Parks and Recreation launched as a shortened six-episode order because Amy Poehler was pregnant at the time, and they weren’t able to shoot any more episodes. The show that debuted was effectively an experiment, the first stab at merging together the mockumentary-style of The Office (the show originated as a spinoff before being turned into an entirely disconnected project) with the show’s cast as performers (or thespians, to refer to them with the respect they deserve).
Parks and Recreation was an experiment that NBC nurtured (likely because of its pedigree), giving the show a plum post-Office time slot and renewing it despite continually plummeting ratings. Now finishing its fourth season, and likely to be renewed for a fifth, the show will be heading into syndication with the potential to make NBC Universal a not unsubstantial sum.
Bent was ordered as a six-episode first season, and positioned as a midseason replacement simply because NBC was unwilling to commit to a larger order. The show never quite found the right gear for Jeffrey Tambor’s character, but the cast dynamic was strong and the central chemistry with David Walton and Amanda Peet gave the “romantic comedy” side of things some definite credibility.
Bent was a perfectly solid show that NBC turned into a scheduling experiment, airing the six episodes in three one-hour blocks spread out over three weeks. Although Josef Adalain has NBC sources on record suggesting this was actually an attempt to help the show, that doesn’t change that the choice to experiment effectively doomed the show before it had a chance to become, well, anything.
Given that Walton was cast in another pilot this morning, the chances for a renewal are effectively nil, but I want to expand on this comparison briefly and reflect back on the two weeks and six episodes that are likely to remain the extent of the charming, pleasant Bent.
First off, I don’t buy the logic that doubling up on episodes actually helps a show. For a show to rely on people becoming hooked more quickly, people need to hear about the show, which requires advertising (which NBC didn’t bother with) and time (which the double scheduling doesn’t allow for). For word of mouth to spread, there needs to be enough time for people to discover a show (which continues to increase as DVR technology makes backlogs a reality), time to tell people about it (which, admittedly, is decreasing in an internet age), and time for those people to find time to actually watch it (which is an unpredictable variable). When you only give people two weeks to achieve all of this (since “scheduling over three weeks” means only 14 days), to expect any sort of growth over that period is naive. Whatever NBC says their intentions might have been, their scheduling killed Bent, and anyone at NBC who didn’t realize that while it was happening is asleep at the wheel.
However, let’s not waste too much time on lamenting what happened with Bent, and let’s talk about Bent itself. I’ve been pleased to see both Alan Sepinwall and Todd VanDerWerff stepping up to write about the show week-to-week, which is really all critics can do in this circumstance: with ratings this low, and a network this disinterested in seeing the show succeed, the best way to support the show is to write about it as though it isn’t about to die (although both, perhaps unavoidably, often prefaced their remarks with the show’s imminent death).
It is on that creative level that I see more comparisons with Parks and Recreation, in that both shows are built around short-term goals which could not actually sustain an entire series. Pete would not be building Alex’s kitchen for a hundred episodes, just as Leslie couldn’t be crusading to build a park in place of the pit for more than a season and a half. We’ll never see how they exactly intended to solve this problem (unless the writers do some postmortems once the end becomes official), but there’s an obvious contrivance in the project defining Alex’s house as a space where the show’s romantic pairing are forced to interact.
While “Tile Date” was largely focused on the will they-won’t they of it all, Kyle Bornheimer’s appearance as a neighbor suing Pete for his loud music and general antics was a lot of fun, and a sign that the workplace vibe could be expanded in subsequent seasons. The show actually didn’t elevate any of the work crew to series regular status, but Jesse Plemons got a big romantic arc in the finale, JB Smoove had an expanded role leading the B-story in “Mom,” and you could see where they had room to expand on these characters in the future. While the kitchen remodel is most basically an excuse to force Pete and Alex together, it also does make a charming and breezy structure for the series, and I could see them getting more mileage out of it in the future (compared to the park project, which felt like it was blocking the charm of day-to-day workplace comedy as opposed to enabling it).
No, the show never quite figured out what to do with Jeffrey Tambor, but the show got a lot of things right. Ben was as likeable a “Roadblock Boyfriend/Girlfriend” as I’ve seen in a will they-won’t they scenario in a while, I was glad Amanda Peet got a chance to be funny (her entrance into the GA meeting in “Mom” being a fine example of this), and I concur with all who have praised David Walton’s strong anchoring performance. I also appreciated the Perfect Couples reunion in last night’s finale, although I’m likely one of the only people who felt the same way.
While it’s easiest to take scheduling lessons from Bent, and I expect that will become its legacy, I hope we can also look to what the show accomplished creatively. While the second season we imagine will likely remain hypothetical, the least we can do for the show is allow for a moment of delusion and to give the show some credit for what it accomplished long before NBC chose to sacrifice it to the scheduling gods.
- While Bent is unlikely to receive a DVD release or pop up on streaming sites (after all, Perfect Couples ran for much longer, and with better ratings, and got no such treatment), it’s available on Amazon and iTunes, and I presume it’ll stay there for a while (in addition to OnDemand services and Hulu, where it’ll likely disappear sooner).
- I’m actually curious how everyone feels the doubling up of episodes affected the show creatively: Matt Roush suggested that it helped the show, but Todd VanDerWerff noted that it meant less time to become attached to the central relationship. It’s also a bit of a weird question given the critics likely watched all six in quick succession (I caught up on the first four on my DVR, personally), so it’s all out of whack scheduling wise.