Ben and Kate: TV Review
Real-life sibling hijinks from a producer of "New Girl" inspire fall’s most fully realized sitcom, starring Nat Faxon and Melanie Griffiths' daughter Dakota Johnson.
In a fall season when pretty much every new sitcom encountered is both a waste of money and of your 22 minutes, it’s refreshing to find that the broadcast networks didn’t completely whiff on a genre they’ve been so strong in recently. That’s because there are precisely two funny comedies with enormous potential.
And they’re both on Fox.
Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project utterly stand out from their fall freshmen competition, and it isn’t even close. More important for Fox, both of these sitcoms build on recent successes (New Girl, Raising Hope, the animated Bob’s Burgers), proving that Fox has got its comedy act together.
Ben and Kate is about a brother and sister who raised themselves amid a bickering family. Kate (Dakota Johnson) grew up to be super-responsible, while older brother Ben (Nat Faxon) became a happy-go-lucky guy with a never-ending string of bad ideas (though the disasters never bring him down). In college, Kate, of all people, got pregnant and dropped out just shy of graduation to take care of her daughter, Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).
Five years later, Ben drops back into her life, ostensibly for a few days, but soon realizes his sister isn’t living her life to its potential and ultimately decides to live with her and become baby sitter to Maddie.
Written and executive produced by Dana Fox (New Girl), who left a room full of hard-to-please critics roaring with laughter during the recent TCA press tour, the series is based on her real-life brother — so the stories are endless. Not only is the pilot a wonderful mix of hilarious moments (pretty much any time Faxon is in the picture) and subtle sentiment, but it’s one of those shows where the acumen of the off-camera talent (Fox) is impressive and clear, which gives hope for long-term success.
Ben and Kate mines most of its laughs from Ben’s hilariously wrong-headed life but also gets plenty of comic relief from everyone else in the cast, particularly Kate’s best friend, BJ (Lucy Punch), a Brit cocktail waitress whose sexual confidence is in stark contrast to Kate’s been-in-hiding-for-five-years worries about the dating world. The series also stars Echo Kellum as Tommy, who willingly follows Ben’s dubious ideas.
Few sitcoms — and none this fall — find their tone quite as quickly as Ben and Kate has. Faxon, especially, brings his A game to this role, and the series helps make Fox’s new four-comedy Tuesday lineup a don’t-miss destination.