Friday, October 12, 2012

Ben and Kate: 1x01 "Pilot" (Growing Up is Hard to Do)

Original Airdate: September 25, 2012

We can’t choose our families, but if we could, I wonder if Kate Fox would have chosen Ben to be her brother. At the beginning of the pilot episode of Ben and Kate, I’m not sure many of us would want a brother like Ben – he’s childish, self-centered, and irresponsible. Kate, of course, is the exact opposite. She is tightly wound, organized, and a functioning single mom complete with a job and a daughter. At first glance, these characters seem to be classic archetypes: a slacker and an overachiever. But beneath the archetype, the pilot digs into the fundamental relationship between Ben and Kate as siblings. We begin by assuming that Ben always needs his sister – he’s always getting involved in a wacky shenanigan, barging into her life asking for help, and then departing as quickly and messily as a tornado. But we’re left to wonder if it’s Kate who needs Ben more than she realizes or admits, and if – perhaps – his presence in her life actually makes her BETTER and not worse. And maybe, just maybe, a little mess is good sometimes.

In the pilot episode, Kate informs the audience, via voice-over narrative, that her brother Ben never seemed to grow up. He always interrupts her life at inopportune moments begging for her to help him orchestrate a wacky shenanigan or get himself out of a self-induced mess. Kate, conversely, grew up too quickly. She got pregnant at a young age and has been raising her daughter, Maddie, on her own. But just as Kate's life is beginning to feel settled (she's been dating a nice guy named George for a while), Ben bursts into her life again. (This time, he's stealing cable from Kate's neighbor.) Ben, upon meeting George, has an initial enthusiastic attitude... until he leaves and attempts to high-five Kate's new beau.  

I love that Ben immediately distrusts George because of his high-five (or lack thereof). It’s kind of endearing that he places so much emphasis on things that other people (see: Kate) would find absurd. But Kate is logical. She sees absolutely nothing wrong with George as a person or boyfriend, and – though he can’t quite explain it – Ben does. He gets a bit unsettled, and perhaps it’s something trivial that should be overlooked, but I think Ben and Kate represent emotion and logic, respectively. Kate relies heavily on planning and organizing her life into boxes. And I think that this probably stems from the fear that she HAS to control her life. She is the one who has to be the grown-up, if not for herself than for Maddie. But, in doing this, she often misses out on the crazy, weird, fun moments that Ben thrives on. Conversely, Ben needs Kate in order to ground him and cause him to think logically about his actions and the consequences that they have.

Kate instructs Ben to leave, because she and George are on a date. Ben attempts to leave, but not before grabbing an entire drum set on his way out the door. Instead of her brother, George departs, leaving Kate a bit more than frustrated at Ben. The following day, Kate awakes to both her daughter and brother beside her bed, anxiously asking what the plans are for that day. Kate, meanwhile, is still wondering exactly WHY Ben returned to town in the first place. He only returns, she insists, when he needs or is planning something. (Ben avoids answering her questions though.)

The Fox siblings arrive at the bar where Kate works, and we meet Tommy and BJ, Ben and Kate's respective best friends. I have to say that one thing Ben and Kate does extremely well from the pilot episode onward is establish solid supporting characters. Tommy and BJ are not only hilarious counterparts to Ben and Kate, but are also very well-established in terms of character development. We may not know everything about Tommy, but we know that he is infatuated with Kate and will do anything for Ben. BJ, we know, is snarky, witty, and lazy (we learn this more in “Fox Hunt”). Both characters are good friends to Ben and Kate, and they both speak truths into the siblings’ lives when necessary. The show, from the pilot, found the oft-difficult balance between humor and wit and heart. Too much heart borders on cliché and sap – a show or a character can become a mere caricature of what they were intended to be. Not so with Ben and Kate, which – to be honest – surprised me.

While Kate and BJ discuss the fact that the former has not slept with George yet, Tommy asks how long Ben will be staying in town for. The man skirts around the question, noting that it'll probably just be for the weekend... depending on how things pan out. When George arrives at the bar, Ben volunteers to pick Maddie up from school, which leaves Kate suspicious, but she agrees. In the car, Maddie asks what her uncle is doing back in town and Ben's plan is revealed -- he received an e-mail from his ex-girlfriend, Darcy, telling him to call her.

