Dakota Johnson and Nat Faxon’s Short-Lived Sitcom Deserved Better

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Ben and Kate was a charming, 2000s-style sitcom that unfortunately aired at the wrong time and was canceled after one season.
  • The series had a strong cast, including Dakota Johnson, Nat Faxon, and Lucy Punch, who brought their comedic talents to the show.
  • Ben and Kate defied traditional gender roles in sitcoms, with the male character as the homemaker and the female character as the career-focused one.


Loyal Dakota Johnson fans have always known that the actress was funny ever since she gave that notorious interview on The Ellen Show. Filled to the brim with quick-witted humor and deadpan delivery that gives Aubrey Plaza a run for her money, Johnson is a quiet queen of comedy. But the general population who became aware of her thanks to her breakout role in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy most likely would not think of her as a comedian of any sort. In addition to her starring role in the most famous erotic romance trilogy of the 21st century, Johnson’s filmography is filled with cutting-edge independent films, such as psychological thrillers like A Bigger Splash and Suspiria from director Luca Guadagnino. But when she was just starting out in Hollywood, she got her first starring role in showbiz opposite Nat Faxon in the Fox sitcom, Ben and Kate.

Ben and Kate is a hidden gem buried beneath sitcom gold. Debuting on Fox in 2012, no matter how strong the material or great the actors, the series was destined to fail. Rising up at a time when sitcom titans like The Office and Parks and Recreation were taking their final bows, Ben and Kate could not compete. The 2000s boom of sitcoms was rich with family dysfunction and workplace drama, and the Fox sitcom simply arrived too late. But that doesn’t mean the series isn’t worth watching. Carrying all the ingredients that make for a delicious comedy, Ben and Kate explores the complex relationship between siblings, and the results are charming. Lacking any cynicism and only offering sincerity, the series comes from creator Dana Fox (The Wedding Date), and would have been a great introduction of Dakota Johnson to Hollywood as a promising young comedian if the series had continued past Season 1. Despite airing over a decade ago, Ben and Kate deserves the spotlight, and should have its place within cult-classic television series that were canceled too soon.

Ben and Kate

A free-spirited young guy moves in with his tightly-wound Type-A sister under the guise of being his niece’s caregiver.

Release Date
September 25, 2012

Main Genre
Comedy

Seasons
1


‘Ben and Kate’ Is a Charming, 2000s Influenced Sitcom

Though it came out in 2012, Ben and Kate has the same feel of chaotic family-centered shows from the early 2000s, such as Malcolm in the Middle and Arrested Development. Dakota Johnson and Nat Faxon are like a modern day odd couple, cementing the polar opposites’ trope within sitcoms. The actors play siblings, Ben and Kate Fox, and though Ben is the older brother, he is the most irresponsible. Kate is a young single mother, raising her daughter while managing the bar she is a bartender at, when her brother Ben whizzes back into town like a tornado, causing destructive storms wherever he goes. Despite their frequent arguing, the pair have always been there for each other, thanks to the tumultuous childhood they experienced, and Ben winds up moving back in. Child star Maggie Elizabeth Jones plays Kate’s daughter Maddie, and Ben becomes a stay-at-home babysitter for Maddie as Kate’s demanding job forces her to remain at the bar day and night.

Every sitcom needs a wild card, and Nat Faxon as Ben is more than up for the task as he demolishes, destroys, and repairs countless relationships…and homes. But it is character actress and comedy icon, Lucy Punch, that is the true wildcard here. Known for her wacky supporting roles in films like Ella Enchanted, Punch plays Kate’s best friend and co-worker, BJ, and her wild persona takes the sitcom to a new level as her comedic chops shine beyond compare.

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What makes Ben and Kate sing above all else is the cast. Rounded out by Echo Kellum as Ben’s childhood best friend, Tommy, the main quad of actors has an entrancing chemistry as they go through crisis after crisis. While you may be scratching your head as to why you never heard of the sitcom, especially when it stars one of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the moment, you would not be alone. It never found its footing within its scheduling on network television, but the material was strong and sturdy. Johnson really gets to embrace her quirkiness here, and doesn’t shy away from being weird and awkward. She carries a special sort of eccentric persona to whatever character she plays, and has always refused to fit into the “girl next door” mold that Hollywood has had to offer. That was never more clear than at the start of her career, as she turned what should have been an American sweetheart-inspired role into a fumbling, charmingly awkward woman in Ben and Kate, refusing to succumb to any misogynistic idea about how a woman in a sitcom should behave.

‘Ben and Kate’ Rejects the Gender Constructs of the Typical Sitcom

Often, family sitcoms find the wives in the kitchen, and the husbands living their best life at work and at the bar. Since the sitcoms’ conception and up through the 2000s, you’d think it was a rule that women could only be mothers, destined to fold laundry and cook forever. Ben and Kate was well ahead of its time. In this sitcom, Ben is the homemaker (questionably?) taking care of the kid, while Kate hustles at work and goes out on wild romantic escapades. It was so quietly revolutionary, and a subtle gender swap that worked effortlessly. Now, more shows are deconstructing the glaring gender inequality sitcoms have exhibited for decades, where the wife acted as a mere punchline at her husband’s expense while he drank beer in the living room with friends, and she folded the laundry. In Ben and Kate, Johnson’s protagonist is an empowered, working woman, and it is clear that Ben and Kate just arrived too early. It likely would have done better on a streaming platform versus an overstuffed network schedule.

‘Ben and Kate’ Was a One-Season Wonder

Dakota Johnson, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, and Lucy Punch standing outside in 'Ben and Kate'
Image via 20th century Fox

The old saying goes, some shows are just too good for television. Yes, Ben and Kate deserved more, but maybe we were just meant to wonder what happened to the chaotically pleasant Fox family. Though it seemed destined to be Johnson’s breakout role, she found it years later in handcuffs and bondage in the role of Anastasia Steele, and if the series hadn’t been canceled, she may never have gotten that role. Though she’s gone on to appear mostly in thrillers and dramas (and is now to become yet another superhero star), it’s impossible to forget where she came from. With her deadpan humor working opposite Faxon’s bursting persona, the series is a quirky love letter to brothers and sisters. Currently, it has no home on any streaming service, which is a shame. If it were to find its way to a big streamer such as Hulu or Netflix, the chances of it turning into a cult-classic would be high. At its center, it’s an endearing sibling story that nails the special bond that is so rarely explored or accurately done on television or film. Destined to be a one-season-wonder, at its core, Ben and Kate knows that siblings can be your greatest enemy, but also your greatest friend.

Ben and Kate is available to buy on Prime Video in the U.S.

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