomfortable.") while Belasco's new dad Brett, sans daycare, unsuccessfully tries to watch over his son while on the job. It's a relaxed, enjoyably frenetic-less half-hour of television that's more smile-worthy than funny...
What doesn't: ...facets that will undoubtedly be the show's undoing. Everything about "Bent" is so low key and soft it borders on catatonia, the death knell for any new comedy trying to break through. And while comedy nerds like me will likely power through the series for being unassumingly off the current comedy center, there's little to actually tub-thump. Given that it's pretty old hat premise to begin with - the uptight girl and the slacker guy have to tolerate each other and, wait for it, there's a simmering attraction between them! - that's a lot of strikes out of the gate. All in all, it's not necessarily a bad show...
The bottom line: ...just a sure-to-be short-lived one.