Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show: "Ben and Kate" (FOX)
The Pitch: "Would a show about an quirky blended family raising an unbearably cute child make a good pairing with 'Raising Hope'?" "Why yes. Yes it would."
Quick Response: "Ben and Kate" is an immediately charming companion piece to "Raising Hope" in FOX's Tuesday 8 p.m. hour. The operative words for the pilot are the one I just used -- "charming" -- and also probably "likable," because although I found "Ben and Kate" to be genially amusing, I don't think I laughed a single time in 24 minutes. I smiled a lot, though, and I came away feeling like I'd happily spend a half-hour per week with these people and that's sometimes enough. Dakota Johnson, as the half-eponymous Kate, is immediately amiable and although he may be working on a slightly more sitcom-y level than the people around him, Nat Faxon is amiable as well. Pint-sized thespian Maggie Jones is adorable, but also seems to have more comedic timing than many/most Hollywood moppets. Echo Kellum as Ben's best bud, and the pilot's lone nod to diversity, has an easy comic rhythm as well. My concern about "Ben and Kate" is its energy level, which isn't spectacularly high and the basic premise -- Brother who never grew up joins Sister who grew up too fast in raising a kid -- doesn't set up any kind of raised comedic stakes. Going forward, I think the most important element in the series could turn out to be Lucy Punch. The "Class" MVP raises the energy level every time she comes on screen, while simultaneously not exactly fitting into the ensemble. If they can find a way to organically work Punch in more regularly, "Ben and Kate" could evolve well. If they can't, "Ben and Kate" could suffer in comparison to the high level of ensuing wackiness in its lead-in and the subsequent drop-off. [I'm encouraged by "Community" favorites Garrett Donovan and Neil Goldman coming in as showrunners.]
Desire To Watch Again: Reasonably high. I like it when networks put shows I kinda wanna keep watching after shows I already watch. It makes my decisions much easier. I'd have stuck with "Ben and Kate" for a while anyway, but now I can give it definite time to grow. [TREND WATCH: "Ben and Kate," "The New Normal" and "How to Live With Your Parents Blah Blah Blah" all take last season's Quirky Female Lead template and add a cute child to the mix. Gilding the lily or valuable formula evolution?Viewers will make the call!]