In no time, Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson were tight.
That’s good, since they star as brother and sister on their new Fox comedy, “Ben and Kate.”
Ben is a free spirit, a good-cheer gadfly blowing in and out of town without notice. Younger sister Kate is uptight, a bit shell-shocked by life, and no wonder: She’s a single mother struggling to raise her little girl on a shoestring.
What will happen when, after Ben’s latest drop-in, he decides to stick around, re-establish ties with Kate, play surrogate dad to her daughter, and maybe even grow up a little himself?
To judge from the “Ben and Kate” pilot (airing Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EDT), the result is funny, frenetic and — bottom line — familial.
As the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, and the granddaughter of Tippi Hedren, Dakota Johnson comes to the screen with some impressive familial credentials.
As co-star of the new Fox laffer “Ben and Kate,” she says she has been strengthened by her background as a celebrity child, not hindered by it.
“When I was first starting, people — especially industry people — would have the attitude, ‘Do you think you can do this?’ ” Johnson says. “But it’s gotten a lot easier. People start to understand that I’m from a creative family, that this is the kind of work that works for us, and that we really enjoy it.
“Everybody has an opinion about a family living in the public eye. In a good way, it made me a lot stronger and more resilient.”
Cut to her newest endeavor. After a busy couple of years in which she scored parts in features such as “The Social Network” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” television newbie Johnson picked up a pilot that intrigued her.
Johnson, the actress daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, spent the whole evening worried she’d drop a trophy as she carried it out onstage – and the fear ruined her night.
She recalls, “It was terrifying… You bring the Golden Globes out and you give them to the very talented people… I was 16 and I was terrified.
“I was wearing these gloves and I kept thinking that they were gonna slip out of my hands; I was gonna be the girl that dropped a Golden Globe on the stage and, like, ruin everything. I don’t even remember the night, honestly, I was so terrified.
“You have to move everyone… and you have to make the presenters move back to a certain line, so their nose isn’t in the camera during the speech. It was such a job.”
The daughters of celebrities are invited to hand out the awards and become Miss Golden Globe annually. Since Johnson’s turn in 2006, the role has been filled by the kids of Jack Nicholson and Rebecca Broussard, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Roderick Spencer and Alfre Woodard, Joe and Arlene Mantegna, and Andie MacDowell and Paul Qualley.
Interesting twist on the man-child, responsible female dynamic, Ben and Kate are brother and sister. Our obligatory voice-over intro tells us Ben is a goofy wanderer who loves his sister and Kate is the goody-two-shoes who made one mistake and got knocked up when she was young. This does result in an adorable moppet, Maddie. Kate works with BJ, the slutty girl bestie, and Tommy, the dorky boy bestie who is in love with Kate.
Kate is dating George but they have yet to consummate the relationship which results in a lot of “we are gonna get it on” talk between Kate and BJ. We also learn Ben doesn’t click with George, needless to say nor does Tommy.
Ben has popped into town because his high school girlfriend Darcy is getting married. So we have our two main plot lines. George and Kate will or won’t and Ben is going to try and break-up the wedding. Kate learns about Ben’s plan because she checks in on him and Maddie with a nanny-cam.
Adorable child actor? Check. Academy Award-winning screenwriter? Check. Hollywood progeny? Check. If that’s not the winning recipe to a prime-time comedy success, we don’t know what is.
Fox’s new comedy Ben and Kate has found a fortunate home between proven family comedy Raising Hope and the highly anticipated The Mindy Project. Will Ben and Kate keep up with the Joneses or will it fall flat on its face?
We’ll be honest. When we first heard the premise of Ben and Kate we weren’t particularly jumping out of our seats with excitement. A 20-something single mother is pushed outside her comfort zone each time her screwball brother arrives unexpectedly. A novel concept? Maybe not. But we were definitely surprised to find the show pushing against the usual “precocious child” clichés with unique characters and occasional wit.
From creator Dana Fox comes the story of a brother and sister duo who raised each other. Kate (Johnson) hasn’t had the best break in life. Getting pregnant just shy of her college graduation, she puts her life on hold to raise her young daughter Maddie (Jones). Older brother Ben (Faxon) rejects the responsibility of the real world and lives a free-spirited life full of harebrained schemes and quirky one-liners. When Ben pops back into Kate’s life unannounced, he threatens to derail her burgeoning dating life.
The FOX family is trying their hand at a new kind of family this fall with their half-hour comedy, Ben and Kate, starring Oscar winner Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson as a brother and sister against the world. But while the show sets up quirky and unique characters, the pilot episode had us waiting for one more punchline: that the two weren’t really biologically brother and sister at all– because their chemistry was just crossing over the line of playful when you took their bloodline into consideration. We’re all for exploring different kinds of relationships on television, but this one, thus far, exhibits so much of the traditional “will they/won’t they” tension it’s…unintentionally awkward.
Character actor Faxon plays the somewhat slacker Ben Fox who ends up visiting his sister Kate (Johnson) as a ruse to get back to town to break up the wedding of his ex-girlfriend. But once he’s back, he realizes just how much of a mess her life actually is and decides to forego his own selfish interests to help her out—including taking care of her adorable little daughter Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who should be the breakout star of fall 2012). Both siblings have matured at greatly varying levels (him seemingly not at all, her seemingly too early in life because of having her own kid), but both have the same issues and inability to see flaws in their own relationships. Hopefully as a pair they will help each other grow and get past that, but honestly, on it’s own that sounds like a maudlin concept for a comedy.
“Ben and Kate” creator Dana Fox didn’t have to look far for inspiration for her show, one of the best new comedies of the fall season.
The titular character Ben Fox is based on Dana’s actual older brother, Ben Fox, a character in every sense of the word.
“He was sort of this Ferris Bueller-type guy,” she said, remembering the time Ben visited her at Stanford University. “He showed up and within one night had convinced me to move out of my single so that he could stay there. He lived there for two months … because he didn’t have a job.”
He clawed out of the ranks of the unemployed by showing up at Stanford’s career center and worming his way into whatever job interviews the college kids blew off.
“That’s the kind of stuff my brother did all the time,” said Dana, whose writing credits include the films “What Happens in Vegas,” “The Wedding Date” and “Couples Retreat.” “I figured I could write 100 episodes about him because I never, ever run out of stories.”