“She wants to redo the whole kitchen.”
What makes a comedy, a comedy? Is it the jokes? The light subject matter? The half-hour running time?
Only the last one really applies to Bent. It’s a romantic comedy on paper, but it lacks jokes, at least in the sense that we usually conceive of them. In their stead is a lot of witty, zippy, rapid-fire banter – the kind of stuff that won’t inspire guffaws of laughter but might engender a smile or two.
As for the subject matter, again, it’s light on paper: a woman and her contractor meet and flirt. Bingo bango boom. That’s it. But when you delve a little deeper and look at who these characters are, you start to see that it’s about two broken individuals coming together. Alex (Amanda Peet) is a recent divorcée whose former husband is in prison, and Pete (David Walton) is a former gambling addict who’s trying to get his life back on track by going to Gamblers’ Anonymous meetings. The other characters are nursing emotional injuries of their own, too. Alex’s daughter Charlie (Joey King) is wise beyond her years, but she’s hiding her crippling stage fright from her mother for fear of stressing her out. Even Pete’s father, Walt (Jeffrey Tambor) leads a sad existence, playing piano at a department store while harbouring ambitions of being an actor – an old man holding onto a child’s dream.
Bent’s cheery direction and tone belie this sad undercurrent. But one gets the sense, from watching the pilot, that the show has barely scratched the surface of the characters’ darker sides. How is the divorce really affecting Alex? What was rock bottom like for Pete? How does it feel for Charlie to watch her family fall apart? And what’s Walt’s deal anyway?
“I hired him to fix my house, not bang my child care!”
The other notable thing about Bent is how fast it zips through plot. It takes less than ten minutes for Pete to have sex with Charlie’s nanny, get fired, help Charlie get over her stage fright, and get rehired. That all happens in the second half of the episode.
None of this is particularly funny, by the way. Bent is too fast to pause for punchlines. Like Pete, it coasts by on charm and wit alone. But also like Pete, the charm and wit disguise a darker side. That being said, Bent isn’t trying to cover up any barely-concealed cynicism; there’s an odd hope to the proceedings. The show’s message seems to be that even when things are old and broken, there’s an opportunity for new beginnings and second chances. The home renovation at the show’s centre couldn’t be a more on-the-nose metaphor for hope and renewal. Maybe that’s what makes a comedy – not jokes, not lightheartedness – hope.
That’s all I have to say about the pilot. Going forward, I don’t know if I’m going to do much deep analysis. I might highlight interesting lines of dialogue or talk about other aspects of the show that are worth noting. I’ll play it by ear.
For more information on the Bent rewatch project, please click here.