Last night was the season premiere of Benched, which Dustin has called “the best new sitcom of the fall,” as well as (potentially) “the next Night Court.” While I continue to stand by Jane the Virgin as my pick for best new show, Benched, in the span of 22 minutes, may have passed by Marry Me as my new runner up.
The problem with Benched, though, also serves as its greatest strength. No, not Eliza Coupe. And not Jay Harrington. It’s not even Maria Bamford (or Oscar Nuñez). The best/worst part of Benched is how REAL the show is. Yes, it’s about hilarious drunk/often buffoonish lawyers. But you know why they’re drunk and buffoonish? Because they have to work within our current shitty legal system, every f*cking day. The show centers around Nina (Coupe), a high-powered corporate attorney who has a nervous breakdown when she is passed over for partner both professionally (by her law firm) and personally (by her boyfriend) in the span of about five minutes. Cut to six months later, and Nina’s working her first day as a public defender in a courtroom that smells like literal (and figurative!) shit.
Benched is indisputably hilarious. But it’s also very upsetting. So which feeling wins out? It’s a close call.
Nina’s very recent ex-boyfriend tells her he’s getting married, moments before she is expected to be made partner at her law firm. That position instead goes to a less qualified lawyer, who happens to have much larger… alternative assets. It IS, no doubt, heartbreaking, but Nina’s acknowledgement of the situation,
Plus this lesson in why you should always hold your hands INSIDE the elevator doors when making a grand exit,
—put this scene over the top.
ROUND GOES TO: HILARIOUS.
Nina shows up to her new job, only to find a courtroom reeking of actual feces, clients she knows nothing about, and her ex standing across the aisle. Naturally, she wants to bail, but it takes her intern, a second year law student to smack some sense into her.
An unpaid intern is the only person that gives a crap about a jail full of impoverished defendants? That is an all-too believable scenario, and while Coupe, Jolene Purdy (that “Hogwarts dropout” up there), and the always wonderful Fred Melamed (as the crotchety judge) play it perfectly, I’m afraid to say:
ROUND GOES TO: HORRIFYING.
Here’s where Nina actually has to deal with her new clients. And there are a lot of them. A LOT a lot of them. Some of them are truly terrible,
And she may not actually care about any of them,
But she does her best for them. AND gets to stick it to stupid Trent while doing so.
While no sane person with halfway decent taste could argue that Benched isn’t one of the funniest new shows of the fall, it’s also a lot to take in. It’s almost Wire-esque in its coverage of issues you really don’t want to look that closely at, but because it’s all masked under the guise of a bubbly sitcom, it actually often makes those issues hit harder than they would in a drama. The comedy really does expose more than we would maybe prefer. This show gives a too-close look at the terrifying, rage-inducing clusterfuck that is the American legal system, but, because of a solid cast and great script, does so in a way that— yes, the votes are in:
IS MORE HILARIOUS THAN HORRIFIC. Congratulations, Benched.