One sit­com sur­prise, one dis­ap­point­ment

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - ENTERTAINMENT -

IT might not be fair or just, but some­times new TV shows are judged not just in terms of qual­ity, but also on the ba­sis of ad­vance ex­pec­ta­tions and hype.

Take, for in­stance, the two new Fox come­dies that pre­miere tonight — Ben and Kate (7:30 p.m., Fox/Ci­tytv) and The Mindy Project (8:30 p.m., Fox/Ci­tytv): one is a pretty good sit­com that ar­rives as a re­fresh­ing prime-time sur­prise, and the other is a ca­pably con­structed com­edy that fails to live up to the huge ex­pec­ta­tions that were cre­ated prior to its de­but.

One feels like an un­ex­pected vic­tory; the other seems like a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment. Un­fair, per­haps, but hey... that’s TV. Ben and Kate, which stars Dakota John­son and Nat Faxon as mis­matched sib­lings try­ing to help each other nav­i­gate the dif­fi­cult pas­sage from young adult to full-blown grown-up, is a goofy sit­com with a good heart and an up­beat at­ti­tude that makes it easy to like.

Kate (John­son, who’s the daugh­ter of ac­tors Don John­son and Me­lanie Grif­fith) is the sis­ter who al­ways fol­lowed the rules and would prob­a­bly have grown up to be a model ci­ti­zen in a very re­spon­si­ble fam­ily and ca­reer if her one im­pul­sive post-ado­les­cent mo­ment hadn’t led to an un­planned preg­nancy that forced her to drop out of col­lege and get a low-level job as a bar man­ager in or­der to make ends meet while sur­viv­ing as a sin­gle mom.

Her older brother, Ben (Faxon), is what some ob­servers would call an ir­re­press­ible dreamer but most oth­ers would call an ir­re­spon­si­ble layabout. He’s full of schemes, bro­ken prom­ises and aw-shucks charm, and could prob­a­bly be a pretty big some­body if he wasn’t al­ways try­ing to fig­ure out a way to be some­body else.

In the se­ries pi­lot, Ben blows back into Kate’s life un­ex­pect­edly af­ter a cou­ple of years’ ab­sence; he says he’s just ea­ger to re­con­nect, but Kate — quite rightly — sus­pects an ul­te­rior mo­tive. It turns out that Ben has re­turned home to mount a last-ditch (and com­pletely fu­tile) ef­fort to re­claim the heart of an ex-girl­friend who dumped him, with good cause, a cou­ple of years ear­lier.

While he’s plan­ning his over-the-top Star­ring Mindy Kal­ing Tonight at 8:30 Fox, Ci­tytv

out of five ro­man­tic over­ture, Ben also be­gins to cramp Kate’s style as she pre­pares to seal the deal (sex­u­ally) with the first guy she has se­ri­ously dated in years. The over­lap­ping schemes are des­tined to be­come one big in­ter­per­sonal train wreck, but the way the pi­lot episode’s sto­ry­line plays out is so ap­peal­ingly loopy that it’s hard to call any­one here a loser.

Ben and Kate is one of those shows whose suc­cess will de­pend more on the on-screen chem­istry of its cast mem­bers than on any­thing that comes out of the writ­ers’ room. The script is ac­tu­ally pretty good; the im­me­di­ate spark cre­ated by John­son and Faxon — aided by a very lik­able sup­port­ing cast — is what gives this show such prom­ise and makes it one of the new sea­son’s most pleas­ant sur­prises.

The Mindy Project, which ar­rives tonight at 8:30 on Fox and Ci­tytv, prob­a­bly had more pre-sea­son buzz at­tached to it than any other rookie com­edy. Mindy Kal­ing ( The Of­fice’s Kelly Kapoor) has es­tab­lished her­self as one of the TV busi­ness’s ris­ing stars, hav­ing writ­ten al­most two dozen episodes of that show while also learn­ing to be a di­rec­tor and ris­ing to the level of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

It was a fore­gone con­clu­sion that she would soon have her own TV show; it was equally cer­tain that the show would be pre­ceded by a wave of hype and weighed down by sev­eral lay­ers of great ex­pec­ta­tions.

The Mindy Project, in which she plays a young, tal­ented doc­tor (OB/ GYN) who’s as bril­liant at her job as she is hope­less at her per­sonal life, isn’t half bad. But it isn’t all the way good, ei­ther, and that’s bound to be a prob­lem for Kal­ing and com­pany.

The show has a good sup­port­ing cast and a work­able premise, but the fic­tional Mindy that Kal­ing has cre­ated is a bit like the char­ac­ters played by Kris- ten Wiig in Brides­maids and Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses — so com­pletely bent on short-cir­cuit­ing her ro­man­tic prospects with self-de­struc­tive be­hav­iour that she’s ac­tu­ally quite un­lik­able.

It’s a fix­able prob­lem, but the re­pairs must be fast and ex­ten­sive for The Mindy Project to have any chance of liv­ing up to the lofty goals it’s expected to meet.


John­son and Faxon in Ben and Kate (above). Kal­ing stars in The Mindy Project (be­low).


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