NBC’s ‘Bent’ almost gets the job done


David Walton as Pete and Amanda Peet as Alex in “Bent.” (Vivian Zink/VIVIAN ZINK/NBC)
March 20, 2012

“Bent” is a cute-enough romantic comedy that NBC is rolling out quietly on Wednesday night, signaling the waning days of the official TV season, when the networks like to jettison their leftover freight. The show misses its mark — but not by much and not in any objectionable way.

Amanda Peet, who is often better than the material she has to work with, stars as Alex, a workaholic lawyer who moves to Venice Beach, Calif., with her daughter after her ex-husband is sent to prison for insider trading. She hires (then fires, then exasperatedly re-hires) a contractor named Pete to remodel the kitchen in their bungalow.

Pete, played by ropy David Walton, is a recovering gambling addict who prefers to surf and sex his troubles away. Amid the sledgehammering of old drywall, Pete and Alex immediately engage in acrimonious repartee that the audience is meant to intuit as chemistry. But a watched pot never boils. It’s like a theatrical rom-com movie, minus the blessed guarantee of a 90-minute resolution.

You’ve seen Walton’s Mummenschanz-clay mug before, but you can’t remember where. In another time you’d wrack your brain over it (and maybe even write to those old Q&A columns in your TV guide), but in this age of Siri and her instant 4G answers, you quickly learn that Walton is one of those actors whom Hollywood, for reasons unclear, keeps trying to foist into a successful sitcom. He plays the same dude the same way each time; the show flops; he moves onto the next one. Last year, he was in “Perfect Couples.” Before that it was “100 Questions.” (Ring any bells? No?)

Walton is the weak spot in “Bent’s” otherwise fine — and large — ensemble cast, but he grows on you by the third episode. “Arrested Development’s” Jeffrey Tambor adds another layer as Pete’s semi-delusional father and housemate, Walt, a frustrated stage performer who plays piano in a department store. It’s essentially Tambor doing his stock zany-man part, but it’s a welcome sight here. In a later episode, Marcia Gay Harden guest-stars as Walt’s even-nuttier ex-wife (and Pete’s mother).

An earlier version of the pilot episode seen by TV critics has been tweaked and recast, greatly improving the lineup of Pete’s construction crew of misfits. Jesse Plemons (Landry from “Friday Night Lights”) is an awkwardly funny construction novice, and J.B. Smoove (Leon from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) is a jolt-prone electrician. Margo Harshman plays Alex’s promiscuous party-girl sister — they call her “Screwsie.” And there’s the morose daughter (Joey King), who seems to exist mainly to give Alex a working-mom complex and Pete a chance to show his softer side.

“Bent” is another single-camera cousin of “Scrubs” and of “Cougar Town” and prefers to jabber just as fast. Adding all these extra characters seems to be creator Tad Quill’s way of hedging his bets that the show might meaningfully evolve, if given the chance. What happens after Pete and crew finish the kitchen job? A bathroom remodel? You keep wishing she’d kiss him already so we can all move on.

Bent

(two half-hour episodes) premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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