Ben and Kate Series Premiere Review: Sibling Revelry

Ben and Kate S01E01: "Pilot"

Let's face it: The "situation" in sitcom usually means either "living together" or "working together." There are really only ever TWO situations in sitcoms! Ben and Kate is definitely a live-com, not just because the premise involves a ne'er-do-well brother moving in with his single-mom little sister, but because these types of comedies are way more interested in exposing humanity when we're at our most comfortable. That seems to be the main agenda of show creator Dana Fox (whose life the show is based on): Ben and Kate hassle each other around the house because they know each other best and that's just the kind of relationship they have. In between the usual amounts of sitcom patter, they also mock, bicker, and shut each other down, just as two people with that amount of familiarity would. It's those moments, the in-between jokes moments, where Ben and Kate really sparks. Unfortunately, in the pilot, the artificiality of tired sitcom tropes threatened to seep in around the edges. BUT it wasn't enough to ruin what was an otherwise winning enterprise.

The story is narrated by Kate (a likable but dishwatery Dakota Johnson), a single-mom waitress who's always been more mature than her irresponsible, possibly mentally challenged, older brother Ben (Nat Faxon). The main plot of the pilot involved Kate struggling to seal the deal with a handsome guy she'd been dating, while Ben was off trying to somehow break up the impending marriage of his ex. Kate's primary sidekick is her co-worker at a local sports bar, BJ (a scene-stealing Lucy Punch); Ben hangs out with Tommy (Echo Kellum), a guy who I think is intended to be a comic-relief weirdo loser except that the actor is incredibly handsome, hip, and well-dressed? Those factors somehow all canceled each other out in my brain rendering him a non-presence basically. Anyway, at some point, after Ben heard Kate's fella talking to another woman on the phone, Ben rushed in and saved Kate from heartbreak. In return, Kate helped him crash the aforementioned wedding. Thankfully they discovered they'd missed the ceremony by an hour, but not before a confrontation with the bride afforded Kate the opportunity to enthuse about her brother's basic virtues. Aw, she loves her trouble-making brother! Shortly after that Ben decided that he should move in with Kate and help her raise her adorable 5-year-old daughter, thus cementing this particular comedy's situation.

Few things turn me off in a TV series more than when someone says or does something that no human being has ever once said or done in real life. And I don't mean unrealistic things—I just mean when a character speaks in lazy writer shorthand (e.g., "What is this place?" or "I came as soon as I heard!"). At one point in the pilot, Kate actually used the phrase "harebrained schemes" unironically and then of course there was the crashing of Ben's ex's wedding. Nobody in real life crashes weddings to win back an ex! This is something that was invented for movies! How would running in and ruining someone's wedding ceremony somehow negate the several years of long-term relationship the bride is inevitably in the thick of? Throw that trope in the trash. So anyway, yeah: Ben and Kate occasionally lost me with these kinds of cliches, mostly because it had so much going for it otherwise. You're better than that, show.

But where Ben and Kate kept winning me back was in its naturalistic between-joke banter, its commitment to silly throw-away jokes (Ben's insanely prolonged attempt to make a basic U-turn), and especially in the crazy-appealing Lucy Punch (pictured at right) as BJ. Typically in shows like this, the hot blonde friend is a dunce or hateful tramp, but BJ is insightful and empathetic, and mostly just straight-up hilarious. Her "make them look at your mouth" routine was masterful, as was her makeover scene with Kate's 5-year-old daughter. "You have no shape." I don't know WHERE this lady came from; she LOOKS like a runway model but behaves with the mannered affect of Catherine Tate or Christina Applegate. Punch is definitely a star in the making and there's nobody else like her character on TV. That alone is reason to celebrate: Originality is the best!

As is apparently the law these days, you can't have a single-camera sitcom about quirky folk without ending things on a sentimental note. In this case, Ben and Kate re-created a childhood habit of theirs—having pow-wows under the dining room table—right there at the wedding reception, the both of them nursing broken hearts. And it worked just as intended! Call me a soft touch, but I really appreciated the heart on display here; however, if the show can't offset it with acerbic, awkward humor, there's the chance this sort of thing could become cloying. The pilot has proved divisive for many (and I still think I prefer New Girl), but Ben and Kate has so much potential that I've got my fingers crossed that it gets even better. Fewer cliches and more Lucy Punch, please! That's a situation I could live with.


What did YOU think of Ben and Kate's series premiere?



Comments (30)
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I didn't enjoy the first two episodes.. It wasn't interesting at all!! I don't think I will watch it again!!
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Not great but not the worst new show (run a mile from Partners, it's beyond terrible). Can't help but think TJ Miller would have been a better choice for Ben. Still probably keep watching just for Lucy Punch though.
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I will not be watching this again, it was terrible
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I didn't quite liked it as much as you did, but I will likely watch it since it's between Raising Hope and New Girl. Kate is a little bland and Ben is a little too out there, but Lucy Punch is amusing and funny enough that I will give the show a chance.
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I liked it very much aside from a few things. The relationship between Ben and kate weirded (is that a word?) a bit. I know that they are supposed to be very close, but they have way to much chemistry. In my head i was already spinning ideas of adoption and so forth the show could come up with to allow these characters to be together. But i think that's nothing i can't get used to. Sweet, funny show with a very likable cast. Last point is really important for me.
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I thought it was funny, though I agree Ben wasn't really likeable. The u-turn and him trying not to swear in front of the kid made me laugh.
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Awesome show! And the lead Ben sells it for me!

