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?

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