Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ben and Kate

Ben and Kate
Episode 10: The Trip
By: Carlos Uribe

Ben and Kate is a show about a responsible single mother and her carefree older brother.

Spoilers Ahoy!

There are many comedies out there that simply make fun of their characters. The jokes are made at their expense, the punchlines are insults thrown towards them, and they make people wonder just why these group of people are friends in the first place. These shows generally don't use characters to drive the humor but rather use the humor against them. This form of comedic writing can be lazy but it can also be effective. Chuck Lorre and Seth Macflarane have built comedic empires built around knocking their characters down. Can you imagine a Family Guy episode that doesn't knock down Meg or make fun of Petet's stupidity? Or a Two and a Half Men episode where the character's sex lives aren't the butt of at least one joke? The best way to create a popular comedy is to make the comedy broad and that involves having the writing make fun of the characters. There's nothing wrong with this as long as the jokes are good. Arrested Development was basically a series built around making fun of the Bluth family and it's one of the funniest shows in existence. There are some shows that chose not to make fun of their characters but to treat them as actual human beings. This means giving them respect and showing a group that love each other. These are the shows where you can tell why they're friends and that the writers genuinely care about the characers. The comedy for these shows doesn't come at making a character the punchline but in knowing who a character is. This kind of show can be effective and be critically popular. Parks and Recreation is considered one of the best comedies on the air partly because it does this. A great way to see the difference between the two types of comedies is the earlier seasons of the Office versus the latest ones. The show began respecting it's characters but then it gradually started to make fun of them.

What kind of show is Ben and Kate? It's the second one: the one that respects it's characters and instead makes fun of what they do. The ending tag is a perfect example. Ben is going around, yelling out tree names and stating to his father that he knows tree names. It's a nice character moment that is funny not just because of Faxon's delivery but because the show treats Ben's actions with respect. While his action is the punchline, Ben himself isn't. Ben's action is ridiculous and the show knows it but it is able to respect Ben's decision to do it. If this was on the Big Bang Theory, it would be Sheldon who yells out tree names and the joke would be it's because he's a nerd. On Ben and Kate, the joke is simply that Ben knows tree names. That he ends up doing it from left-over father issues and being overwhelmed by nature is having the character do this action based on where he is at the moment. There is nothing wrong with either approach but simply two different styles into approaching television comedy. They can both be equally funny but it's usually the one that respects it's characters that can approach the most depth.

Consider for instance the reason that Kate and Will fight. Ben thinks it might be because Will inherited some money from his grandfather. Ben believes that people who inherit money are spoiled brats who didn't earn it and so he looks down on them. Kate doesn't particularly share that view. What the fight was really about is that Kate's life is full of crazy adults. She has a brother who is full of insane ideas and emotionally immature. Her best friend is really into sex and inadvertently gives terrible advive to people. Tommy is obsessed not only with Kate but her brother as well. The three people are absolutely nuts but she keeps them around. Why? It's because she loves them. She recounts a story about how when she was pregnant and her boyfriend had left her, it's these three who didn't just help her but put her back together. Kate knows that Ben might be an adult who acts like a child but she also knows that he'll always have her back. She loves her life and that includes the friends within it. The reason Will and Kate break up might be because she isn't willing to set any boundary that would keep the craziness from interfering with their new relationship. It's a problem that felt very real and was tackled honestly by the show while remaining funny. There's no way the show couldn't handled that scene the same if the characters were the punchlines.

Tommy has his own sub-plot where B.J. is tired that he keeps pining for a women that he'll never get. She tries to get him to move on by having him talk with three different women. One just wanted directions, the other might have killed her husband, and the last one was really a man. At the end of the episode, Tommy meets a dog-walker and it seems like the show has introduced Brittany Snow as his new love interest. This is good as it'll help the show flesh the character out a bit more. He's been defined solely by his relationship with the Fox family but it'll be necessary to develop him by drawing him out of their world by just a tiny bit. The sub-plot managed to keep things real and it had a lot good laughs by proving, once again, that Tommy can hold his own with the rest of the cast, even the scenesteal that is B.J.

The Trip is a fun and great episode of Ben and Kate that allows the show to leave this year with a good episode. It's always important to leave on a good note since that's the memory that will guarantee that viewers come back. We'll have to wait all the way until January before we get the next episode. The Trip was an episode that simply proved why this show is working so well: the writers really like this set of characters and the relationships between each character is based on love.

Other Notes:

Highlight of the episode: B.J. giving Maddie lessons on how to treat the help with a close second of B.J. teaching Tommy how to deal with women. Tommy noticing the dog before it's owner was also hysterical.

Maddie is really adorable.

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