NBC Universal Media
NBC has pulled the plug on the struggling comedy Sean Saves the World. An experiment in that broad-appeal type of show the network is so desperate for, Sean took a talented cast and buried them in mediocre material. Now that the series is kaput, we have a wish list of where we'd like to see its ensemble go next.
Sean Hayes: Daytime Talk Show
His long-time Will & Grace costar Megan Mullally tried her hand at the chat show game a few years back. The program was not a rousing success, as most of her audience were struggling to accept the sound of her real voice and the absence of Karen Walker's antics with her beloved Jacky. Might we suggest that Mullally and Hayes give the people what they want and team up for a show? Mullally's husband Nick Offerman must make constant appearances.
Linda Lavin: Back to Broadway
Lavin's involvement in this series was the hardest bit of casting to accept. Theatrical legend that she is, Linda's no stranger to TV — she was Alice, after all — but we want to see her back on the boards. It's a sad fact that television has few decent parts for a woman of a certain age. And so, though we'll never forget her as Seth Cohen's Nana, Lavin will find her best opportunities elsewhere.
Megan Hilty: Ditto
With a voice like butter and a body like a brick house, Hilty also needs to get those pipes back to New York and into a musical ASAP. Smash may have been a wash, but we'd pay good money to see her play Marilyn in a real production of Bombshell.
Echo Kellum: Go Indie
All Kellum has to do is call up his Ben and Kate costar Nat Faxon and get on the Oscar-winning screenwriter's next project. Why languish in pilot season hell when he can be in the next The Descendants?
Any fan of a too short-lived television series knows that we can't always have nice things. There's nothing more bittersweet than discovering a new show with boundless potential while helplessly watching its ratings circle the drain. One such heartbreaking tale is that of Ben and Kate, which premiered on Fox in Sept. 2012 and left us after a mere 16 episodes.
The sitcom stars Dakota Johnson and Nat Faxon as closely-knit siblings sharing a house and the raising of Kate's daughter Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Ben is a recovering slacker, still chasing get-rich-quick schemes but never ignoring his responsibilities to his baby sis and cutie-pie niece. Kate is a single mom whose future was interrupted by Maddie and who now aspires to leave her waitressing career behind. The gang is rounded out with Tommy (Echo Kellum) and BJ (Lucy Punch) as Ben and Kate's respective BFFs.
Slightly formulaic set-up? Sure. But the chemistry of the Ben and Kate cast gelled in record time, enabling those few of us who watched it to become attached to these characters right out of the gate. Like Parks and Recreation and New Girl, the series excels in the comedy of niceness. The laughs come from well-crafted scripts and endearing performances, not from cynicism or snark. There are few series on TV that explore the sibling relationship where Ben and Kate finds its heart. And while many comedies struggle to integrate kids without falling into sugary sweetness, Ben and Kate expertly navigated around that trap.
Hot mess BJ was a killer role for Lucy Punch, who's been making huge comic impact in small roles from Hot Fuzz to Dinner for Schmucks. Relative newcomer Kellum was a find (“I was going to, Ben, but then I realized that me climbing in through a window at night, that’s like a one-way ticket to a candle light vigil that turns into a riot”), and was instantly snatched up by the inferior Sean Saves the World.
Are you missing Ben and Kate too? Let us know in the comments!
The New Girl pilot is pretty smart. A dorky girl, Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel), loses everything and moves in with three guys. Each guy represents aspects of stereotypical masculinity. Schmidt (Max Greenfield) is both the high-maintenance metro-sexual and the Dudebro douche. Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) is the slacker and curmudgeon. Coach (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is the athlete and most prototypically masculine.
When Wayans was called back for the second season of Happy Endings, rather than just recast the role of Coach, they did a 1970s sitcom change-up. It’s calls to mind horrible flashbacks of Jenilee Harrison as Cindy Snow, Chrissy’s cousin, who appeared after Suzanne Somers unceremoniously left the show. It’s unclear as to whether this choice was trying to avoid reshoots for the pilot, leave room for Wayans to return, or just poor choices. It’s worth mentioning that Merrin Dungey played Dr. Naomi Bennett in the Private Practice back-door pilot but Audra McDonald played her in the actual series.
