In 'Bent,' where's the chemistry?

David Walton as Pete, Amanda Peet as Alex David Walton as Pete, Amanda Peet as Alex in "Bent" Photo Credit: NBC

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REVIEW

SITCOM PREMIERE "Bent"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 9 on NBC/4.

REASON TO WATCH Amanda Peet ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") is back on TV.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Alex (Peet) has had some bad marriage luck -- of the type where the husband is serving time for insider trading and she must raise a 10-year-old daughter, Charlie (Joey King), on her lawyer's salary.

Of course, she has to downsize, to Venice, Calif., and must refurbish the kitchen and other parts of the house. That's where Pete (David Walton) comes in. He's a more-or-less-reformed gambling addict and surfer dude, who more or less used to operate a contracting business. He needs a gig, although she's understandably reluctant to let a fast-talking bad boy with three-day-old stubble into her life. But she's attracted, and a rom-com is born.

MY SAY What's wrong with "Bent"? Believe me, nothing that's immediately apparent. You have a pair of seasoned actors -- both good -- and a solid supporting cast (Jeffrey Tambor plays Pete's flaky, artsy dad). Some of the writing is sharp, too -- mostly screwball patter that keeps the adversaries at arm's length as they warily circle each other, seeking advantage in the form of a sharp verbal uppercut.

"Bent" was created by Tad Quill, a former top producer at "Scrubs" who clearly knows how to fashion lines in the form of a scalpel. What's wrong, in fact, is chemistry and payoff. Screwball comedy is all about repression, and sexual tension, and protagonists who want each other, but throw spitballs instead -- preferably clever, funny, crackling spitballs.

However, Walton and Peet have zero chemistry, or chemistry of the sort that, with a minor adjustment to the script, could make them brother and sister. That takes the sting out of the dialogue, and worse, the show ambles along without getting viewers to particularly care about Alex or Pete. Without that requisite electricity, they're hollow, or just sad.

BOTTOM LINE Amanda Peet continues to search for a vehicle to match her talents -- a search not likely to stop here.

GRADE C+

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