All Rise For Eliza Coupe On “Benched”

Eliza Coupe
Nina Whitley (Eliza Coupe) gets to know one of her clients.

USA’s new comedy series Benched premieres tonight and the vehicle is a welcome return for star Eliza Coupe. She was great on ABC’s Happy Endings and Benched has created a great platform for her to really flex her comedy chops. In Benched, she plays a former corporate lawyer who adjusts to life, and her new clients in the public defender’s office.

I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of courtroom TV, most dramas make me doze, and other than Night Court, has court ever been funny? But the courtroom scenes in Benched feel really fresh; there’s great stuff happening in the background that heightens the comedy in the foreground. I told star Eliza Coupe that watching the court scenes reminds me of the multi-layered comedy I adored in Austin Powers, and she said with a giggle, “Just you wait…buckle up!”

In Benched, Coupe is surrounded by a great cast. Oscar Nunez is great in everything he appears in, so any scene he’s in is made immediately better. Maria Bamford is hilarious as the office kook, Cheryl and Jolene Purdy also stands out as a sarcastic law intern whose eye roll made me laugh every time.

I’m not sure how to feel about Jay Harrington’s character Ted; to me, he’s the show’s biggest enigma. Sure, he’s easy on the eyes, but as a frumpy, partying, gambling, inner-city basketball-coaching Ted, I’m not sure which category he’d fall under when playing the game “F@#$, Marry or Kill”, because honestly I could do all three. It’s pretty obvious which one Coupe will end up doing, but I hope they keep him as her foil for a while; the tension between their characters is delicious.

If star Coupe’s character, Nina Whitley, feels familiar at first glance, it’s because Nina starts off pretty close to Taylor Schilling’s Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black. It’s the same wide-eyed, fish-out-of-water, WASP-falling-from-her-tower-of-privilege that earned Schilling Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.

Eliza Coupe
Coupe’s character gets the hang of court.

But, I assure you, instead of feeling repetitive, it serves as a good starting point to measure Nina’s growth and it isn’t long into the first episode when you stop mourning the scuffs on her Louboutins and start rooting for the woman wearing them. It’s this scene, where Nina helps a young mother get bail, that sealed the deal for Coupe too. “That’s what was so beautiful about reading the first script,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Okay, this character’s losing it, she’s really losing it,’ and then you come to that scene and it’s like, “Ooh, she has such a heart, and she’s so smart! And she’s just so good.” and that’s the kind of stuff where you want to root for that person, you want to root for that character.”

I mentioned falling from a tower of privilege and Nina’s fall from the bosom of corporate law’s deep carpets and windowed offices is spectacular. It’s a moment of totally losing your mind that everyone secretly wishes they could have. So live vicariously through Nina — Coupe did — revealing, “Breaking stuff is always fun. That needs to be in therapy sessions — “throw this against the wall”; it’s 20 times better than talking things out.”

Benched > USA Network > Tuesdays,10:30 ET/PT

photos © David Moir/USA Network