Eliza Coupe, Deon Cole (Isabella Vosmikova/USA)
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Everyone needs a little help in this episode of Benched, and everyone gets it. “Diamond Is A Girl’s Worst Friend” covers a lot of ground, tying together seemingly unrelated threads without straining credulity. Every beat of this plot is set up admirably, if sometimes transparently.

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Opening the episode with Nina’s once-a-month lunch treat—and mentioning that she used to be a daily customer—both establishes the restaurant as a place where she might have some pull and vividly recalls everything she’s lost in her transition from money-law to the public defenders’ office, paving the way for her resurfacing rage. It also tacitly provides a good reason—in addition to the mere shirking it might be—for her client to balk at the job offer. If her take-out lunch stinks up the office, can you imagine what the prep area smells like?

Deon Cole is perfectly cast as Diamond Danfield, his easy wit and warmth making him a rascally charmer instead of just a schemer. In Cole’s hands, Diamond feels fleshed-out, and he’s assisted in that by the dialogue. I especially like the piece of background that he swiped his fake gun from a local theater company, followed by the concise improv-style motivation for the mugging: “I’m the robber, this is a robbery, you’re the victim.”

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Diamond’s recidivism and his cheery fatalism make a certain amount of sense, reinforced both by the lawyers’ discussion of his likely fate and by the resistance of his prospective employer to hiring an ex-convict. The deck is stacked against him, and he knows it.

To meet the terms of his parole, Diamond needs to seek employment, but he doesn’t have the means—transport, attire, a working phone, a permanent address—to make it through interviews, much less to land a job. He needs anger-management classes to stay out of jail; he needs money to get into anger-management classes. He needs a job to get money; he needs money to get a job. No wonder he scams what he can and steals the rest. No wonder he resists advice and instruction from a woman who doesn’t understand the depth of his predicament. Thanks to Deon Cole and the writers who crafted the character, Diamond Danfield isn’t a symbol of a broken system; he’s a man trapped in that system.

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Deon’s not alone in this attention from the writers. After seven episodes serving as de facto narrator, Micah finally gets a story of her own, and it’s as well set-up as Nina and Diamond’s. What could have been another B-story about Phil’s gambling instead segues into Carlos and Phil assigning their court cases to Micah to “teach her a lesson.” Her consistent humorlessness pays off in the admission that she only laughs when she’s nervous, which neatly indicates her disintegrating confidence in front of a jury. (And Jolene Purdy’s struggle not to giggle is adorable.) Micah’s discomposure isn’t as exaggerated (or as entertaining) as Nina’s meltdown during her speech, but it’s realistic and relatable. Who hasn’t felt the impulse to burst into wildly inappropriate laughter?

What started as comeuppance for the office know-it-all ends as a heartwarming moment between colleagues. Phil and Carlos realize Micah just might know it all, and Micah learns that speaking in court takes skills she hasn’t developed yet. Phil steps in to take over the prosecution, smoothly springboarding off Micah’s giggles (“The defense finds these accusations laughable!”), and even throws her some recognition by asking for confirmation of legal detail—because a legal team should work together for the good of the client, and because everyone can use some help.

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Nina Whitley (Eliza Coupe) in anger-management class, not managing her anger (Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network)

This episode skewers Nina’s white-savior complex with pithy economy (“Please, Sandra Bullock, teach me how to use a fork!”) and undercuts her assumption that she’s a winner generously bestowing her help rather than a fellow loser who needs help as much as anyone, and more than most.

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“Diamond Is A Girl’s Worst Friend” isn’t as snappy and fast-paced as previous episodes of Benched, but it delivers strong character development, both in showing Nina’s recognition of her own anger and need for help and in promoting Micah from a wisecracking functionary to a character with her own goals and frailties. It explores the challenges of an ex-convict and current client and takes Nina to task for discounting his agency and logic. It shows how far Nina has come, and how far she has yet to go before she can become the best advocate possible for her defendants.

The money-ripping gag near the episode’s end sums it up. Nina knows that she doesn’t deserve to take Phil’s money, because she won their bet by temporarily outrunning the twists and turns of a broken system… but ripping the ten-dollar bill in two does no one any good.

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Nina wants to offset the inequities she sees every day, but her instincts—sometimes goodhearted, sometimes enraged—steer her wrong. She needs help. And she’s finally in the right place to get it.

Stray observations:

  • Carlos’ instincts, on the other hand, are right on the money. Here’s hoping his eerie ability to pick a winner turns up again in a future episode.
  • I don’t know whether lawyers, paralegals, and others experienced with the court system would be satisfied with Phil’s reason for deputing a second-year law student to try his “impossible” case, but he justifies the decision tidily without going down a rabbit-hole of legalese.
  • “Ugh, why is that a smell?!” Oscar Nuñez continues to make every line count.
  • Nina’s discontinued nail polish color: cheesecake vacation.
  • “Who is it?” “It’s Nina.” “Nina who?” “Are you serious? You mugged me yesterday.” “You have to be more specific.” “Okay, that’s not something you want to say to your lawyer, and I’m your lawyer, Nina Whitley.” And that is how you bring a joke around, folks.
  • “‘If the court pleases itself.’ Can you imagine?”

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