Instead of calling, Ben drives Maddie to Darcy's house where he sees Darcy inside... wearing a wedding dress. Ben and Maddie return to Kate's house, where Tommy arrives and the trio plan the best way to crash Darcy's upcoming nuptials. Because she is a good mom (and has a nanny cam), Kate realizes that Ben is about to crash a wedding and then, upon Ben's confession, realizes that it is not just any wedding -- it's Darcy's wedding. I think one of Kate’s greatest moments in the pilot is her apparent shock at Darcy getting married. She KNOWS exactly what she meant to Ben, and is genuinely concerned for her brother. Once she realizes, however, that he’s plotting a scheme rather than preparing to talk to her adult-to-adult, she refuses to intervene and assist because it would conflict with her date with George -- a date that is VERY important to her because she's about to take their relationship to the next level. 

(… until she intervenes and assists, that is. Because the truth is that Kate cares immensely for her brother and would do anything for him. Everyone, it seems, in Ben’s life would drop their activities and plans in order to help him out. Kate doesn’t realize it quite yet, but Ben would reciprocate. Kate expresses that Ben gets “smart people to do dumb things” all the time.)

Tommy, Ben, and Kate plot how to best crash Kate's wedding. Ben gives a practice speech about how he'll never change, never listen, and that Darcy should accept him for that. Kate, slightly appalled, intervenes. She insists that Ben's speech would never get Darcy back, because the young woman wants -- she NEEDS -- to feel loved and appreciated for who she is. And truly, Kate’s speech at the wedding-crashing rehearsal is telling – it conveys her insecurities as a person, woman, and single mother. Additionally, she’s the kind of person who lets fear motivate a lot of her decisions. She’s always propelled by the fear that she’ll never have a functioning relationship, or that all guys will run out on her, just like Maddie’s father did. And she admits this, fully, toward the end of the episode. Ben, for all of his faults, isn’t afraid to be fearless. So the trio continue to practice their speeches.

The next day, Kate and  Ben are simultaneously preparing for their big moments, and leave Maddie with a babysitter. Ben, however, becomes agitated as he watches the babysitter chastise Maddie for coloring outside of the lines on her paper and for using the "wrong" color to color the sky with. This moment is small and could be easily glossed over, but I think that it’s really important in terms of Ben’s character. He’s creative and expressive, and it pains him to see someone telling his niece what she should and should not do creatively. The babysitter is telling Maddie to not do things and that she is incorrect in the way that she colors, which more than irks Ben. In fact, the man goes so far as to fire the babysitter and readjusts his plans in order to take Maddie with him. He loves his niece and he always wants her to be accepted, to feel free to be weird, and to color outside of the lines (both literally and figuratively in her life).

Ben, with Maddie in tow, drive to the wedding while Kate prepares with BJ for her big date at the bar. There, the single mom reveals her insecurities as a mother and a woman -- she relays the fact that she and Ben never had a normal childhood (there is a flashback to Ben and Kate's parents yelling in the background and Ben - the older child - motioning for his younger sister to hide under the table with him, creating for themselves a peaceful, sacred place) and that's all she really wants for Maddie. BJ, slightly pained, insists that Kate will "get there" in her own life.

George and Kate have a drink, and the man asks if Kate wants to get out of the bar and go somewhere else. Kate nervously laughs and agrees, unaware that she has accidentally dialed Ben on her phone (who is now listening to the entire conversation on his way to Darcy's wedding). Luckily for Kate, when she leaves the table (after a hilarious mishap with her sweater), George calls a woman he has been seeing who is out of town and Ben hears. The brother turns his car around and returns to the bar in order to help his sister.