New Girl sucks IMO, this one is so much better!

Can't wait for more!
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I like the pilot when I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I still liked it when I watched it on Tuesday. I prefer this why better than that train wreck called the Mindy Project.
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Where is the cancelation bear when you need it? Awful show, annoying main lead (Ben)... just a waste of time!!!!

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If you want to see Lucy Punch at her best, try and find a show called The Class. She played a reporter called Holly Ellenbogen and pretty much stole every scene she was in. For some reason she was written out after ten or so episodes and (wrongfully) the show never got a second season. But I assure you, that show was better than 80% of what has been offered this fall!
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I still have every episode of The Class and the stop sign scene was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I isolated it and often just watch it for a quick laugh and it's always funny no matter how many times you see it. Unfotunately Ben and Kate has to go, it's awful...
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The stop sign is BRILLIANT!!! I also have all the season saved and I am going to watch the storm episode right now...
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I totally agree!! The Class was a great show, so much better than the suckfest that is HIMYM!!!!! It should still be on the air as far as I'm concerned. Also starred Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family, Jason Ritter and some other amazing actors/characters!!!
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I totally agree!! The Class was a great show, so much better than the suckfest that is HIMYM!!!!! It should still be on the air as far as I'm concerned. Also starred Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family, Jason Ritter and some other amazing actors/characters!!!
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BJ was in a number of kids shows in the UK and some pretty trashy British movies.

She's a bit typecast to be honest - either playing the bitchy airhead or the ditsy best friend.



It wasn't original in any case - the "look at the mouth" scene is straight out of the rule book for fellow comedy New Girl



In all, I found the show pretty banal. The characters were stereotyped and Ben was more retarted in a Adam Sandler way than a loveable idiot.



I give it 12 episodes then cancellation
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For the most part, I kind of liked it. It wasn't great, but it had its funny moments and part of it was kind of sweet. With some time and polishing, this could turn into a pretty good sitcom.



The two things that bothered me most:

1) The director/writer of the pilot seemed to have a tough time making the episode, uh, smooth? For a while there, it seemed like 3 or so "sketches" thrown together with weak transitions between them. This may just be a case of not doing a good job balancing the two important aspects of a pilot: introducing and getting to know the characters, and some funny situational comedy.

2) Nat Faxon -- the actor, not the character he plays -- kind of bugs me. His character isn't great, but I think Ben has the potential to be that stupid but sweet character that kind of works on TV. Faxon seems like a funny guy, but for whatever reason, I just don't buy him as the character.
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i just dont understand how a single mother working as a waitress can afford to live in that nice house, other than that fact i liked the show and Lucy Punch is perf
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I wasn't even planning on watching from the ads but there was nothing else on last night at that time so I decided to give it a shot while waiting for the next New Girl. I'm glad I did. It was actually really cute. Lucy Punch was hilarious.
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I liked the pilot way WAY better than the promos, but getting to a place of actually wanting to watch it again is very far away. Less obnoxious than the Mindy Project, but nowhere near as many jokes I actually laughed at as New Girl or Raising Hope. The u-turn thing bugged me, as did Lucy Punch. And I felt like there was an odd sexual vibe between the leads that was uncomfortable and that they seriously need to watch. But I was a sucker for the climbing under the table and ending on note like that, made me consider tuning in next time.
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I enjoyed this, and will continue to watch it...
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I really, really enjoyed this Pilot. Out of all the comedy pilots this season, this is the one that had me laughing the most. So I can't wait to see more of it, and I do hope it continues to get get better as it goes along too, because it has a lot of potential in it. One of the things I love about the idea of this show is that it explored the relationship between adult brother and sister, rather than two people who will end up playing the "Will they, won't they?" game.
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The fact that it's at 8:30, I need a show to pair on my DVR with Go On, and it's better than the New Normal means I'll watch it. But I'm not going to be excited about it.
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too much
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Ben is the WORST character on tv right now! I had to fast forward through his parts, pretty much only let go of ff button when Lucy Punch came on, cause that lady is the BEST character on tv right now!! Hope this show gets better and also that nothing better comes on another channel cause it's low on priority list...
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I will admit I'm not crazy about him. I think it's the actor more than the character. But the show is still good.
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Something about his teeth right?! Funny cause his younger self had on a retainer, but his older self never had braces!
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I agree; I think I disliked the actor more than the character.
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You're exaggerating, because Ben is far from the "Worst Character on TV." Actually, he's not even bad in my opinion, so I disagree with your opinion on Ben.
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Can we have a "Worst Character on TV" tournament bracket?
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I'm sure there's worse, but on shows that don't have really good ones! Maybe they'll tone it down next time, I'll be watching! Bracket is a great idea! who would you put?!
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