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

Ben And Kate: “The Trip”

Illustration for article titled Ben And Kate: “The Trip”

“The Trip” was a whopper of an episode for Ben And Kate, addressing some of the problems I had with past episodes and setting up a healthy base for the second half of the season. Recently, I have lamented the use of Maggie Elizabeth Jones’ Maddie and Echo Kellum’s Tommy. Let’s start with the former: Last week, I discussed how Maddie often felt forgotten. It’s an easy mistake to forgive. It’s hard to focus on the character who, despite being mature for her young years, just doesn’t have the comedic chops as the rest of the cast. (Real talk, Jones: Give it a decade, or two. Generally, the most assured comedians have at least hit puberty.) But Jones held her own in this episode—especially with those reaction shots to Ben while they were in the tent (I could have totally watched Ben try to zip and unzip the tent for several more minutes). Maddie was a factor in the episode without completely shifting the focus, or changing the tone from heartfelt to cloying.

Kate talked about her maternity, but we also got to see her (and Ben) practice it. That’s important, considering her own revelry in single-motherhood. That revelry is why the concluding fight between Kate and Will feels earned. Kate has directly talked about how much she loves her life many times, with all of its insanity included, but she wouldn’t be able to love it without the people who propped her up when she couldn’t herself. That’s why she’s willing to throw away a seemingly perfect relationship with Will in order to stick by her friends. It also explains the very core of the show: What woman in her right mind puts up with friends like these? Because they put up with her. She owes it to Ben to come to his aid and assuage any fears that the bats might have attacked him, because his one of them.

Just as Kate and Will take a big step in their relationship—the overnight trip—they hit their first roadblock. At the beginning of the episode, it seemed that tension in the Kate-Will relationship would arise from his family wealth. Say goodbye to iceberg lettuce, Ben warns, it’s all radicchio (ra-dick-ee-yo) and watercress from here on out. Of course, Ben hates the idea of inheriting money. He says that the Foxes are a by-the-bootstraps people, but his entrepreneurial ways in past episodes have only proven that he’s got some serious American Dream embodiment aspirations. Ben gets in Kate’s head, but breaking up with a person because they have too much money feels so petty, so “Guitar Face,” and that ground has already been covered. No, the first fight between Will and Kate (coincidentally in the same week the Other Will and Kate have big news) is about something so much deeper than who can pay for a princess-style bed that comes in nine boxes. It was almost refreshing to see a television couple find cracks in their relationship over something that feels so real. In an episode in which one character is attacked by bats, the discussion between Kate and Will was earnestly grounded in reality, hearkening back to the Friends episode where Monica and Richard break up. The cartoonish aspects of Rachel as a maid of honor in her ex-fiancee’s wedding only seemed to heighten the very real problem Monica and Richard couldn’t overcome.

As Kate’s relationship is on the wane, Tommy has a new one on the horizon. Other than Maddie, the other issue I had with Ben And Kate was the lack of Tommy development. Again, this was an easy mistake to forgive. The show is, obviously, about Ben and Kate, so they should be the heavy focus. Lucy Punch is so phenomenal as BJ, she’s becoming Swanson-esque (I literally spit out my drink when she said, “Three way toss up. Classic Sophie’s choice”). But Kellum's Tommy is a slow-burner and took a bit to come into his own. Tommy's one-dimensional characterization as Ben’s perennial BFF and unrequited lover of Kate wasn’t enough anymore. I am happy to deem the first Tommy-driven subplot a success, beginning with his intense love of maraschino cherries, and ending by asking why a dog was wearing formal wear (“Excuse me, I’m talking to a dog”). So Tommy is getting a girlfriend, in the form for Brittany Snow, and, by extension, a reason to exist other than to participate in Ben’s hijinks. Guests have been dicey prospects on Ben and Kate and I’m intrigued with how they handle Snow’s Lila, if only because of Tommy’s past as such a minor presence. This gives the Ben And Kate writers the ability to play with Tommy so much more, and hopefully use Snow, who is a better actress than her pretty blonde exterior lets on, wisely.

We’re at the halfway point with Ben And Kate, earlier than most shows considering its 19 episode order. I was thinking about how Ben And Kate  has evolved in its first 10 episodes and how “The Trip” specifically fits into the arc of the first season. Usually at this point, sitcoms will start to find their voice, fix messy characterization that was glossed over in favor of jamming as many jokes into the first couple of episodes as humanly possible, allow writers to find the strength and weaknesses of their cast chemistry and start focusing on the long game. “The Trip” adheres to those fixes, clearing up some annoyances I had with previous episodes, but the tone of Ben and Kate has never changed overall. It’s been so consistently spot-on and assured in many of these arenas that saying Ben and Kate hasn’t evolved much since the pilot is not an insult, but a testament to how much I’ve liked this show from the beginning.

Stray observations:

  • I loved how Kate lied to Ben about why she and Will were fighting. Kate is motherly to Ben by tucking him in after ferocious bat attacks, but also by protecting him emotionally. That's where good moms really strive.
  • “You rocked the monkey bars. How could you suck at this so bad?”
  • “It’s the array of tapenades that really gets my goat.” “Don’t even get me started on ciabatta.”
  • “I say this with love: You sicken me.”
  • “I’m not into bathhouses, bro.”
  • I am beginning to look forward to the end tags so much: “Who knows tree names now dad!? This guy. Sup, sycamore?”