Review: Ben and Kate (Fox/ITV2) 1×1

This or torture - one of them is better. Which?

Ben and Kate

In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by ITV2

So I mentioned not so long ago the general tendency of networks to want to make shows just like other shows that are popular right now. Even if those shows are ones they make themselves.

Last year’s big comedy success for Fox was New Girl, with Zooey Deschanel. Not so much this season, judging by its viewing figures, but last season, it was doing well.

New Girl, of course, is about a slightly dizzy girl-woman who hasn’t quite grown up. She’s adorkable. Really, that’s the word they made up to describe her. And she is. In small doses.

So what more natural way to build on that success than to have another sitcom about someone who’s not quite grown up yet, hey? That’ll be funny and entirely not like having nails hammered into your kneecaps by an Algerian torturer, won’t it?

Boy, Fox and you were both wrong, Fox when they commissioned Ben and Kate – the show formerly called Ned Fox is My Manny – and you when you decided to watch it. And just now when you went for the “not being tortured by an Algerian psychopath” option. You must be kicking yourself, assuming you still can.

Ben and Kate ‘hilariously’ looks at a brother and sister – Ben and Kate, in case you hadn’t guessed – in which single mother Kate tries to get by in life and make ends meet with the occasional hindrance of her brother Ben, a boy-man – a moronic boy-man at that – who fecklessly breezes in and out of her life, trampling everything in his path like a baby bull elephant on its hind legs. Kate has missed out on a lot in life, having responsibility thrust on her so soon, so Ben decides to move in to look after her daughter, Kate in turn believing that Ben will finally learn what it is to be an adult.

Want a bet that’s going to work? And that Ben is tolerable, even in small doses?

Thought not, because not even Lucy Punch as Kate’s friend and co-worker BJ (subtle, huh?) can polish this one. Here’s a trailer.

What happens when an exuberant dreamer who always says “yes” moves in with his overly responsible little sister to help raise her five-year-old daughter? BEN AND KATE, a new single-camera ensemble comedy, follows a pair of odd-couple siblings and their friends as they push each other out of their comfort zones and into real life.

KATE FOX followed the rules all her life…until she got pregnant in college and dropped out just shy of graduation. After the birth of her daughter, MADDIE (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), Kate put her 20s on hold. Now working as a bar manager to make ends meet and maximize her time with Maddie, she’s uber-prepared for every possible catastrophe – except for the arrival of her older brother, BEN FOX.

Ben likes trouble a lot more than his sister does. His infectious energy makes everyone want to follow him into any number of bad ideas. He’ll totally screw up their lives, but somehow, they’ll feel good about it. Where Kate is all about planning and preparing, Ben is big on spontaneity and out-of-the-box ideas. But don’t let the Velcro wallet fool you – he’ll probably be a millionaire someday.

When Ben comes to crash on Kate’s couch for a few days, he finds a sad state of affairs. For the first time in their lives, Kate needs Ben’s help, and he’s determined to bring some much-needed chaos into her overly stable world. He starts by looking after Maddie so Kate can get back to making mistakes, since the one “real mistake” she’s made turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her.

Always there to help with Ben’s crazy schemes is his partner-in-crime, TOMMY, who worships Ben like a hero and nurses a serious crush on Kate. Kate’s British best friend, BJ, is a cocktail waitress at the bar and an all-around hot mess who would do anything for Kate, even if it’s questionable or illegal.

Is it any good?
Nothing works. Just nothing. Only Lucy Punch’s delivery redeems this from being put on a clay pigeon machine and then fired at the nearest NRA meeting.

There are verbal jokes. They aren’t funny.

There are visual jokes. They don’t work.

There are characters. They’re implausible and thinly drawn.

There are children.

The trouble is that neither Ben (Nat Faxon) or Kate (Dakota “daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffiths” Johnson) are in any way appealing. Ben is not adorkable. He’s barely even a dork. He doesn’t have the charm of a boy and he doesn’t have, well, anything of a man. He’s like a constant, sharp, piercing, whining sound in your ear.

Kate, on the other hand, is just boring. She skipped the fun part of her life, which is apparently when personalities get handed out, and went on to the whole “breathing in oxygen, breathing out carbon dioxide” part of her life. She tries to make quips. She tries to do putdowns. It’s like watching someone read out a till receipt and expecting laughter.

While Ben and Kate’s friends Tommy and BJ are more entertaining, particularly BJ (Lucy Punch) given they’ve allowed her to be English, slutty and a bit clueless, they’re two of the most obvious life-preservers in TV history, even more so than Jack and Karen in Will & Grace. The producers, desperate for there to be actual entertainment, have inserted these characters into the narrative, even though they have no real business being there, in an effort to make the show funny. But because neither Tommy nor BJ are Ben or Kate, they can’t actually lift the show to the point where it is funny.

It’s just a horrendous waste of time and an attempt to do a gender-swapped The New Girl, without understanding why New Girl just about works.



  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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