In ensemble comedies, there's always one actor that manages to transform their character and inadvertently transcend the others -- even just a little. It's a totally subjective thing, but as far as I'm concerned, Monica Geller ("Friends"), Jack McFarland ("Will & Grace"), Brad Williams ("Happy Endings"), Ellie Torres ("Cougar Town") and Jay Pritchett ("Modern Family") could or can do no wrong, and they shine just a teensy bit brighter than the rest.
Aside from those characters, my new favourite is Pete Riggins, played to scene-stealing perfection by David Walton. Oh, David Walton. (If this was Twitter, the hashtag would be #swoon.) He isn't exactly sublime or particularly innovative with his performances (based on his latest series, "Bent," the criminally undervalued "Perfect Couples") and he was the one notable exception in the dismal "100 Questions." In fact, he's really a two-note pony as far as his comic repertoire is concerned, but he executes those notes like a classical pianist. Or Jerry Lee Lewis.
If you blinked, you may have missed the first four episodes of "Bent," which NBC promoted with about as much enthusiasm as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries had on their wedding night. And the net's laziness showed in the premiere's ratings -- it did worse than "The Paul Reiser Show." Groan.
"Bent" is a romantic comedy about single mom Alex Meyers (Amanda Peet), who wants renovations done on her new home and hires sweet-talking, attitude-toting, rough-around-the-edges Pete and his crew of misfits for the job. Alex is, of course, charmed by our man Pete, who tries to stay guarded but can't help but unclench whenever the cool contractor is around, working his magic. Peet is terrific, by the way, who teetered between dramatic and comedic in "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" but on "Bent" finds the perfect balance of cautious and conventional, but thankfully she's no Prudence McPrude. Alex is definitely not Angela Bower to Pete's Tony Micelli.
The "Bent" supporting players are also all kinds of fantastic. Jeffrey Tambor -- in his best role since "Arrested Development" -- surprises as Pete's dad, an aging actor who could easily be a big ball of bocconcini but, instead, manages to be a well-rounded sweetheart. J.B. Smoove is as great here as he was on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Joey King's Frankie is as precocious as her most memorable role, Ramona Quimby, and Jesse Plemons is even more mellow here than he was on "Friday Night Lights" -- almost like he's in on the joke. (By the way, Walton's character's name, Riggins, isn't lost on us "FNL" fans. Riggins definitely suits Pete.)
So why will "Bent" likely be cancelled? Because NBC sucks? (Too obvious.) Because it's scheduled opposite "Modern Family"? A little; the timeslot's not exactly helping its cause. Burning through its six ordered episodes with back-to-back airings? Partly, sure, since it isn't exactly getting much time to grow its audience. But if you said "lack of promotion" -- ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! If you caught the double-episode debut two weeks ago, it's likely because "Modern Family" was a repeat, you flipped channels, and stumbled upon this pleasantly surprising sitcom. NBC should be thankful to the "Bent" cast and crew for delivering, reassuring viewers that the network still remembers how to make a must-see comedy that's actually funny (I'm looking at you, "Whitney" and "Chelsea"). Most new shows take time to grow on you but "Bent" was fabulous and laugh-out-loud hilarious right out of the gate.
Come to think of it, is David Walton that guy, the guy who murders any series he touches? You know who they are. Summer Glau ("Firefly," "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Dollhouse," "The Cape") springs to mind. So do Eric Balfour ("Hawaii," "Conviction," "No Ordinary Family"), Camille Guaty ("The Nine," "Cupid," "The Chicago Code") and Kyle Bornheimer ("Worst Week," "Romantically Challenged," "Perfect Couples"). I'm hoping this isn't the case for Walton, but it's something that can't be overlooked either.
This is clearly my last-ditch effort at selling "Bent" to the uninitiated. And, sure, it's not exactly an epic classic, and its title is a bit lame (it was mentioned in the first episode, but I forgot the explanation), but it has all the ingredients to succeed: wonderful actors, an easy-yet-original point of view, and excellent writing -- and not just corny, predictable, ba-dum-bum punchlines (ahem, "2 Broke Girls" and "Two and a Half Men"). It's obvious NBC loves what Walton has to offer (it's his fifth series with the net), but it would be nice if execs showed a little faith in him. A little more promotion, a bit of a break, and Walton might be able to finally break his show-murdering curse.
Follow me on Twitter: @DenetteWilford
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