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On the award-winning BBC sitcom Miranda, which premiered in 2009, British comic Miranda Hart used her prodigious height to grand comedic effect. Her six-foot-one protagonist, a joke shop owner, was lumbering and awkward and loveable: With vaudevillian ungainliness, she towered over nearly every other person on screen while never missing an opportunity to flaunt her unconventionality. The actress’ endearing brashness paired flawlessly with her corporeal bounty, leading to the show’s success and propelling Hart into international stardom.
Fox’s Call Me Kat, a multi-cam American adaptation of this British hit, plays with scale in a different way. The show inverts its predecessor’s conceit, instead showcasing a protagonist whose bodily compactness contrasts with her comedic vigor. Amusingly, munchkin-like Mayim Bialik is nearly eclipsed by her co-stars in most frames. Friends, relatives and love interests loom over little Kat Silver, but her outsize personality reverberates past them nonetheless.
Air date: Jan 03, 2021
Bialik isn’t quite as Gumby-like as she was during the halcyon days of her early 90s teen sitcom Blossom, where she frequently danced, gyrated and sometimes even back-flipped, all the while rocking a collection of intensely floral headwear. (In full disclosure, I owned a Blossom doll growing up and never forgave the Tyco designers for gluing that damn bejeweled hat onto her scalp.) But even thirty years later, Bialik is as sprightly as ever. Call Me Kat is a return to form for the actress after playing a starchy frumpenstein for nearly a decade on The Big Bang Theory. (Bialik executive produces the show alongside her former BBT co-star Jim Parsons.) Her timing and delivery have never been spikier: Shedding the bulk of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler’s wryness, Bialik lets Kat Silver’s eccentricity soar like a deflating balloon. It’s too bad, then, that Call Me Kat suffers from the very same weakness as Miranda: Only the main character keeps your attention and nothing else.
Former math professor-turned-cat-café-owner Kat refuses to apologize for her happiness. Or her wardrobe. An anxious extrovert with a willful distaste for etiquette, she writhes her way through life, getting knotted up in cockamamie ruses and quasi-romantic misunderstandings. In the pilot, she defies a hostess by inviting a platonic plus-one to a formal event. In another episode, she joke-texts with a blind date about getting diarrhea. Of the four episodes available to critics, there’s not one where she doesn’t sing or dance or get a little bit drunk.
The show’s chief stylistic gimmick is Kat’s persistent fourth-wall breaking, during which she directly addresses the audience to comment on the plot or her feelings. (What used to be seen as daffy has been made cool again thanks to Fleabag.) While these asides sometimes disrupt the narrative flow, they’re also the funniest moments of the show, Bialik easily making you smile with just a subtle shift in her mien. This is a woman who belongs in front of a live audience.
With her chic bob and a cascading row of hoops, cuffs and studs lining her ears — not to mention her resonant alto lilt — Kat possesses the nostalgic, screwball kind of allure of a Bette Midler or a Barbra Streisand. It’s why her Louisville socialite mother (Swoosie Kurtz) harangues her about why she hasn’t found a husband yet.
Creator Darlene Hunt and her writing team underline Kat’s refreshing lack of desperation, permitting her to be contentedly unattached at age 39. (Why she was written to be just on the precipice of turning forty, when Bialik herself is actually forty-five, is another matter to unpack altogether. I mean, what, is there “still hope” only for those who haven’t yet firmly settled into middle-age?)
Nevertheless, despite her comfort in singlehood, Kat instantly gloms onto her chiseled college pal Max (Cheyenne Jackson) upon his return to Kentucky after a decade in Europe. Bialik and Jackson are clearly having a ball together — their collective dynamism thrums during a karaoke duet sequence, for instance — but I hesitate to categorize their chemistry as anything other than sororal/fraternal. As Kat admits with only a modicum of truthfulness, “To be honest, the real joy of a crush is that it’s one-sided. It’s mine to do with as I wish without his pesky feelings getting in the way.”
Kat’s sparkle, however, isn’t enough to illuminate her bland surroundings, which include the topical-in-2014 cat café setting, her gnattish mother and her nondescript barista buddies. (Despite their valiant efforts, comic veterans Leslie Jordan and Kyla Pratt have little to do but react to Bialik’s chatter.) So far, the show leans into farce and slapstick, with Kat constantly spilling on herself or knocking things over like every other female rom-com lead you’ve encountered before. Hunt’s penchant for coarseness, honed on The Big C, also oozes through with clunkers like, “Well, my momma used to make it for us kids on the holidays. We thought the burnt coconut looked like hair, so we called it ‘Momma’s Hairy Pie!'”
Bialik’s bubbliness isn’t enough to overpower the flabby storytelling and trite third act moralizing, but Call Me Kat has the potential to deepen its ensemble’s characterizations over time. As of now, though, I only want to be friends with Kat and Kat alone.
Cast: Mayim Bialik, Cheyenne Jackson, Swoosie Kurtz, Leslie Jordan, Kyla Pratt, Julian Gant, Vanessa Lachey
Created by: Darlene Hunt
Premieres: Sunday, January 3, at 8 p.m. (Fox)
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