First and foremost, let’s all get excited about the additional six episode pick up for Ben and Kate, bringing the full order to 19 episodes. Yeah! Now, on to real business.
Let the game episode begin. This summer, the esteemed TV Roundtable tackled the subjects of games from Friend’s high stakes game show to Columbo’s chess game. In his intro to Gilmore Girls’ “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” piece, Erik Adams wrote, “For much of its existence, TV has been a medium driven by condensed storytelling, and few devices can catalyze the conflict necessary for such storytelling (or organically draw conflict out of existing characters) like a contest or competition that suddenly becomes the center of a show’s universe—if only for one week. Scenarios like a fundraiser or an interoffice Olympiad instantly and painlessly raise a show’s stakes, giving its characters a palpable focus for their wants and needs.” That’s what we get with “The Fox Hunt.” Beginning with Ben picking up the phone and dismissing a potential Kate’s business school (“Business school? Not unless you’re looking for a professor. No, unaccredited. Hey! You called me pal!”), the episode is driven by both Kate’s desire to be something more than a barmaid and Ben’s for fatherly approval (or something about how he can never finish anything; that’s a bit muddled). Kate’s need potentially serves the future of the series, while Ben’s serves to remedy the past.
Unlike many of the other iconic TV games discussed by the summer roundtable crew, the rules of Ben and Kate’s familial challenge are disappointingly simple: It’s a scavenger hunt. Created by their father before his array of other wives (“She had super big hands.” “Yeah, she could never get change out of her pocket.”), the Fox Hunt had been dominated by Ben, who brings up the game to prove that Kate is simply not a natural born leader, lacking resourcefulness and think-outside-the-box-itude. Kate disagrees and because she saves everything, she still has a copy of an unfinished game. Off they go, each Fox with their respective bestie in tow. The entire episode can pretty much be summed up by BJ, only half-listening to Kate, repeating: “Ben said something awful and now you want us to go on a game show? ...No...?”
The game starts out strong as Team Kate tries to get an advantage by pushing Ben and slapping Tommy. I watched the scene of BJ kicking leaves at Ben in her bright green sneaks several times, and I laughed harder each time. However, I’m starting to feel bad for Echo Kellum, who plays Tommy. I liked his pivot after questioning whether white people would find it weird if a black man just started performing for them. But Lucy Punch is so clearly winning the Best Sidekick contest. She’s not only given killer lines, but her character has more room to maneuver, giving Punch more room to play. Even when Tommy was protesting Ben’s Fox Hunt intensity, it never registered because its in Tommy’s nature to follow Ben blindly, while BJ forces her own subplot. She’s an independent character who creates harmless friction with his female counterpart. Then, of course, there’s Punch’s performance, vacillating between self-aware (“I’m lazy. Alert the media.”) and airheaded (“How do those pharaohs do it?”) seamlessly. Inevitably, the pairings will have to switch at some point, and I look forward to a BJ-Ben set-up. It will test Tommy and Kate are on their own, as well.
For a game episode, the stakes never felt particularly high. Maybe that is the point, to harken back to sibling rivalry when winning only meant reinforced superiority of “big” versus “little.” That has existed in other sibling shows, like Friends, but the Gellar hyper-competitiveness made the desire to win seem almost primal, when all Ben wants to do is get out of housework. A scavenger hunt is a simple game, but it is also a complicated set-up just to remind Kate that as a single mom she is resourceful and can do whatever she sets her mind to or some equally heartfelt message (cue the Life Lesson music). If the scavenger hunt structure could handle the full episode, the diversion into BJ’s former relationship wouldn’t have felt as thrown in. While I enjoyed watching Kate relive BJ’s faux-murder, it was still a subplot that is inherent in the main plot without serving it at all.
It’s a testament to the show that I thought the game framework was largely superfluous but still liked this episode. It’s no secret that Ben And Kate succeeds largely in its smaller moments wherein the cast gets to interact, like Ben and Tommy fawning over BJ’s comfortable-yet-stylish shoes. Those moments are only buoyed by how each character already feels so lived in by the actor who plays them, but it also means that reinforcing that Kate is the “worker bee,” while Ben is the “queen” (in Kate’s parlance) feels like overkill. It’s what the entire show is predicated on. On that same note, the writers are beginning to capitalize on the world that Ben, Kate, BJ and Tommy inhabit. When Ben loses, he yells, “Ah! Cheese and rice! Shish Kabobs!” calling back to a joke in the pilot wherein Ben refused to curse in front of Maddie (who is in such a miniscule amount of time in “The Fox Hunt” I almost forgot she was there). It makes their world seem that much fuller.
Even though I didn’t dig the scavenger hunt plot, the entire episode would have been worth it just to watch Ben cry into the mirror. Hell, I would have watched a whole hour of: “You’re a man! You’re a hard man! Yeah, you did it, you’re the best stopper of crying in the whole world!”
- “You could dye my hair grey, and you could call me the silver fox, but I’m not going to give you any of my brandy.”
- “I am angry and upset, and I was curious as to what sound it would make.”
- “What did you do to my Rebecca Lobo basketball?” How often do you get an early-era WNBA shoutout in a sitcom? Clearly not enough considering how hard I laughed at this line.
- “I’m inventing a new soup!”