Because the role of Coach was out of the equation, writers had to invent a story and character for Lamorne Morris: Winston, a former Latvian basketball player was the original third roommate and moved back into the apartment. However, writers never found Winston’s voice and what happened bordered on racially insensitive. Winston was underemployed and had no real character traits except being useless. Most of his storylines were outside the apartment and didn’t involve his roommates. When he was with his roommates, they were usually making jokes at his expense. For example, in “Backslide,” Winston gets an earring and his roommates make racist-adjacent jokes like calling him “Captain Black Sparrow.”
Morris has done his best to try and integrate himself into the series including randomly singing and doing all kinds of degrading physical bits. It’s a pity because he just doesn’t seem to fit with the cast. Wayans has returned for a Season 3 story arc and has instantly re-assimilated into the show. It’s sad to see the three original cast members of the pilot with Morris continuing to be the red-headed stepchild of the series.
Sure, given the hipster nature of the series, they could have afforded to replace Wayans with an actor with more Williamsburg-street cred like Eric Andre (Don’t Trust the B- in Apartment 23) or Echo Kellum (Sean Saves the World). Regardless, the writers on the show should find a way to integrate Winston in the show, hire a writer to create a realistic character, and give him more of a personality than an obsession with his cat.
Last year, the George Clooney-headlined The Descendants captured the attention of both theater-going audiences and a little gold man named Oscar for its heart-warming portrayal of a complicated family man in a complicated family situation. And much of the credit goes to the Academy Award-winning co-writer of the film, Nat Faxon, an actor who, prior to his Oscar win, was best known for silly roles in silly movies like Orange County and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
So perhaps it’s fitting that Faxon’s next step post-The Descendants is irreverent family comedy Ben and Kate, which stars the actor as a silly family man in a complicated family situation. After all, the new FOX series is just heartfelt as Faxon’s big-screen writing venture. Ben and Kate centers on a pair of siblings that are as close as they are different — the former is a doltish man-boy while the latter is a responsible (but still understandably harried) single mom. When it comes to the Fox family — loosely based on creator Dana Fox’s own clan, and a great unintentional branding effort by the series — opposites attract. Kate is patient with her brother’s drum-playing, hockey mask-wearing antics, while Ben is inspired by his sister’s ownership of her own life. And the two have to get along — how else to teach family values to Kate’s young daughter, Maddie (We Bought a Zoo’s infectiously adorable Maggie Elizabeth Jones)?
It’s an approachable, family-friendly subject similar in nature to fare like Modern Family, but Ben and Kate is much more irreverent than the ABC hit. And we can thank its leading man for that. Faxon, as Ben, begs comparisons to the goofily confident Ryan Reynolds (in need of dental work) and Happy Endings’ droll breakout Adam Pally. Ben is outlandish and ridiculous, prone to schemes and pranks — the type of character that would be relegated to a sitcom sidekick, inviting canned audience applause the second he walks through a door. Yet, Faxon manages to make the role worthy of its leading status, incorporating the same heart into Ben that we saw jump off his Descendants script. Ben might be eccentric enough to plan to crash an ex-girlfriend's wedding without pause — and base someone's character on the solidity of their high fives — but his fondness for his sister, and her young daughter, bring him straight down to Earth, transforming him into a manboy far more mature than those you see in lazy misfires like Man Up!. Instead, Ben is a manboy you want to root for.
It doesn't hurt that Faxon boasts a sweet chemistry with his Kate, played Dakota Johnson, otherwise known as Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson's daughter. And Johnson's presence is refreshing — the actress' most high-profile work prior to Ben and Kate was trotting celebrities back and forth on stage as 2006's Miss Golden Globes. But it only takes one viewing of Ben and Kate to see that Johnson has outgrown the punchline status. It's no easy task to share the spotlight with an actor adept at providing comic relief, but Johnson has more than leveled the playing field. The actress refuses to play the straight woman. Even when taking in dating advice from the aptly titled BJ (the delightfully hyper-sexualized sidekick Lucy Punch, speaking of globes) — in a scene that could, admittedly, have been pulled from any sitcom — Johnson heightens the material, selling Kate's awkward jitters and making the gorgeous blonde instantly relatable to any television watcher. And Kate's bizarre relationship with Ben's friend Tommy (scene-stealing newcomer Echo Kellum) — who once made out with Kate during what she calls "her fat phase" and what he calls "her hot phase" — only sweetens the comedy deal.
