'Ben and Kate' review: It's promising
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THE SHOW "Ben and Kate"
WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 8:30 on Fox/5
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kate (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) and Ben (Nat Faxon, Oscar-winning screenwriter, with Jim Rash, of "The Descendants") are brother and sister. (He has moved in with her to help raise her 5-year-old daughter.) But appearances of otherwise-superficial normalcy end there.
He's a bubbling cauldron of human tumult -- full of joy, fun and a sense of adventure, but also full of need. He has the attention span of a squirrel and the nervous energy of one as well. Then, there is younger sister Kate: She is genial, gentle, soulful and spacey.
Their friends esteem these two odd birds. BJ (funny English actress Lucy Punch) offers romantic advice and tends to the fashion needs of Kate's daughter, Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Tommy (Echo Kellum) is Ben's much calmer childhood buddy who wants to know "how long you're going to be in town, so I can calibrate my expectations." Calibrating expectations around Ben is, of course, impossible.
MY SAY Show creator Dana Fox -- she's one of several writers here who worked on the first season of "New Girl" -- said at the recent TV critics' press tour that Ben is a facsimile of her real-life brother, and, though "really, really smart," was a "Ferris Bueller type" in his youth who did "incredibly dumb things." Her brother, wherever he is, would be proud of this portrait and possibly a little wary, too.
Faxon brings so much exuberance to the role that he jumps off the screen (and right onto your lap). But then everything feels condensed and supercharged about "Ben and Kate," which plays like a full-length rom-com movie stuffed into a 22-minute box. While the charm offensive can be relentless, and the quirks come at you full-bore, "New Girl"-style, there are still enough funny moments to easily make it all worthwhile.
BOTTOM LINE Brush aside the hyperactivity and hard sell, and you're left with a winner. "Ben and Kate" is easily one of this fall's most promising (and often funny) newcomers.