Television review: 'Bent' embraces the rom-com formula

I won't dispute the fact that from the floor to the roof much of "Bent," a rom-com sitcom debuting Wednesday on NBC, is made from parts stripped from several ages of earlier romantic comedies. But I would also argue that it doesn't matter much.

Formula does not always betoken a lack of imagination; sometimes it just betokens an active embrace of formula. And "Bent" (a bad title, I think, not sufficiently justified by one character's description of himself as "bent, not bowed") builds a nice little shelter in a classic style.

Amanda Peet plays Alex, a newly single mother and lawyer — her ex-husband is in prison for insider trading — who has downsized with daughter Charlie (Joey King) into a bungalow in crazy Venice, Calif. Into her life comes contractor Pete (David Walton), an unpunctual womanizing surfer dude — we never actually see him near the ocean, but Peet smells the saltwater on him.

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Their relationship is laid out in this early exchange.

She: "Those dimples don't make you any less late."

He: "C'mon, they make me a little less late. No?"

As is often the case in such comedies, that there's nothing in their characters to suggest that they're meant for each other is the very thing that means they're meant for one another: Their ultimate union needs to seem as impossible as it feels necessary. They have to "complete" each other, in the popular parlance of love, as yin does yang.

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Walton is again the sexy rumpled man-boy he played in two previous short-lived NBC sitcoms, "100 Questions" and "Perfect Couples." Peet ("Jack & Jill," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") is not required to be the sort of mess rom-com women sometimes are, just a little uptight; and to be sure, she sees some things for what they are.

Alex gets a straw boyfriend (Matt Letscher, in what is commonly referred to as the "Ralph Bellamy role"); a sister, unfortunately nicknamed Screwsie (Margo Harshman), who is a sort of female equivalent to Pete. Pete brings to the mix a roommate father (Jeffrey Tambor), a still-struggling actor and still-struggling lady-killer; and a construction crew, played by the invaluable J.B. Smoove, from "Curb Your Enthusiasm"; Jesse Plemons, who was Landry on "Friday Night Lights"; and Pasha D. Lychnikoff, who is Russian.

Yet it is all very well done. If the characters are not particularly original, neither do they come off as artificial. The dialogue is 75% banter, but it is crisp and tart, and the actors make even the ripostes you can predict sound spontaneous.

NBC will air what look to be the series' only six episodes two-a-night over the next three Wednesdays. This might be a sign of faith (hit them hard and fast to spark a reaction) or a sign of none (get this over with quick). As if preparing for the worst, Episode 6 ends not at a point of resolution, but at least a point suggestive of the beginning of a resolution — a hint of closure.

More would be nice, but what's here is still worth your while.


'Bent'

Where: NBC

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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