Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fox Fall Pilot Review: Ben and Kate - Premieres September 25; TV Land's Happily Divorced Brings Out the Guest Stars in New Episodes Beginning Nov. 28


Ben and Kate

Ben and Kate - Tuesdays 8:30PM ET/PT on Fox
Premieres Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 8:30PM ET/PT


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 (Dakota Johnson) 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 (Nat Faxon).

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 (Echo Kellum), who worships Ben like a hero and nurses a serious crush on Kate. Kate's British best friend, BJ (Lucy Punch), 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.

Cast Details:

Dakota Johnson as Kate Fox
* Nat Faxon as Ben Fox
* Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Maddie Fox
* Lucy Punch as BJ
* Echo Kellum as Tommy

Dakota Johnson (Kate Fox) is quickly making a name for herself as an up-and-coming actress in Hollywood. She was most recently seen in the feature comedies The Five-Year Engagement, opposite Jason Segel and Emily Blunt; 21 Jump Street, opposite Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum; as well as the Academy Award-nominated drama, The Social Network, opposite Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg.

She will next be seen on the big screen in the comedy Goats, opposite Vera Farmiga, David Duchovny and Minnie Driver. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled for a 2012 theatrical release. Additionally, she played opposite Paul Dano in For Ellen, which also premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Other credits include Theo, opposite Mira Sorvino; and the comedy Gay Dude, opposite Sarah Hyland and Megan Mullally.

Nat Faxon (Ben Fox) has appeared in numerous films, including recent releases The Babymakers, opposite Olivia Munn, Aisha Tyler and Paul Schneider; Bad Teacher, with Cameron Diaz, and directed by Jake Kasdan; and Zookeeper, with Kevin James. Additional film credits include Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Orange County, both directed by Jake Kasdan; and Beerfest. In addition to acting, Faxon is an Academy Award-winning writer in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay for the 2011 film, The Descendants, which he co-wrote with writing partner Jim Rash and director Alexander Payne.

He has also made his mark in television with roles on the series Happy Hour and Grosse Pointe. Faxon's other television credits include Up All Night, Are You There, Chelsea?, Happy Endings, Mad Men, Party Down, NCIS and recurring roles on Joey and Reno 911!.

After appearing in numerous print campaigns and commercials, Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Maddie Fox) had the opportunity to audition for film and television work. She first booked a role in a television pilot and soon got another break when she was cast alongside her sister in the film Footloose.

When director Cameron Crowe was searching for a young actress to play Matt Damon’s daughter in We Bought a Zoo, Jones’ taped audition was so impressive that it led to a face-to-face meeting. Shortly thereafter, she was cast in the role of Rosie, which earned her outstanding critical reviews. Jones most recently shot the feature film Identity Thief, working opposite her sister, as well as Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.

Lucy Punch (BJ) most recently was seen in Bad Teacher, alongside Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake; Dinner for Schmucks, with Steve Carell and Paul Rudd; Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, with Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin; and A Little Bit of Heaven, alongside Kate Hudson, Kathy Bates and Gael Garcia Bernal.

Punch began her feature film career working opposite Geoffrey Rush in 2004's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. This was followed by the family fantasy, Ella Enchanted, with Anne Hathaway. In 2006, Punch was chosen as the British Shooting Star by the Berlin Film Festival for her work in Being Julia, opposite Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons. She has also appeared in St. Trinian's and Edgar Wright's British action comedy Hot Fuzz. Punch worked with Topher Grace and Anna Faris in Take Me Home Tonight and starred in the musical dramedy Untitled, alongside Adam Goldberg and Marley Shelton. In 2007, Punch was featured in the comedy series The Class, alongside Lizzy Caplan, Jason Ritter and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Echo Kellum (Tommy) grew up on the Southside of Chicago and began acting as a kid, booking his first regional theater tour at the age of 13. After spending a few years doing theater and commercial work in Chicago, he made the move to Los Angeles where he soon developed a passion for improvisational comedy.

Kellum began taking improv classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre, iO West and The Groundlings. He now performs regularly around Los Angeles. He is a member of the iO West headliner sketch team, “Pilot”; the UCB Harold Night show Winslow; and the UCB Maude Night show New Money. Kellum can also be seen on television in various national commercials.

