Jan 9, 2013

Ben & Kate: "B-Squad"



Few shows arrive on network television with a voice half as assured as Ben & Kate. Easily the best new show of the fall, the cast immediately gelled and began bouncing off one another with ease. It's too bad that 2013 begins with one of the show's weaker outings, but while "B-Squad" is not a classic, it does a number of things that exemplify why this show has quickly become so quietly beloved.

As soon as we hear how much Kate wants her daughter Maddie in the gifted program, we're quite aware that she won't be making it. This show, while unique in certain regards, doesn't mess with sitcom plotting to a large degree. Ben & Kate's strengths stem from their ability to utilize that framework and play within the set boundaries. 


So, Kate wants Maddie in the gifted program, Maddie doesn't get in, Kate freaks out, and suddenly the entire "b-squad" (the school's name for the group of children that failed to make the gifted program) are sitting in Kate's living room, thanks to Ben. That's a beat that sends us to commercial, and it's not a great one: the unclear kidnapping of children isn't that inherently funny. When we return, Kate is suddenly fine with this very illegal act, and Ben utilizes the vehicle from his job at the country club to take the kids to what Kate thinks is the planetarium. 

It turns out, Ben has a score to settle with old college friend Matt Swan, played by David Horsby (or, as Always Sunny fans know him, Rickety Cricket). It turns out Matt stole Ben's idea for Bunk Bed Pizza (it's a pizza with another pizza on top of it!), and Ben confronts Matt at his successful restaurant. Here's another plot predicated on an unfunny set-up, as the bunk bed pizza does not reach the absurd high of Ben's many other ideas (though the sight gag of the actual pizza is worth a chuckle).

Eventually, the group does arrive at the planetarium, but it's already closed, and Ben and Kate flip out at themselves and each other. The moment isn't as funny or honest as the show wants it to be, but it's followed by a typically sweet scene where the siblings reassure each other and an even sweeter scene, on the country club's golf course, where Kate comes to terms with Maddie's curiosity of her absent father. That final point wasn't played perfectly in this episode, and is hopefully utilized more in the future.

BJ and Tommy join in the golf course star-gazing, but only after wadding through their own maligned plot. See, BJ's mother, played by Jane Seymour, is just as naughty as BJ is! And she's disapproving! Even the reveal that BJ wants her mother to hit on her boyfriend doesn't make up for the plot that we've all seen before and the show doesn't tweak in the slightest. There is one miraculous moment in this story though, probably the best joke in the entire episode: when Tommy wants BJ to tell the truth about her life to her mother, he threatens to remove his glasses. This causes BJ a great deal of anxiety, and Lucy Punch proves again that she is the show's strongest tool (and that is very stiff competition) in this short scene.

There are a number of hysterical moments like that, and beautiful moments like the conclusion, but the show is normally much more consistent than it is in "B-Squad". One of the episode's major problems was a sped-up editing (most notably in the scene between Kate and Maddie's teacher) that didn't allow the cast's chemistry to breathe. Also, the show's best pairings (Tommy and Ben, Maddie and BJ) were largely absent this week, which didn't help on any front.

If this is your first time watching Ben & Kate and you were slightly confused at the critical acclaim it's been drawing, I implore you to go back and watch "The Trip" or "21st Birthday", or really any episode from the show's first half. This is a show that deserves many, many seasons, but doesn't look like it will receive more than one, which is a damn shame. I'll be covering Ben & Kate weekly, so it shouldn't be too long until I'm able to spend the whole time informing you how much I laughed and/or cried within one half-hour. Unfortunately, for the episode that kicks off what may be Ben & Kate's final run of episodes, it didn't make its survival argument incredibly well. That's ok, though, because we still had Nat Faxon saying "that was the second maddest I've ever been at a statue", and that is more than enough for me.

Grade: B-

Miscellaneous:
  • Another great Ben line: "It doesn't take an honors student to decipher hurtful whispers"
  • Kate singing the first line of "The Pledge of Allegiance" in her adorably goofy manner doesn't belong in anything graded lower than an A+. Alas.
  • There's not too many other great lines or moments in this episode, but this area is where they will normally be mentioned. Please, watch the show, and come back here every week to discuss. Maybe Wine & Pop's readership of tens of people can save this show, and it starts with you!

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