October 3, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Ben and Kate”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

BEN AND KATE:  Tuesday 8:30PM on FOX

Previously… on BEN AND KATE:  Diligent single mom Kate (Dakota Johnson) is invaded, in a nice way, by her irresponsible brother Ben (Nat Faxon), who needs to grow up himself, but before long is living in Kate’s garage and helping her bring up Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).  Also on hand:  Kate’s bartender best friend BJ (Lucy Punch), and Ben’s bud Tommy (Echo Kellum), who’s had a long-running crush on Kate.

Episode 2:  This week’s misadventure started, as most probably will, with Ben.  His inability to be an adult with Maddie led to her getting to school late every day for a week, which led to a summons to the principal’s (guest star Alan Ruck) office.  This was problematic, because Kate had been claiming Tommy’s home address (where he still lives with his parents) as her own so that Maddie could attend the grade school she and Ben went to as children, and it was all made worse by Kate’s pathological fear of authority, expressed by spontaneous weeping and stammering inarticulateness.  The looniness that ensued included an impromptu cocktail party at Kate’s fake house, and a foiled break-in at the principal’s office to erase a tell-tale answering machine message, before Ben learned his lesson and told Maddie she couldn’t keep her new puppy (there was a puppy).

When casting and writing hit the right notes, a storyline like this can feel charming and even exhilarating.  Here, though, the gears showed, and the contrivances overwhelmed the comedy.  Even on the plot’s own terms, it didn’t make any sense that smooth liar Ben would call the principal to confess all, or that the best way he could come up with to forestall the break-in was to call the (friendly) cops.  None of these kinds of logical objections would matter, of course, if the show’s chemistry were clicking (it isn’t like the ghost who showed up on this week’s Go On made any sense)… but that’s not happening yet on Ben and Kate.

The dynamics of the main characters don’t quite make sense.  The show’s concept seemed to make Kate the straight man to Ben’s nuttiness, but in this week’s episode, written by series creator Dana Fox and directed by Jake Kasdan, Kate was at least as dysfunctional.  The mix of stern sisterliness with hysteria in the face of authority felt over-the-top and not terribly appealing.  Ben, on the other hand, is a fairly dull sparkplug–there’s no feeling of danger when he’s around, just that he’s a screw-up.  Lucy Punch had little to do in the episode (a scene that must have sounded funny on paper where she teaches Maddie the perils of dating a 70 year-old for his money didn’t have a lot of laughs), and Tommy’s character has yet to come into focus.

Ben and Kate‘s ratings haven’t been very impressive (although in fairness it retained most of its cruddy Raising Hope lead-in last night), which means the show may have a limited amount of time to make its pieces click into place.  At this point, it’s likable but not very compelling, lacking both breakout characters and big laughs.  Amiability will only get it so far.


PILOT + 1:  Feeling Generic.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."