Pilot Episode:

"Pilot" (September 25, 8:30PM) - Exuberant dreamer Ben Fox returns to his hometown and reunites with his younger sister Kate, an overly responsible single mom raising her five-year-old daughter, Maddie. But when he arrives, 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 stable world. In the series premiere, Kate enlists co-worker BJ to help her prepare for what turns out to be a disastrous first date, while Ben teams up with childhood pal Tommy to stop an ex from getting married.
Guest Stars: Jon Foster as George, Lauren Anne Miller as Darcy, Olivia Moss as Young Kate, Henry Shotwell as Young Ben, Jayne Taini as Babysitter, Sam Daly as Kate's Boyfriend, Brandon Gibson as Darcy's Groom

The pilot episode begins with a flashback scene of young Ben and Kate. Kate narrates and gives some of their backstory. Kate says that her brother never grew up, and she grew up too fast. He moved away, but he shows up at unexpected times. She says her brother is an idiot. Kate asks him to leave when she's on a date with George. Maddie and Ben wake up Kate the next morning. Ben talks to Tommy at Buddy's Bar & Grill. BJ greets Ben. BJ and Kate talk about Kate's date. George walks in and high fives Ben. Ben picks up Maddie from school and spies on his ex-girlfriend Darcy (aka Mrs. Ben Fox) from his car in the street.

Ben and Tommy make plans on crashing the wedding of Darcy, while Kate views them on the internet nanny cam she installed in a cookie jar. Kate helps them practice the wedding crashing. BJ puts some makeup on Maddie. After Kate leaves to go to the bar, Maddie helps Ben pick a tie. BJ shows Kate how to draw attention to her mouth. Ben fires Maddie's babysitter. Kate accidentally butt dials Ben on the phone when she's talking to George. Ben eavesdrops on George's call and has problems pulling out his car. Ben confronts George at the bar with the news he heard on the phone. They make a mad dash to the wedding. Ben tries to express his thoughts to Darcy but freezes. Kate speaks up for him. Ben and Kate talk to each other under a table, just like they did when they were younger in an earlier flashback scene. Maddie and Tommy join them where Ben offers to help Kate with Maddie. The episode wraps with a scene at a pool and at Kate's house.

Analysis:

Ben and Kate is a single-camera comedy that is part of the new Fox Tuesday night. It comes from 20th Century Fox Television and Chernin Entertainment, the producers of New Girl. The series is created and written by Dana Fox. Jake Kasdan directed the pilot. The show was originally titled Ned Fox Is My Manny while in development. Ben and Kate may sound a little boring, but I'm glad they made that decision.

The series has a lot going for it and plenty of potential. Although the cast may not have any household names, they all give very good performances. Dakota Johnson is a relative newcomer to acting, but she shows she can do both comedy and drama well here. Her character is just very likable and charming. She also has a bit of a wild side. Nat Faxon has been in the business for a number of years, but this is first major lead role in a television show. He's a solid comedic actor. His character is very goofy and juvenille, but he's endearing and has a lot of heart. I love his near profane outbursts and other crazy antics. Maggie Elizabeth Jones was a real scene stealer in We Bought a Zoo and will have the same opportunity to that in this series. She's just a natural with great comedic timing and facial expressions. Lucy Punch makes a welcome return to television after having appeared on The Class in 2006-07. She has played some psycho characters in recent films like Dinner for Schmucks and Bad Teacher, but her character is somewhat normal here...although a bit inapprorpiate talking to Kate. She has a pretty convincing American accent, but I'm glad they allowed to use her real English accent in the show. Echo Kellum does a nice job with the role of Tommy. It's funny how Tommy has a crush on Kate. That could get old quickly if it's repeated too often. The character could be expanded a bit.

