Filming on comedian Denis Leary’s new show Benders took over entire blocks of the Irish stronghold of Sunnyside, Queens last month. Well known landmarks were among the show’s top locations, which were greeted with cheers – and a few jeers – by the locals, who are watching their neighborhood become an increasingly in-demand film location. CAHIR O’DOHERTY has the word on Leary’s new show on the IFC channel, which could do for one local Irish bar what Seinfeld did for Tom’s Restaurant.
Funnyman – and son of immigrants from Co. Kerry -- Denis Leary’s new eight part TV comedy Benders just wrapped in and around the Irish stronghold of Sunnyside, Queens.
The show follows a group of out of shape middle aged friends united by their lifelong obsession with their own floundering amateur hockey league. They’re not exactly professional athletes in other words; in fact they’re not even what you might call gifted amateurs.
But none of that will ever stop them from playing their own dad-bod, spare-tired, “Hey guys, hold on a second!” breathless hockey.
Following your dream, even when it’s completely obvious to everyone around you that it’s always going to remain a dream, is either touching or funny depending on who’s looking at it, but with Leary on board as producer (his son also appears in the show) comedy will always be the watchword.
To add to the local color Benders is using well known Sunnyside Irish bar Maggie Mae’s on Queens Boulevard as its local, referring to the pub by its own name in the show and even showing bartenders wearing their real Maggie Mae’s t-shirts.
If Benders becomes a hit, it might well do for Maggie Mae’s and Sunnyside something of what Seinfeld did for Tom’s Restaurant and the Upper West Side.
Wicklow-born Leanne Moore, co-owner of Maggie Mae’s with her husband James, says that the bar’s inclusion in the new show is really down to luck. While the crew were shooting in the nearby and perfectly preserved 1970s style former Dime Bank on Queens Boulevard, a location scout took a short walk in search of a bar to film in.
The scout soon happened upon Maggie Mae’s and decided that it was perfect for the show. Before long the production crew spent five full days shooting there.
“There was a lot of luck involved that we got picked up that way and they were really nice,” Leanne Moore tells the Irish Voice.
“They came and they liked the place. They kept the name for the bar in the show and we were wearing the t-shirts so they got one for one of their actors. Denis Leary’s son was actually in the show and James, one of our bartenders, appeared in one shot.”
If Benders is well received, Moore adds that they will be back shooting again for a second season, all of which is good for business and raises the profile of Sunnyside, an already up and coming neighborhood in Queens.
But it’s not just the local businesses and realtors who are setting their hopes on the success of Benders. IFC president Jennifer Caserta told the press, “Benders is exactly the type of fresh, original comedy that complements our existing programming slate. Hockey knowledge is not required. These guys are all about their beer and their bros.”
As became clear during the Sunnyside shoot, Benders follows a close-knit crew of childhood friends united by their devotion to their men’s ice hockey team, the Chubbys – geddit? The Chubbys are Paul (played by Andrew Schulz), the insecure leader whose loyalty to the team comes into conflict with his loyalty to his wife Karen (The Office’s and 21 Jump Street’s Lindsey Broad).
Paul’s best friends are Anthony (Chris Distefano) who uses his considerable charm to make his way in life, Dicky (Orange Is the New Black’s Mark Gessner) a hedge fund manager who likes to buy his way out of every situation, and Sebalos (Ruy Iskandar) an aging slacker still in search of his purpose in life.
What they miss out on in life they somehow find on the ice, where their passion can reign free even though their devotion to the game often creates chaos in their everyday lives. The eight-episode comedy series premieres on October 1.
As the show took over the streets of Sunnyside some of the famously grouchy posters on the local Sunnyside Post pages started to get a little annoyed about the scale and extent of their arrival.
“Are they filming an adaptation of War and Peace?” one poster demanded to know.
“They took up parking in our area for three straight days recently, and again this week, even taking up the sidewalk to serve food they aren’t buying from local establishments.”
“Spread the pain and film in other neighborhoods,” the poster continued.
Not everyone was impressed by all this bitter grousing however, with one local responding, “You are mistaken. The article itself said Maggie Mae’s was chosen for the show and will do more business, as will all the surrounding businesses.
“No one loses money from a film shoot. All the film locations I’ve worked at, I’ve gotten to know new neighborhoods and their bars and restaurants. Stop being a grouch.”
Two people who have always seen the potential of Sunnyside as a destination and Maggie Mae’s as a landmark Irish bar are the pubs owners, of course. The couple recently was the drivers behind a dramatic renovation of the bar, which has been trading under the same name for at least a quarter century.
“It was enjoyable doing the renovations,” says Leanne. “James and myself were a long time doing the planning. We wanted to create somewhere we’d love to go as a couple, you know?”
Although the Moores put Maggie Mae’s selection down to luck, there’s no doubt their hard work has paid off and it comes at a time when the wider Sunnyside neighborhood is on the up.
“There definitely is a lot of new faces, there are so many people coming in. They have just been happy to find a new place to hang out,” says Leanne, who adds she is glad the bar has also been able to hang on to the regulars who have helped make it what it is.
Despite the camera crews and star sightings, the unflappable locals managed to enjoy the experience, and now they just hope the show is the hit it is already rumored to be.
“We listened in to some of the filming and it seemed like it was really funny so I hope it gets picked up for another season,” says Leanne.
“If it is they’ll be back here next April. The first broadcast of Benders will be at 10 p.m. on October 1 on IFC. Some of the actors may come by for the first broadcast and we’ll probably host a little event in the downstairs bar.”