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Bad single mom pilots: NBC’s The New Normal and FOX’s Ben & Kate

What do 'The New Normal' and 'Ben & Kate' have in common? They both feature, blonde, waif-like, single teenage mother leads with too-smart-for-their-age daughters who form saccharine sweet non-traditional families. What else do they feature? Uneven messes as plot lines.

I wanted to like NBC’S New Normal and FOX’s Ben and Kate. As a woman whose parents divorced in her childhood, I always have a soft spot for single parent comedies. But, I just can’t with either of these “comedies.” Yes. I put comedies in quotes. If you watch either, you’ll see what I mean. Both shows come from the same stock template of blonde fragile female teen mom leads working as waitresses, taken advantage of by lovers, but bolstered by non-traditional families. Both shows are disjointed messes that can’t decide whether they’re upbeat, over-the-top comedies or sappy, Hallmark channel comedies while featuring out of control cartoon characters that overpower the female lead.  Both shows have talented actors, who need to focus less on the cartoon, and more on one cohesive plot to work.

Ben and Kate

Ben and Kate surrounds Kate (Dakota Johnson), a single blonde waitress who was a teenaged mom, but now lives with her adorable, too-smart-for-her-age, five-year-old daughter, Maggie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). While she deals with the difficulties of cheating boyfriends, her wacky brother Ben (Nat Faxon), his wacky afro-wearing friend Tommy (Echo Kellum) and her wacky, slutty British friend BJ (Lucy Punch) all throw further chaos into her life. The pilot surrounds Kate’s decision to start dating, while Ben returns home to prevent his ex-girlfriend’s marriage. Unsurprisingly, the two storylines cross and, guess what, wackiness ensues. Plot-wise and tonally, the show is uneven. It schizophrenically waivers between focusing on Kate, the too-fragile, waif-like single mother and on Ben, the crazy over the top one man cartoon show who crazily scrambles to prevent a wedding.

Ben and Kate felt like watching a Kate Hudson romantic comedy and FOX’s Raising Hope in one half hour, but it isn’t that smart, on either side. In the commercials, the funniest line is Ben’s Krav Maga line; but, within the show itself, it isn’t so funny. Individually, the actors do a great job with their characters. Lucy Punch, who I’ve always loved, is awesome as BJ. Dakota Johnson rocks as the trembling, vulnerable single mother. Echo Kellum is great as nerd boy Tommy. And, Nate Faxon … well, he’s there. OK. That’s unfair. Faxon improvs the hell out of his lines, but it just isn’t funny.  On an improv stage, I might’ve loved it, but in the show itself, it seems cartoonish and one-note. Individually, these characters work, but together … not so much. Is Ben and Kate about wacky friends, a struggling single mother, a man-child growing up or is it about non-traditional families? Is it about the best friend living a Sex and the City life or the single mom trying to find sex in the city? Yes, it can do all of those topics, but it isn’t even doing one of those well. Ben and Kate needs to find a focal point and stick with it and slowly fold in the other topics later. Unless the production staff smooths the rough parts, Ben and Kate might go the way of Jon and Kate, another one-dimensional TV show surrounding kids and cartoonish adults.

Photo Credit: FOX, NBC

One Response to “Bad single mom pilots: NBC’s The New Normal and FOX’s Ben & Kate”

September 12, 2012 at 12:36 AM

It’s unlikely that ANYONE could defend these 2 dreadful shows. Sheer pap. Someone start the Cancellation Count Down.

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