Ben And Kate Review: Fox's Family Focused Comedy Has Potential
Bridging the space between stories about single women pursuing self-improvement (New Girl, The Mindy Project), and Fox's more family-focused comedy Raising Hope, is Ben and Kate a new comedy that shares a little bit in common with all three mentioned series, as it centers on a single mother who's raising her 5-year-old daughter with the help of her chaotic but well-meaning brother.
Created by Dana Fox, Ben and Kate stars Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson as the title characters, two grown siblings whose opposite personalities cause them to clash. Kate is the responsible sibling of the duo, though an unplanned pregnancy during her college years left her as the single mother of Maddie (We Bought a Zoo's Maggie Elizabeth Jones). She tries to keep her life orderly, looking after her daughter and working at a bar to pay the bills. Meanwhile, Ben is more energetic and carefree than his sister. When he shows up on Kate's doorstep, he immediately begins to meddle in her life, and she in his, which results in a number of goofy but amusing scenarios playing out. Echo Kellum plays Tommy, a guy with a very obvious crush on Kate. And Lucy Punch plays Kate's British best friend BJ, who's a waitress as the bar and often around to offer some humorous advice.
The pilot episode focuses on the arrival of Ben and the introduction of the characters as Kate deals with her attempts to date, and Ben tries to win the woman he believes is meant to be his wife… who just so happens to be about to get married to someone else. It becomes clear from the start that neither Ben nor Kate has it together in the romantic department, but with the help of their friends and each other, there is hope for both characters. Dating fiascos aside, some of the funnier aspects of the pilot have to do with Kate's daughter Maddie. Not only is Jones as adorable as she was in We Bought a Zoo, but there are numerous instances in the first episode where the grown-ups talk to her as though she's one of their peers, rather than a small child. This is all played up for the sake of humor and it works really well because Jones reacts in a way that suggests she really is much older than she looks. Given Jones' talent, I'm glad to see Ben and Kate making the most of her in this role, without shamelessly exploiting her cuteness for laughs. As Kate, Dakota Johnson is funny, and brings just a little bit of quirky charm to the role, which is one more way this series fits in with New Girl. And Faxon does well to make Ben a bit goofy but also likable.
From the pilot episode, it seems like Ben and Kate tries to set itself up to be as heartwarming as it is funny. While it succeeds in most of its attempts at humor, I'm not quite sold on the emotional side of the story yet. At least, not as much as I wanted to be based on the previews. We get a sense of the history Ben and Kate share, but their bond doesn't come through nearly as well in the first episode as I would have liked. But the potential for this series is apparent from the start, particularly with its cast and the set-up introduced. By comparison to Fox's other new Tuesday night comedy The Mindy Project, Ben and Kate comes in second, but it's still good and definitely worth checking out. It's funny, sweet and there's a lot of potential for it to grow into a really great show, much in the way Raising Hope and New Girl did in their first seasons.
Ben and Kate premieres Tuesday, September 25 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox.
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