Eliza Coupe: USA's 'Benched' Is the Opposite of 'Happy Endings'

The actress insists the new series still has a place on the network that's shying away from comedy: "It can play amongst the dramas easily"
USA Network
Eliza Coupe in 'Benched'

Eliza Coupe gets messy in USA’s new courtroom comedy Benched.

The Happy Endings alum portrays top-notch lawyer Nina, a character with considerably more flaws than Coupe's usual roles. After failing to make partner at a high-end firm, she has a public tantrum that involves insulting her co-workers and breaking expensive office memorabilia. The clumsy attorney is subsequently forced to take a less glamorous job as a public defender.

Heavy on physical comedy, the sitcom gives the actress a much-welcomed chance to show her comedic chops in more ways than one, and the network is allowing the cast and creators more freedom to do so than they’ve been accustomed to on broadcast (show creator Michaela Watkins acted in the short-lived but beloved ABC comedy Trophy Wife). Even USA's recent announcement that it is pulling away from comedy to refocus on drama doesn't seem to worry Coupe: "It can play amongst the dramas easily," she says.

Coupe spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the scene she fought to keep in, comparisons to Lucille Ball and what makes Benched different from other comedies.

Read more 'Benched' and 'The McCarthys': TV Review

What’s the transition been like from network sitcom to cable comedy?

We have a lot more freedom. We can say "shit" and we can say "f—," and they won’t blur it or keep it out. There's a lot more freedom. I don’t have to look so polished, which I love. There’s nothing wrong with that on network, but they just have to appeal to a broader audience. Everything looked really perfect on Happy Endings. I'm grateful I don’t have to look so perfect. Even though I watched a couple episodes, and my hair looked really good, and I was like, "Wait, I don’t want it to look that good." So if we get a season two, my hair isn’t going to look that good.

Is it refreshing to play a character who's not so put together?

Yes, I used to say that Jane [from Happy Endings] was like putting on a back brace. Nina has a back brace — sort of — but it’s undone and the buckles are busted. I just love that Nina is a lot more grounded and much more of a real, relatable character. I love Jane, but it was more of a caricature than a character.

What did you specifically fight with the network over to keep in the show?

They were going to a version where I didn't put my fingers up in the pilot, and I was like, "How do we not do that?" So I know they fought for that. There were some other bits in some other episodes, but it's been a little bit less of a struggle.

Where does Benched fit in to USA's landscape, with the network's new refocus on drama?

The thing about Benched that's different is that, yes, it is a sitcom; yes, it's very funny, and it's full of jokes and everything, but the characters actually do have an arc, and by the end of the series, there is some change, and you don't see that a lot in comedy. Usually, whatever they're f—ed up with, they're f—ed at the beginning of every episode again so that we get to see them with their f—d-up-ness. This time, every time the character gets to evolve. There's some heart, and there's some comedy, so it can play amongst the dramas easily. 

Read more TV Ratings: USA's 'Benched' Debuts Slightly Higher Than 'Playing House'

What was the feedback you initially received in the role?

They wanted more clumsiness. I was like, "My body is bruised, people. My ankle is broken," which it was. I was doing all these things, and I think they like that my character is like a bull in the china shop.

You do a lot of physical comedy. Has that always been an interest of yours?

I love doing physical comedy because I grew up watching Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin. That’s all my dad and I watched, and I absolutely loved it. People compare me to Lucille Ball just in that aspect, and I’ve never seen an episode of I Love Lucy. The only one I've seen is that one that Julia Roberts watches in Pretty Woman. My mother is a little bit like that, so maybe I got it from her. I just love it because I think it's funny when people are clumsy out of nowhere.