Ben & Kate – Pilot

by deerinthexenonarclights

There is a school of thought out there that says men and women can never really be ‘just friends’, that on one side or the other there is going to be some kind of attraction even if it is never acted on. Whether or not that is true in real life is uncertain, but it has almost become a given in this day and age of Television: the new Sherlock Holmes show Elementary cast a woman as Watson for sexual tension, Zooey Deschanel will sleep with nearly all of her platonic male pals by the end of The New Girl and hell, there was even a subset of fans who thought for sure that Walter White would hook up with Lydia in the finale because…well, because she was female. Because of that when we see a show titled something like Ben & Kate we assume it to be so because it tells the tale of their grand romance or some-such, but that couldn’t be further from the truth here. Men and women might be incapable of friendship, but not of family.

Sure there have been siblings on our screens before, but always as supports and rarely as the leads. So while it seems ridiculous to say this, given how simple the premise, Ben & Kate really feels like something new on the TV scene, because it cuts out the will they or won’t they and instead puts a brother-sister bond in the spotlight. It’s also different from most other shows of the sort around because it manages to treat this relationship caringly without ever slipping into sappy cliche or lacking for comedy; you intuit instantly that these are real people and that they love one another and quickly understand why. The best way that I can describe the style of the show is to say that it watches like a feel-good indie movie more than it does a pilot;  It’s You Can Count On Me the series.

This means that the characters come first in the script, the sets aren’t stagey and the cuts and audience alike in their invisibility; it’s a crisp and classy production for a comedy pilot. Though for each element that has been ‘cinematised’ there is another that has suffered Sitcom-itisation: both Ben and Kate have a love interest, that they then lose in a contrived dramatic fashion; they have best friends that sticks with them through thick and thin, while also saying wacky stuff but mostly they have this hole in their life that only the other can fill and feel the need to express that once or twice every twenty minutes rather than in a single strong moment like a movie or real life.

For the most part though the plot of the show mimics the movie almost exactly: Kate as played by Ms.Tippi Hedren the Third( Or Melanie Griffith the second) Dakota Johnson is a straight and sympathetic young single mother who has set-up a stable life and home for her daughter – the always adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones of We Brought a Zoo fame – while the constantly barging in Ben is built up to be Kramer 2.0, a purposefully built ‘breakout’ character whose antics America will adore, but with a heart. I may sound cynical because of how many boxes Ben ticks on the studio wishlist but I do have to say that while Nat Faxton is oddly old for the role he really nails it; proving that he is just as capable a comedic actor as the other half of his Oscar winning writing pair Jim Rash (Dean Shelton to yo Greendalers).

Speaking of writers Dana Fox has had some success in the past with her feature scripts, even being named as one to watch a year or so ago, but i’ve never been much of a fan. Her works – The Wedding Date, What Happened in Vegas, Couples Retreat, 27 Dresses – are not exactly my cup of tea (though I don’t mind a rom-com when it is really well made) but here she really impressed me; to compare her with Kenneth Lonergan is a compliment. She has said that the story is very much based on her own life and the role of Ben based very strongly on her own brother and that authenticity shows through; this is a sitcom that stems from non-fiction roots rather than formula and it is because of that fact that the feelings it aims for are all adequately evoked.

Ben & Kate could well be a show that drops off into mediocrity once it hits the machine and is forced to shoot out season upon season of episodes over a short time span, as all sitcoms are, but until then all we have to go on is this pilot and it bodes well enough for the shows future that I will be giving it at least a full season. The show is not only very good but genuine in a really unique way; it’s the kind of show that you don’t just want to keep watching, but in a weird way almost want to live in. Loved it.