NVTV 31: Selfie "Even Hell Has Two Bars" and "Never Block Cookies", Marry Me "Annicurse Me", and Benched "Pilot"

Hey, this season's getting good! Selfie turned in two very solid episodes last night, giving it the season-high streak of good episodes at three (Bad Judge arguably has the same, but it's really more two and a half on that one), Marry Me had its best outing yet, and the new USA sitcom Benched is promising enough that I'm adding it to replace the fallen Manhattan Love Story despite never really having time to do these reviews justice as is. More after the jump. 

First up, Selfie has now done an episode without every member of their cast except John Cho and Karen Gillan, and it's an interesting cast dynamic; I can't recall another show with two clear leads, and about a dozen in-and-out support players (though Larry, Sam, and Charmonique appear to be in pole position among the second stringers). Both episodes dealt pretty heavily with a plot I have very little interest in seeing- the inevitable Henry/Eliza romance- but they appear to be in no real hurry to break that glass, and hopefully we get some good stuff with Henry's new love interest before then. My Fair Lady never made the sexual tension between its leads explicit- and indeed, there's a case to be made that that Henry is gay- and if Selfie wants to deviate from that formula it'll have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. The second Eliza and Henry kiss, it becomes a very different show, and not necessarily a better one. 

But, for now, it's the most balanced show among the freshman crop. It's not quite as funny as Bad Judge on its best day, but it's far more consistent, and while it's slightly less polished at this stage than Black-Ish, it's significantly funnier. This has been a great season for red-haired sitcom leading ladies, with Gillan, Bad Judge's Kate Walsh, Married's Judy Greer, and You're the Worst's Aya Cash all turning in show stealing should-be-but-won't-be career making type performances. Sadly, none of those four shows is much of a hit, or even guaranteed to be back next season, but for now, the era of extremely funny ginger ladies is in full swing; Hell, even the doula guest star redhead over on Mulaney was great. 

Anyways, Selfie's gotten very good, and you should watch it. David Harewood is excellent as Henry and Eliza's way-too-comfortable Disney-singing boss, the inverted slut-shaming arc on the second episode was  fun twist on a tired formula, and with the exception of Eliza's cardboard love interest, the wide supporting cast is very good, and surprisingly versatile. Charmonique's "block it" compulsion is a running gag with legs, Larry is being rewarded for Biran Huskey's excellent work with more and more screen time, and the various underlings at… whatever the name of their company is… are uniformly entertaining. We also saw the show experiment for the first time with a B-plot that didn't feature either Eliza or Henry, and being able to count on the ensemble to carry half an episode or so when needed bodes very well for Selfie's long-term viability (even if its ratings don't). Big thumbs up, though the Eliza/Henry teases are a red flag. 

Oh, and they got "accustomed to your face" out of the way, but largely flubbed what should have been a very big moment. Small misfire in an otherwise very strong week for the show. 

Marry Me likewise took a jump this week, though it's a hard show for me to be objective about as it's largely Happy Endings karaoke; Gil is two parts Max, one part Dave while Denna is two parts Alex, one part Penny, etc. It's unnerving, adn the conversational rhythms and comic predilections being almost identical don't help things. Of course, if you're similar enough to Happy Endings to be unnerving, that also means you're somewhere in the neighborhood of Happy Endings on the humor front, and that's very good news. John Gemberling is making a strong push for show MVP (called it!), but the entire ensemble is strong and even one-note characters like Fantasia Yang have a lot of potential if the show decides to run them back.

The Denna/Gil tease deserves special mention, as they wrapped up kiss without much fanfare or drama, and importantly no festering Ross/Rachel romantic plot tumor, but did so in a way that still progressed the two characters' relationship with each other, and left the door open for more development later on; since Denna and Gil are the show's two funniest characters right now, I'm all in favor of seeing the two of them share more screen time. 

Finally, USA's Benched put Eliza Coupe and Jay Harrington back on my TV, so I'm already grateful. The pilot (about a former big-shot lawyer putting her life back together as a public defender after a very public meltdown) is uneven, as pilots tend to be, but gets the most important job out of the way: I want to watch this lead character, and I know the world around her is funny. Coupe's one of the best comic TV actresses of the last five or ten years (she's arguably the best part of the very strong Happy Endings ensemble, singlehandedly saved Scrubs from a brutal three season downturn, and  is one of the very best Community one-offs), and it's nice to see her get a true starring vehicle. Harrington's Better Off Ted was a comic masterpiece that was way too clever to ever be a success, and it's similarly nice to see him back on my screen, especially in a role with some bite to it (broken idealist turned alcoholic cynic, but in a funny way). Too early to say much beyond that, but the rest of ensemble seems competent, and I expect good things to come.