The new FOX comedy Ben and Kate showcases the quirky, codependent relationship between an adult brother and sister. As an only child, I finished the pilot feeling somewhat deprived of a similar sibling bond. The title characters’ dynamic was that adorable.
I’m aware that my lack of siblings and my red hair are the top two most untrustworthy things about me, according to general society. In a time of Gosselins, Duggars, Bates and Octomoms, having one child has become weird. I was even once asked during a phone interview if I had siblings. Unless I’m interviewing to get a record deal for my family band, that’s an irrelevant question. The disgruntled “Oh” that I heard on the other line when I answered was enough to tell me that, for whatever reason, only children sometimes have a bad rap.
However, no matter how much pity/curiosity/distrust I inspire in people, and no matter how many joyful sibling relationships I witness in real life or in fiction, I’m usually happy to have never fought over the remote control or the size of a cake slice.
Watching Ben and Kate was one of the rare occasions when I see the pleasant side of having a sibling and wish I knew what it was like.
Ben and Kate’s relationship is far from your ordinary brother-sister pairing, and I think that’s what makes it so appealing to me. Ben Fox (Nat Faxon, who won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants) is an immature guy who can’t keep a job and continuously turns to his younger sister Kate (Dakota Johnson), a single mom, for support.
What I like about Ben and Kate’s situation is that each of them looks out for the other one. It’s not just a show about a young woman rolling her eyes at her freeloading brother. It’s also not just a show about a man helping his hapless younger sister raise her daughter. Each has something to offer the other one, and their relationship, while occasionally trying, is ultimately affectionate.
I have to give a lot of credit to the lead actors for making this relationship work. Faxon doesn’t turn Ben into a lazy nuisance who must be gotten rid of. Even when he’s being difficult, he has the best intentions. Johnson doesn’t play Kate as a weak damsel in distress who can’t function without a male relative there to help her. She’s just a normal young mom with a great support team there to look out for her.
It’s of course crucial that a sitcom have great supporting characters. Ben and Kate certainly delivers. Lucy Punch (who I’m convinced must be related to The Office‘s Catherine Tate), as Kate’s co-worker BJ, is a great foil to the title heroine. Echo Kellum is lovably awkward as Ben’s friend Tommy. And who could forget Maggie Elizabeth Jones as Kate’s sweet, precocious daughter Maddie? The supporting cast manages to convey the appropriate level of weirdness without taking attention away from the title pair.
The funny and heartfelt writing also plays a big part in making this sibling combo so engaging. The flashbacks to Ben and Kate’s childhood, during which Kate says they basically raised themselves, help to further establish their love for each other.
This show made me want a brother who will fire a babysitter for teaching my daughter not to color the sky green and who will save me from falling in love with a jerk who doesn’t know how to high-five. It made me want a sister who will help me rehearse the objection speech I’m going to make at my ex’s wedding and who will let me bring “a random drum set” into the house without notice.
And most of all, it made me want someone to hide under the table with when things get hard. Because when an only child hides under the table alone, it’s called depressing, but when siblings hide under the table together, it’s called support.
Those are just a few of the things Ben and Kate do for each other, and it’s delightful to watch.
Ben and Kate manages to strike the right balance between funny and touching. Its humor is silly and feel-good, and its emotion is never syrupy or forced. It warmed my heart, which, as you’ve learned, is the black heart of a detached only child. So that says a lot.