Chosen Television: Michaela Watkins’ Benched


When yet another season of fall premieres rolls around, it’s more or less a sure bet that network lineups will include a smattering of courtroom-centric dramas or comedies. Fortunately, USA’s late-in-the-game proferring Benched, created by SNL veteran Michaela Watkins (most recently from the underrated and freshly cancelled Trophy Wife), is a delightful addition, thanks to a cast brimming with talent and a script with an eye for clever hysterics.

Benched’s exposition is covered with a swift, intro-worthy kick: Nina Whitely (Eliza Coupe, from the also-cancelled-too-soon Happy Endings), has a breakdown at her corporate law office after learning she has not made partner, and that her ex-fiance, Trent (Carter McIntyre), is newly re-engaged. (The freak-out, done in under six minutes, features a wonderful, cringe-worthy final office exit that

Michaela Watkins (c) NBC/Mary Ellen Matthews

Michaela Watkins (c) NBC/Mary Ellen Matthews

is an admixture of everyone’s worst job-quitting dreams and fantasies.)  After six months, Nina finds herself on the first day of the job slumming it as a public defender, along with a colorful new cadre co-workers, including absent-minded Sheryl, (Maria Bamford), Micah (Jolene Purdy), a necktie-rocking, lip ring-sporting intern, Carlos (Oscar Nunez), the seeming voice of reason, and Phil (Jay Harrington), a compulsive gambler and washed-up courtroom champ (as well as, at this point, Nina’s suspected future love interest). We soon find that Nina’s opposition in court is none-other than her former lover, Trent, who looks like the only two WASP-y, smirk-enthusiast district attorneys/aspiring politicians I have ever met.  The real scene-stealer here, though, is Fred Melamed as the presiding judge during Nina’s first day at arraignment; His zinger to Nina “If you ever approach my bench without permission again, I will ship you to Pelican Bay in a Hefty bag.  Love you, mean it, best friends!” needs to be my new ringtone. Can someone do this for me? Let me know.

Coupe’s exemplary comedic portrayal of a type-A personality — somewhat reminiscent of her stint on Happy Endings — paired with her knack for physical comedy and clever zip-fast delivery shine in Benched.  Although tedious moments can be found in the material that relies too much on socioeconomic tropes, and the ever-excellent comedian Bamford is (thusfar) sadly underdeveloped as a character, there is enough whip-smart dialogue to give one hope that this will be remedied quickly in the future.  For now, Watkins’ Benched is a sharp sitcom with promise that won’t be thrown in the slammer anytime soon.

What do you think?

About The Author

J.E. Reich

J.E. Reich ’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Luna Luna Magazine, , LIT Magazine, Armchair/Shotgun, Everyday Genius, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and other publications, and her nonfiction has been featured on Nerve, the Huffington Post, and Thought Catalog, among other places. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010 and 2012, and is a former writing fellow of the TENT: Encounters with Jewish Culture program. A Brooklyn resident, Reich is a curator for Medium, a contributor for the Daily Dot, and is working on her first novel. Her novella The Demon Room, about the Jewish artist Amedeo Modigliani, published by Thought Catalog’s e-book division, is out now. Follow her on Twitter at @jereichwrites.

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