Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ben And Kate: “Reunion”

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From Ben running with the turkey to Tommy’s grand entrance on Heelys to BJ’s (or Beatrice June’s, but how date you use her real name!) confession, this is my favorite episode of Ben And Kate so far. Thanksgiving should be the perfect holiday for Ben And Kate. It’s about togetherness, constructing family from whomever is around and various other gooey things, without all of the messy religious implications and added pressure of Christmas. At its heart, Ben And Kate is about the union of a constructed, unconventional family all of the time, allowing the writers to veer off the traditional Thanksgiving course. (Course, get it? Because Thanksgiving is all about food!? Sorry.) Rather than having an episode featuring Kate freaking out and Monica Geller-ing her way through cooking a massive Thanksgiving meal that Ben and Tommy are destined to ruin with via various shenanigans, “Reunion” instead focuses on an unofficial rite of passage for new-ish adults: the informal pre-Thanksgiving high school reunion. What makes “Reunion” great—and what Ben And Kate succeeds at week after week—is that the result of the constructed family isn’t the highlight. That scenario is a sweet extra. “Reunion” is great because it shows why the Foxes Plus Two (or plus one, if BJ and Ben’s faux marriage holds up) exists as such a strong unit.

So we’ve officially entered boyfriend-girlfriend territory for Will and Kate. The way the writers got to that seemingly simple conclusion involved high school bullies and musical numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar (“They were lifting me up into what we call ‘full Jesus,’” Kate remembers fondly), but they still got there. Greek’s Amber Stevens is a nice surprise as Kate’s former archnemesis, Anna, especially her rendition of the torch song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Labels are a big theme for Kate this episode: She worries about going to the reunion because her old friends have Big Important Jobs, while she’s just a single mother; Anna defined Kate in the past by labeling her “Junkface”; Kate and Will attempt to put a name on their future. When Kate gets one label—girlfriend—she embraces the other one she was so worried about—single mom—as a spiteful way to counteract Anna’s continued bullying. Kate chose well in Will, if only because of his clearly superior Junkface replacements: “Nut Nose? Jesus Crotch Superstar?” If only all mean kids were that creative in high school.

Ben And Kate has a nice sense of flexibility when it comes to the generational touchstones of its main characters. Their ages are blurred and nebulous, if only because of Kate’s sped-up maturity, which is part of the reason it never bothers me that Nat Faxon looks so much older than Dakota Johnson. The difference in their appearance reinforces the idea that Kate is dealing with a man-child along with her own child-child. Kate straddles two worlds—the one where she’s a responsible mother and the one where she’s only 26—giving the writers a lot of leeway to explore plot-wise. It’s a testament to the character when she reminds herself that while she is relatively young, she always reaffirms her happiness with her status as a harried-beyond-her-years momma. I really love that Kate embraces this role, if only because so many sitcom parents seem to hate having kids. Friction with children is par for the course for such characters because it leads to assumed universal hilarity, but Maddie is the easy one in Kate’s life—it’s her older brother who makes things difficult. Kate’s situation allows her to revel in her own role as a mom. It’s part of the reason Ben And Kate’s feel-good endings always feel earned. Kate is genuinely happy with her family, blood-related or otherwise.

I also dug the “BJ and Ben are married” subplot of “Reunion,” especially because it allows BJ’s self-serving selflessness to reemerge—not to mention the revelation that BJ is Texas-born (she knows, it’s the accent). “It’s the perfect crime,” Tommy says about the nuptials, “there is no crime.” It’s funny, simple and allows everything to be tied up at the end with a resounding “Aww!” I hope the matter isn’t simply dropped, because this is the stuff great callbacks are made of.

Meanwhile, Tommy gets to do a little more heavy-lifting than he’s normally allowed (and when I say, little, I mean tiny. He still relies heavily on Ben as a character to simply exist). Echo Kellum’s facial expressions are inspired, especially the “pissed off to see you” face that he employs so well in “Reunion” and “21st Birthday” upon the mention Kate’s former partner in crime Molly (Rosa Salazar). His desire to outdo “basically the Persian Andy Warhol” Soroush (Rafi Silver) is an odd quest and it’s a shame that Tommy isn’t more developed as a character because it could have been a full blown subplot rather than an extended punchline. If Kellum’s performance in recent episodes is any indication, he can handle more than what he’s been given.

Stray observations:

  • I was recently thinking about how we haven’t met the elder Foxes yet. I’m sure that’s a sweeps, celeb-cameo gambit, but after “Reunion,” I had two thoughts on the matter: First, Don Johnson would be perfect as the Fox patriarch because he’s actually related to Dakota, and Faxon kind of has a snaggle-toothed, long-faced, Johnson-y look to him. Second, I’m dying to meet BJ’s parents because I’m hoping they’re red-blooded Texans.
  • This was my favorite cold open yet. I was giggling from the beginning. Sweet, sweet Keith.
  • “You heard Maddie. I’m honest, I’m nice and I can’t do frog sounds worth a damn.” Do you know what will never get old? Ben, Tommy and BJ talking to Maddie as if she’s an adult. Everything about this scene was perfect, especially Ben’s horrible frog impression.