It's a well-paced pilot that has nice production values. There were many different scenes and shooting locations, but I don't think they overdid it with a lot of information and backstory. They did a good job making the two major storylines connected and everything cohesive. Some narration is used at the beginning of the episode, but it looks like it won't be a major part of the show. I liked how they had a flashback scene of young Ben and Kate talking under a table and a current scene of them as adults doing the same thing. It was funny how Ben had braces in the flashback scenes, but his teeth are crooked as an adult. It's refreshing to see that the two lead actors don't have perfect teeth. They seem more like everyday people and not just actors. Faxon and Johnson have good chemistry as brother and sister. I was surprised to see that he was around 15 years older than her. I think they are still believable as brother and sister, even though the age gap doesn't look like that many years in the flashback scenes.

Conclusion:

Ben and Kate is one of the best sitcom pilots of the season. An excellent pilot doesn't always lead to a successful series, but there's plenty of promise here. It has a talented cast, strong writing and solid directing. There's a nice mix of comedy and drama. The final scenes are especially sweet and heartwarming. All of the characters are very likable. They seem like characters people will root for and care about.

Although the cast may lack star power, they seem ideal for their roles and work well together. The chemistry is already there in the pilot. Zooey Deschanel was the new girl for Fox last season, but Dakota Johnson could be poised to become one of the breakout television stars of this season. She's only been acting for a couple of years, but she's a fast rising star. Her parents are Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson and her grandmother is Tippi Hendren. She certainly has good acting genes. The rest of the ensemble cast works well. Nat Faxon has been acting for a while in mostly smaller roles, so it's nice to see him get an opportunity with a major lead role. Lucy Punch's funny BJ character could be increased even more. Ben and/or Kate are in virtually every scene. It's a relatively small main cast. There's room to bring in some recurring characters, such as their parents, other relatives or love interests.

Tuesdays will be Fox's big night of single-camera comedies. They are expanding to two hours this season. Ben and Kate will debut after the season premiere of the breakout and critical hit New Girl. It will normally air after Raising Hope, which premieres next week. I think it's a good pairing of family comedies. The time slot will be a challenging one, however. The Dancing with the Stars Results, The Voice Results and NCIS present some very fierce competition. If they can survive the first half of the season and gradually build an audience, they should be fine. The competition after New Girl appears less daunting, but they will have to do the best they can in their scheduled time slot for now. I wouldn't be surprised to see Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project swap slots eventually. Forget about Prince William and Kate. Watch the refreshingly funny Ben and Kate on Tuesdays at 8:30PM ET/PT on Fox.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 4.0/5
Funniness: 3.5/5
Overall: 4.0/5

-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller on 09/25/12

Discuss the show after you watch it on Tuesday, September 25 on our message board.

Related Links:

  • Fox.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • Ben and Kate Photo Gallery

    Preview:





    Some of the biggest names in pop culture history are joining fellow TV icon Fran Drescher on new episodes of TV Land's hit sitcom, Happily Divorced. Joan Collins (Dynasty), Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart), singer Cyndi Lauper and Debi Mazar (Entourage) will appear, as will returning guest stars Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid), D.W. Moffett (Switched At Birth) and Fran's The Nanny co-star Renée Taylor. Inspired by Fran Drescher's real life, Happily Divorced revolves around LA florist Fran Lovett (Drescher) who finds out after 18 years of marriage that her husband Peter (John Michael Higgins) is gay. Production begins on October 1 and the sitcom returns to TV Land with 12 all-new episodes beginning on Wednesday, November 28 at 10:30pm ET/PT immediately following the fourth season premiere of Hot in Cleveland.

    In the second half of season two, Peter gets a job working as an assistant for Joan Collins (who plays a fictional version of herself). Peter is thrilled to be working for an icon – until he realizes that two demanding women in his life is two too many. Additionally, Robert Wagner appears as Elliot's (Moffett) handsome father, and Marilyn (Taylor), the longtime frenemy of Fran's mother Dori (Rita Moreno), will return – daughter (Cyndi Lauper) in tow. Debi Mazar plays a potential new roommate for one of the Lovetts. In the return episode on Nov. 28, Ralph Macchio will return as Frankie, the New York born-and-bred pizza shop owner who has been romancing Fran. Happily Divorced also stars acclaimed actors Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris) as Fran's best friend Judi, Rita Moreno and Robert Walden as Fran's parents Dori and Glen and Valente Rodriguez (George Lopez) as Cesar, her flower shop employee.


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