Monday morning at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour event at Los Angeles' Beverly Hilton, the cast and crew of Ben and Kate gathered to discuss their zany brother-and-sister duo comedy. The show, which centers on the wayward brother Ben moving in with uptight sister Kate and her daughter, Maddie, will be available starting Aug. 27th on Hulu, Yahoo, and other various online platforms.
The show stars The Groundlings comedian Nat Faxon, who booked the role of Ben the day after he won the Oscar for co-writing The Descendants (along with Community's Jim Rash, natch). "It's offered some momentum," Faxon says of his Golden trophy. "[But] I don't know that I'm going to be handed acting roles because I did something in the writing field."
Also starring as Kate is Dakota Johnson, who you may know as 2006's Miss Golden Globe. (A gig she calls "terrifying".) Growing up the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (and the granddaughter of Tippi Hedren) gave Johnson a head start in the industry, but Ben and Kate's producer Dana Fox says she really wants people to believe that the world on this show is real, so Johnson and Griffith probably won't make an appearance.
In fact, a more looming presence on the show is Fox's brother, Ben, whose antics as a young man inspired Fox to create her first show. "He's a really, really smart guy who intentionally does dumb things all the time," she says of her brother. "He got older and he met this amazing woman, and they had two chldren together. The thing that I noticed was that he was the world's greatest father." Because of Fox's brother's open and silly personality, he was able to talk to his children on their level. Fox says she brings this relationship dynamic to the show, as Ben interacts with Kate's daughter Maddie. Still, Fox says they keep TV's Ben grounded in reality, and ask themselves at every turn if his actions are realistic. Basically, they want men to want to be him and women to (sort of) want to be with him. "He has a bizarre logic to all of his behavior," Fox says of TV's Ben. "He might be a genius?"
This "genius" may help the uptight Kate relax and enjoy her life a little. "She is being forced by her brother to break out of the box," Fox says. "He's going to come in and smash that to pieces, then ask her to clean up after." But the relationship is reciprocal — Kate is also going to help Ben expand on his own ideas, and grow as an adult person. "Part of the reason that we retitled the show from 'Ben Fox is My Manny' is because he's really not the Manny — the concept of the show is it takes a village. Everyone is taking care of this one magnificent child so they can all help each other bumble forward."
Included in this village is British actress Lucy Punch, who, in the trailer, puts a hilariously inappropriate amount of makeup on young Maddie. Punch is having a great time working on the series, and says its a far cry from comedy over the pond. "I think British comedy tends to be darker, and meaner," she says. "I think British people enjoy not liking people, and unsympathetic characters. In the States, it's nicer. It's friendlier." Still, Punch insists that her character can be "bitchy and horrible," because people like that.
But according to Maggie Elizabeth Jones, the 8-year-old scene-stealer from We Bought a Zoo who plays Maddie, Punch's zany character isn't the funniest off-screen — that honor goes to Faxon. But Punch has a different opinion. "Maggie makes us laugh," says Punch. "She's very naturally funny, and good at improvising." Faxon agrees — he says the little actress is so adorable that he literally has to "shove her aside" to get the spotlight back.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: FOX]
TCA 2012: 'Mindy Project' and 'Ben and Kate' to Premiere Online
Fox's 2012 Series Pickups: Kevin Bacon, Mindy Kaling, and the Mob
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Jennifer Check and Anita "Needy" Lesnicky are lifelong best friends and high school students in tiny Devil's Kettle Minnesota. Needy is the practical bookish counterpart to small-town sexpot cheerleader Jennifer who controls most everyone around her — Needy included — with knowing relish using her hypnotic good looks. After Jennifer and Needy escape a grisly fire at the local dive bar Jennifer is whisked away in a creeper van by the band that was playing there despite Needy's pleas not to. In a "sell your soul for rock and roll"-style move the fame-hungry indie rockers Low Shoulder kill Jennifer in an occult virgin sacrifice ceremony which goes awry because Jennifer isn't one. After being left for dead Jennifer shows up at Needy's house covered in blood spewing black bile and grinning wickedly.
The next day amidst the fire tragedy aftermath Devil's Kettle's star football player is found disemboweled and half-eaten in the woods adjacent to the school. Jennifer of course did it and after the vixen kills a sweet emo boy she confesses to Needy (after a too-brief girl-on-girl makeout session complete with heavy tongue close-ups) that the botched sacrifice turned her into a demon and that she becomes happier and more beautiful — and thus deadlier — after she feasts on the blood of horny high school boys. Needy does some research in the occult section of the high school library and discovers her best friend is indeed a pawn of the devil. Needy warns her boyfriend Chip to watch out for Jennifer and consequently finds herself covered in bile with Chip dead in her arms at the prom because he doesn't. Then she seeks revenge.
WHO'S IN IT?
The ever enjoyable Amanda Seyfried takes the lead as plain jane Needy and Johnny Simmons is her sweet doting boyfriend Chip. Adam Brody doing a spot-on Brandon Flowers impression is the killer front man of Low Shoulder. Amy Sedaris makes a too-brief cameo as Needy's mom and Juno's dad J.K. Simmons is a high school teacher with an unexplained hook for a hand. Megan Fox is in it too.
Diablo Cody's script is smart funny and infinitely more interesting than the typical teen slasher swill. The movie revels in its gory moments without being gratuitous and employs a healthy amount of sex without coming off like it's pandering to horny teens. Rather Jennifer's Body is the perfect template for the incomparably hot Megan Fox to use her looks as a plot-forwarding mechanism. This is a professionally signficant departure from her eye candy turns in the Transformers movies and lets Fox prove that she can actually act. There's no one else in Hollywood right now better suited to this role. Fox's performance is unhinged and charming and she makes good use of all the Diablo Cody-isms ("You need a mani bad. You should find a Chinese chick to buff your situation.") that devil-may-care Jennifer gets to utter. The love/hate best friend relationship is interesting and there's a load of good-girl-gone-wrong catharsis in Seyfried's revenge-fueled rampage. Cody and director Karyn Kusama are adept in skillfully if a bit condescendingly creating a convincing depiction of a small Midwestern town which serves as the perfect ultra-real backdrop for the story.
Cody's unique style adds the perfect quirk factor to what could otherwise be run-of-the-mill cinematic garbage.The Cody-isms however sometimes come off as cloying when they aren't being uttered by Fox. Also hopeful Fox worshippers might be disappointed that the sexually radiant actress despite her character's penchant for using sex to lure her victims doesn't actually bare anything that necessitates the film's R-rating.
With its surprising plot twists a snarky bff vs. bff subplot and Cody's flair for linguistics Jennifer's Body is a smart horror flick for anyone who enjoys jolly gore or Megan Fox in a mini-skirt.