‘Ben and Kate,’ lotsa clichés, few laughs
He's the madcap brother who never grew up on this Fox sitcom
September 11, 2012
We all know those eternally adolescent guys who survive on a combination of stupidity and self-confidence, blundering into and out of problems that they've caused themselves and trying the patience of their loyal friends and family members. But we don't know these guys from real life. We know them from TV and movie comedies.
So it would take a lot of charisma on the part of the actor and creativity on the part of the writers to make this stock character work again. Unfortunately both of those qualities are in too short supply in Fox's new sitcom "Ben and Kate." The whimsy feels forced and, therefore, not whimsical at all, and the laughs are scarce.
Airing on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 8:30 p.m., the premiere episode opens with a narrated montage in which Kate (Dakota Johnson) tells us that her older brother, Ben (Nat Faxon), "never grew up." In a series of quick scenes, he pops up and says things like "I need your car. And a piñata and six dresses, size 8 through 12."
Kate then tells us that that she, by contrast, "grew up too fast." We see a boyfriend literally running off when she tells him that she's pregnant.
Kate and her daughter, Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), who's now 5, are living in a apartment that seems a little too nice for a single mother working as a bartender. Ben pops up again, this time because an ex-girlfriend, whom he calls "Mrs. Ben Fox," told him to call her. Instead, he spies on her and learns that she's getting married.
Ben decides he has to stop the wedding. This is interfering with Kate's plan to "have the sex" with a relatively new boyfriend. Like every sitcom female in the last two decades, she seems to have a fixed minimum number of dates before she sleeps with a man — in her case it's 10 — and she has to tell everyone she knows when the sex is going to happen.
Ben's plan involves rappelling from the roof of the building where the reception will be held, climbing through air ducts, throwing a smoke bomb and kidnapping Mrs. Ben. Kate tries to talk him down.
Ben, meanwhile, dislikes Kate's boyfriend because of his weak high-fiving technique. Trying to scare him away, Ben says, "Stay away from my sister, before you find out what six years of krav maga feels like. Well, like a year and a half, plus four years on and off. I took some time off. I was traveling."
Someone who's more naturally funny than Nat Faxon could pull off that speech and perhaps even make us forget how many times we've met similar types in previous comedies. But Faxon brings nothing new to his line readings.
As Kate, Dakota Johnson doesn't seem sure whether we're supposed to see her as a little stupid as well, or as sort of a doormat, or as just a generic sitcom straight woman.
The British actress Lucy Punch plays Kate's coworker and friend B.J., earning some laughs in a scene in which she advises Kate how to draw her date's attention toward her mouth. This scene would be funnier if the show hadn't already made a joke about what B.J.'s initials mean.
Echo Kellum plays Ben's friend Tommy, whose only discernible character trait seems to be mild stupidity too. For example, he can't read the word "salmon." On the plus side, the actors generally underplay and don't stress the jokes too hard.
The creators may have been trying to achieve an ironic distance from the material by playing with clichés. At one point, Kate actually says to Ben, "I'm not going to get sucked into another one of your harebrained schemes." And then, after a quick cut, she's helping him with his scheme.
But in the sitcom-development process, a lot of good intentions are abandoned. The clichés just sit there.
We can give the creators of "Ben and Kate" the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't mean we have to give them our time.
CBS dominates a slow Thursday night
This month’s new media traffic data
The year that was: 2014 by the numbers
As other spending slows, digital surges
‘Galavant,’ ambitious but disappointing
As the year ends, Rachel reminisces
What will be the big media stories of 2015?
Best tube bets this weekend
Cable overnights: ‘Colbert Report’ surges
Networks: Hey, don’t let Aereo do that
Order from Amazon, get it in an hour
Survey: People trust the internet, for now
Vme TV airing Christmas marathon
- Justine Bloome becomes head of strategy at Carat USA
- Carol Duncan becomes SVP and CFO at Barker
- Bill Robinson becomes VP of partnership development at Home Team Sports
- Sharon Dastur becomes SVP of programming integration at iHeartMedia
- Tasneem Raja becomes senior digital editor at NPR
- Mike Wilson becomes editor at The Dallas Morning News
- Ian Bremmer becomes foreign affairs columnist at Time
- Dan Berman and Sacha Scoblic join National Journal
- Cosme Lopez rises to SVP and GM of pay-TV at Cisneros Media
- John Lambertus becomes VP of revenue operations at Vdopia
- Former CBS News executive Emerson Stone dies at 86
This month’s new media traffic data
This week’s cable ratings
This week’s broadcast ratings
This week’s top movies, songs and books
This week’s daypart ratings
This week’s younger viewer ratings
Media buyer opening in Memphis
Media planner/buyer wanted in Boston
Needed: Digital media coordinator in Roswell, Ga.
Media buyer/digital strategist job in Cedar Falls, Iowa
Broadcast media buyer wanted in Denver