The breakout on the series is, of course, young Maddie, who — like the network's title character on Raising Hope — provides an emotional backdrop to some of the less-than-PG material. (See: Kate's bra shot, Ben's frustration not being able to scream expletives in front of his niece.) Jones is just funny enough to sell scenes better than some of her brethren on ABC, and adorable enough to reel in viewers less likely to connect with Ben and Kate's off-beat humor. But here's hoping audiences do connect with the new series — I'll at least be tuning in to find out what happens to the Fox descendants for as long as Fox will let me. Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard More: Ben and Kate: What You Need to Know Before Watching Tonight's Premiere Ben and Kate: Details on Season 1's Romantic Guest Stars Hollywood.com's Fall TV Hub
Over the next few months, we’ll see new series soar, old series sour, and so much Jersey Shore madness, we’ll want to shower. Let’s face it: The Fall TV season is intimidating. With dozens of new and returning shows hitting our small screens, we know we have some big choices to make. So, to help you determine what to watch, we’re digging deep into the most notable series premiering this season. Where did each show leave off? Where is it headed? And who should you watch it with? Today, we're checking out new series Ben and Kate, starring Oscar winner Nat Faxon and former Miss Golden Globe Dakota Johnson. Will Ben and Kate lead Faxon one step closer to EGOT? Let’s dive in!
Series: Ben and Kate
Premiere Date: Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:30ET on FOX.
Synopsis: Ben and Kate are two very different peas in the Fox family pod. The siblings must navigate their own flawed — but close — relationship and flawed — but fun — lives while raising Kate’s young daughter.
Who's Ben?: A sweet — yet doltish — man who wants to grow up even less than Peter Pan.
Who's Kate?: An awkward — yet charming — single mom who grew up far too soon. Cast: Nat Faxon plays Ben; well-adjusted celebrity spawn Johnson (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson plays Kate; We Bought a Zoo child star Maggie Elizabeth Jones plays Kate’s spunky daughter; Bad Teacher’s Lucy Punch plays the aptly named BJ; and newcomer Echo Kellum plays the quirky Tommy who loves Kate more than he loves mispronouncing salmon.
What's a Nat Faxon?: Don't worry — even Mindy Kaling has wondered. But comedy lovers would recognize the actor for his bit, but memorable roles in Orange County and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Champagne-swillers, however, would know him best from his Oscar-winning co-penmanship of 2011's The Descendants. Pilot Plotline: Kate plans to sleep with a man for the first time in five years, while Ben plans to break up his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. Oh, Tuesdays. Choice Soundbite: Ben, after Kate asks him what he will do after learning his ex-girlfriend, Darcy, is getting married: “I’m thinking about starting on the roof and then repelling down to the side of the building and then maybe, like, knocking through an AC duct, and then crawling, like, elbows like this, and then maybe, like, dropping down into, like, an electrical closet, maybe, like, throw in a couple of smoke bombs in, and then just kidnapping Darcy, taking her out the back and maybe, like, renting a Jeep Wrangler or something and popping down to Mexico. But, I don’t know, it’s a little bit up in the air.” You’ll Like It If…: You watched Friends for Ross and Monica. You’ll Hate It If…: You watched Friends for the laugh track. Ben and Kate’s Formula: (Happy Endings + Parenthood - Kleenex) + (Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place - Guy) Breakout Character: Jones’ Maddie. There hasn’t been a child as precious and precocious since Drew Barrymore’s Gertie in E.T. Style Moment: Taking a page from her father’s handbook of outdated fashion, Johnson wears a fanny pack throughout the pilot, leading one character to call her “a Korean lady golfer.” “Aww” Moment: A flashback shows young Ben and Kate crawling under the dinner table to drown out the sound of their fighting parents. ”Awful!” Moment: A good 60 seconds of the 23-minute pilot is dedicated to U-Turn humor. Austin Powers called — it wants its gag back. What We Learn From the Pilot: Putting objects constantly in your mouth makes you instantly sexier. What We Learned from Happy Endings: This is most definitely not true. Watch It With: A sibling you’ve been meaning to get closer to. Don’t Watch It With: Anyone with a limp high five. Wine and Cheese Pairing: A Muscat with a slice of Manchego dipped in honey. Because it’s so sweet! What You’re Most Likely To Yell At the Screen: “Why are you charming me into adding you to my already chock-full DVR, Ben and Kate?!” What It’s Missing: Nothing. Except Clooney, of course. Make it happen, Nat. [Image Credit: FOX] More: Ben and Kate: Details on Season 1’s Romantic Guest Stars Zooey Deschanel Shares Bad News for Jess-Nick Shippers Hollywood.com’s Fall TV Hub