NVTV 36: Selfie and Benched

At this point in their respective lives, Selfie  and Benched have almost identical strengths as weaknesses; both shows are perfectly cast and unevenly written, and his week was a very good example of that dichotomy for both show. 

On Selfie we got the weakest writing- at both a joke and story level- that we've seen in weeks, but it almost doesn't matter because Karen Gillan, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Brian Huskey have inhabited their characters to the point that they're funny almost by default. There's an incredibly funny- and yet incredibly stupid- segment late in the episode involving a bored Eliza and a rotary phone, that would have been absolute death with almost any other actress but is flat out spectacular because of Gillan's commitment to the bit. Alison Miller's Julia is terribly written, but Miller- a vet of a much better show costarring Cho in Go On- is good enough to make a very dull character ("She's lady Henry, but without any conflict!" said some asshole in the writer's room) bearable. 

As for the writing? The plotting was poorly paced, the jokes were iffy, and the resolution was mostly saccharine, but that's more or less par for the course at this point. Selfie's only had maybe one or two truly well-written episodes, and it doesn't necessarily need great writing to entertain.  

Sadly, though, Selfie is likely dead. It exists in the same mostly-cancelled limbo as Bad JudgeMulaney, and A to Z, and barring a massive ratings spike it's toast. It was alternately too smart for its target audience, and too dumb for the audience it actually should have been aimed at, and then translated to bad ratings in spite of a big promotional push and a stellar- and by network TV standards, fairly star-studded - cast. Hopefully we at least get to see the rest of the initial thirteen episode order, because for all its warts, Selfie is an extremely fun show to watch. 

Benched on the other hand is much more likely to survive, with a cheaper cast, lower expectations, and a stronger start…. but like Selfie, it's pretty much living off the natural charisma of Coupe and Harrington more than off of any particularly good writing or storytelling. The beats in this week's episode were paint by numbers, and the best joke of the episode felt like an ad-lib. Still, it's early yet, and it's much easier for a show's writing to improve (see Bad Judge) than its cast. 

Perhaps it's unfair to claim both shows are poorly written, as both have a very natural and deep understanding of their respective characters and what makes them interesting; they just don't always know how to make them funny. Luckily for us, Gillan and Coupe and the rest are strong enough to inject comedy into mediocre gags… but unluckily for Selfie, at least, that's not quite enough on its own. 

NVTV 34: Benched "Downsizing"

Benched built on a strong pilot by turning in easily the strongest second episode of any of the shows I've been covering. While not a network sitcom, it's easily the strongest starter of the season, and assuming it can maintain momentum it will rapidly shoot past Marry MeSelfie, and Bad Judge on my personal power rankings. 

Eliza Coupe has always been one of the funniest women on television, and she's overdue to have a show built explicitly around her; there's not a scene in the second episode that doesn't include her, and the show is stronger for it. Like Kate Walsh over on Bad Judge she's able to play the deplorable sides of her character without losing sympathy, and like Selfie's Karen Gillan she's willing to commit to the jokes just as hard as the emotional stuff and to give each exactly the right pitch. Seriously funny, compelling stuff from her. 

It doesn't hurt that her supporting cast is without a weak link. The villains are excellent (though it will never not be weird to see Marueen Ponderosa as a high-powered attorney), and the good guys- Maria Bamford, Oscar Nunez, and Jay Harrington- are all comedy vets with excellent typing and the elusive ability to bring real human depth to characters that exist largely just for laughs. 

The jokes are still probably the show's weakest link, but the cast is so good that it's hard to tell; Eliza Coupe is basically funny whenever she wants to be, regardless of material, and Jay Harrington's timing is almost Hedberg-esque; not in terms of delivery, but in the ability to make almost anything funny just by *when* he says it. 

Big thumbs up so far.