The coming months are an especially difficult time for many television viewers. Not all of our favorite shows are safe from the threat of cancelation. It's one of those universal feelings people have when they watch TV on a regular basis: we all lose at least one show we love, thanks to low ratings. Personally, I've lost too many I can count: The Lone Gunmen, Harsh Realm, Stark Raving Mad, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, just to name a few. On a rare occasion that seems to be getting less rare lately, a series will end prematurely, only to be resurrected down the road. Family Guy (twice), Futurama (twice, through DVD releases and a new network revival) and Arrested Development are all examples.
But one show that is highly unlikely to find that treatment is the latest victim of cancelation: FOX's Ben & Kate. Starring Dakota Johnson and Nat Faxon, Ben & Kate told the story of a ne'er-do-well brother (Faxon) coming home to look after his baby sister (Johnson) and her daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). They're aided by their two best friends: Ben's buddy Tommy (Echo Kellum), and Kate's British co-worker BJ (Lucy Punch).
Ben & Kate created a unique setting not seen frequently on television: two siblings in starring roles. It's rare today to have an actor and actress star in a show and not have them as potential love interests/a married couple. Dakota Johnson exhibited incredible charm and comedic timing. Frequent readers of my column know I have an immense adoration for the young actress, the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. She easily matched and surpassed FOX Tuesday's other standout comediennes, Zooey Deschanel and Mindy Kaling, while never lapsing into anything slapstick or overt (Deschanel) or more-clever-than-you (Kaling). Her rapport with the rest of the excellent cast was terrific. I cannot say anything bad about Dakota Johnson. She's cute, she's funny, and most of all, she deserves success. I had envisioned everyone coming around with Ben & Kate, but ratings (frequently below 3 million) did not justify it.
The rest of the cast just clicked. Nat Faxon, coming on way too strong in the pilot and likely turning away many viewers, settled in after only an episode or two, able to play up being a thirty-something adolescent while still conveying sweet moments with his sister and niece. He was a bit of an everyman, his looks far from perfect, his actions always wrong, but his intentions nothing but pure. Mostly. Lately, child actors have been superb, and Maggie Elizabeth Jones was no exception. She plays Kate's daughter as smart, but not too smart for the room, like Alex on Modern Family.
The pitfall of having the best friends in the picture on a sitcom is that they can typically be the goofballs or the wise souls that impart wisdom to the main characters. No problem here. Echo Kellum's Tommy is only mildly smarter than Ben, but much of his time is spent fawning over Kate, with whom she's been in love for years. And Lucy Punch's BJ is too sex-crazed to worry about giving wise advice. Except advice on how to be sexy, which more or less just makes Kate look more awkward and, well, not sexy.
The storylines often verged on absurd. Ben swimming for lost golf balls in a country club to re-sell is a bit of a stretch. Ben and BJ being married without anyone else knowing was out there. Kate's numerous eccentricities while speaking to handsome men, while only adding to her own charm, were likely off-putting for some viewers that likely compared her unfavorably to Zooey Deschanel's a-dork-able Jess on New Girl. But the cast sold every far-fetched, quirky, oddball plotline. It just goes back to my own Golden Rule Number One for television: find a strong cast with tons of chemistry and appeal, and you're going to be able to make everything else work. Of course it works when the material is as exceptional as the cast (as on Modern Family), but sometimes the cast has to make up for good material here, so-so material there (as on Happy Endings). Ben & Kate is, or was, the latter.
Will Ben & Kate's demise mark some sort of end for anything on the small screen? Of course not. It's just another failed series that didn't catch on with viewers. Nothing changes that. Sometimes on rare occasions, a canceled program comes back from the dead. 999 times out of 1000, cancelation is final. Definite. The end of the road. Ben & Kate, for me, was one of the funniest, quirkiest, most enjoyable little sitcoms to come along in a few years. Of course it took a few episodes to get going, but once it did, it rivaled many of the top sitcoms on the air currently. But sadly, that didn't matter to viewers who had been turned off by the pilot.
That doesn't mean I can't keep hating those viewers.
Until next time, stay tuned.