In spite of his occasional one-track mind, Ben does care deeply about his Kate. When he finds out that George is toying with Kate’s emotions, he drops everything – the actual and entire reason that he came into town in the first place – in order to defend her and help her out. And he doesn’t expect anything in return, which is an admirable trait. George admits that he is actually seeing someone, apologizes, and then leaves the bar. Kate is visibly hurt and then realizes that Ben is missing Darcy's wedding in order to help her. Motivated, the pair grab Tommy, BJ, and Maddie and head to the ceremony.

There, Ben finds Darcy and nervously stammers, attempting to remember his big speech about why she shouldn't get married. Instead, Kate delivers a speech about her brother. I loved Kate’s speech to Darcy about why she cares so deeply for Ben. Even though he tends to ruin her plans, Kate loves her brother. She knows that he would do anything for her, and likely everyone around him. He has a big heart (sometimes a narrow perspective) and tries to be a good person. And he tries to be a good brother. Unfortunately for Ben, Darcy's new husband enters the hall and the young woman informs Ben and Kate that she got married an hour ago. Ben, visibly crushed and Kate (also disheartened) leave, but not before Ben high-fives Darcy's new husband (who, in fact, has a good high-five).

At the reception, Kate sits alone at a table, watching Darcy toss the bouquet  The woman begins to cry and, from across the room, Ben notices and approaches her table. I love how Ben automatically knows what to do when Kate is upset, and even that she IS upset. He may not know how to fix everything or everyone, but he does try to make things right. Wordlessly, Ben looks at his sister before dropping to the floor and crawling under the table. Kate laughs and follows suit. The callback to their childhood was one of the best pilot moments I’ve seen in the recent past. It was honestly one of the sweetest moments too, exhibiting that even though they have grown up, Ben and Kate are the same people they were when they were children – Ben protecting Kate and sheltering her from the things that terrify her and Kate desperately needing that escape and someone to look after her.

The siblings then discuss their lives and the entire conversation was so telling in terms of the personalities of Ben and Kate as people, as well as siblings. Ben finally (we assume finally, because up until that moment Kate is still trying to decipher why her brother gets involved in crazy schemes) admits that the reason he does stupid things is because it’s fun and yeah, it’s scary, but that’s what makes it WORTH it. Kate, meanwhile, is scared to jump into the unknown. It terrifies her that she doesn’t know what lies ahead, and in a weird way, Ben is a person who can help to guide her. And, once Maddie crawls underneath the table to join her uncle and mom, Ben informs the pair that he plans on staying in town and help raise Maddie.

After the reception, Ben, Kate, BJ, Tommy, and Maddie walk to where BJ parked the car. Before they make it to the parking lot, however, Kate retaliates for Ben pushing her into the pool when they were younger by pushing HIM into the hotel's pool. The rest of the group jumps in as well, laughing. I loved this moment and thought it was a great, solid way to close an episode.

Later that night, Ben and Kate tuck Maddie into bed. And you know what? I love that Maddie will always have two people who love her in her life. Sitcoms that are family-driven are traditionally mother-father, but I love seeing the brother-sister comedy.

Additional de-lovely aspects about the episode:
- “Kate, I need your car. And a piñata. And six dresses, size 8 through 12.”
-  The girl who plays Maddie is the literal cutest child on television.
-  It’s endearing that Kate still sucks her thumb. I don’t know WHY it’s endearing, but… okay, that’s a lie. It’s a nice – albeit brief – moment that demonstrates that Kate is still the younger sibling.
- “You look like a Korean lady golfer.”
- “You’re so naïve. You’re only five, but you’re VERY naïve.”
- “There’s so much I want to say! Why are you so young right now?”
- “We’re gonna crash this wedding, Kate style. Which means you guys are gonna be prepared and no one’s gonna go to prison.”
- The three-point turn gag was perfect. Mainly because I hate doing three-point turns, too.
- “He loves somebody… at a conference!”
- “We’re like, two peas in the worst pod ever.”

Thank you all for being so supportive of this blog in all of its endeavors! I'll be posting new reviews of Go On, Ben and Kate, and (potentially) New Girl weekly, until Community returns! Keep an eye out for those and, as always, have a wonderful weekend. :)


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