The “hangout comedy” is becoming a common enough fixture on TV these days that we should probably come up with a working definition of it. Broadly speaking, I think of it as a laid-back comedy about adult friendships—sometimes with a romantic element, sometimes not—that usually involves whimsical characters dealing with and/or avoiding maturity, that tends to emphasize quirky dialogue over jokes and a kind of loping slice-of-lifeness over plot. Think, for instance, Cougar Town, Happy Endings, Up All Night (also, such short-lived comedies as Traffic Light and Perfect Couples).
A hangout comedy can be very, very funny, but it’s often as much about creating a vibe as about delivering belly laughs; the experience of watching it is like, well, hanging out with the characters. (In movie terms, the equivalent might be the Little Miss Sunshine brand of indie comedy.)
Bent, which debuted last night on NBC, is the network’s latest effort at the hangout genre. Here, the impetus for the main characters’ hanging out is not friendship but work: newly divorced Alex (Amanda Peet) hires contractor Pete Riggins (David Walton) to re-do her kitchen. Riggins brings with him his motley work crew, his struggling-actor father (Jeffrey Tambor), his string of ex-girlfriends and, of course, a will-they-won’t-they rom-com tension with Alex. It’s not brilliant but it’s enjoyable, with a lackadaisical charm and a strong cast. (The oddest element of which is seeing Friday Night Lights’ Jesse Plemons cast opposite someone else playing a guy named Riggins.) And while it’s not long on story, it’s strong on theme: as the title suggests, it’s about people who have been bent up a bit by life, giving the show’s comedy just the slightest sad edge.
The show is, at least, much better than the NBC hangout comedy Best Friends Forever (debuting next month), which I’ve just seen a screener of. Which makes it unsettling that the network is scheduling the show two nights a week for the near-future, as if it plans to burn the show off and has no expectations.
Bent feels like the kind of show that, while it might never be one of TV’s best, could have a long, enjoyable run—and anyone who doubts that a show about someone hiring a contractor could run for several seasons has never had a kitchen remodeled. Let’s just hope NBC doesn’t make like a fly-by-night contractor and take off leaving the job unfinished.