“Never work with children or animals.”
The above quote is generally credited to W.C. Fields, but has become more Hollywood fact than personal preference (shoulda listened, Animal Practice). The reasoning behind this steadfast rule is that children and animals don’t often behave the way you want them to on cue (plus, there are those pesky child-labor laws). But heeding this rule can also lead to quality control. It’s the adult actors—the ones that can make their own choices rather than have all humor derived from “He thinks he’s people!”—that should make an impression, not those whose cloying cuteness can take over a scene with one, perfectly angled, wide-eyed expression.
One of the things I liked about the pilot to Ben and Kate was that it didn’t put too much pressure on young Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Kate’s daughter Maddie. She was there to keep Ben home with his sister and get a makeover from Lucy Punch’s BJ, but the plot largely kept her out of the way, proving that the writers didn’t need to use her freakish adorableness as a crutch. Raising Hope did well to learn that dear Hope was not nearly as much fun to watch as Virginia and Burt Chance. Hell, sometimes I even forget that show’s supposed to be about a baby. In Ben and Kate’s first two episodes, Maddie has served as the catalyst of the plot, but she’s not at its center, and the writers would do well to keep it that way. Nat Faxon’s Ben is adorable enough on his own. (It also helps that Jones can act with her face better than most child actors, whether she means to or not.)
In the case of “Bad Cop/Bad Cop,” Kate lies about her residence, telling the school board she actually lives at Tommy’s parents’ (Vernee Watson and Tom Wright) place (“Three bedrooms, two baths, no black family!”), so she can get Maddie into a better school, which is, coincidentally, the one she and Ben attended. But Kate’s a terrible liar, and when she and Ben are called in to the principal’s office (the always welcome Alan Ruck) to deal with Maddie’s constant tardiness, she freaks. But Ben charms the principal (“That’s always been my favorite spelling of Geoff. It’s confident. And fun”), who invites Ben and Kate to a back-to-school night that ends with Ben inviting everyone over to their place for margaritas. Except it’s not their place, and Ben, Kate, and the rest of the gang must keep up the ruse. (I appreciated that Kate had clearly thought this might happen, as Tommy’s father mutters that he thought he was supposed to get an hour’s notice before pretending he was a guest in his own house.)
I’ve never really understood why the fake party has become a sitcom trope, because it never arises from any natural happening. But it’s an easy way to bring specific people together in a high-stress situation, like when Rachel wants to impress Joshua on Friends (that episode is actually called “The One with the Fake Party”). In fact, How I Met Your Mother similarly pulled the fake party routine for its second episode, “Purple Giraffe.”
But it works for “Bad Cop/Bad Cop.” First, because there’s not some frenzied sexual element like the Friends or How I Met Your Mother examples, allowing the stakes to be changed on a tired exercise. Secondly, in my original review, I complained Dakota Johnson’s Kate was too wooden, especially compared to the other experienced comedians in the cast, but she excelled in freak-out mode, especially when explaining why her home was covered in pictures of a black people (“…and that’s how I came to spend a semester at Howard”). She felt looser and more at home in the part, once again freeing her from the mother-shrew archetype that dogs sitcom women.
But “Bad Cop/Bad Cop” felt a bit too stuffed. Ben’s inability to say no to Maddie (“Can you teach me karate and buy me a present?”) felt truncated, even though it was the reason Ben and Kate had to visit the principal’s office in the first place. Other elements felt superfluous, like Ben leaving a message selling out Kate on the principal’s answering machine, Ben’s decision to sic the cops on Kate, or Kate’s fear of authority. As Erik Adams noted in his pilot review, all of Ben and Kate’s backstory was doled out specifically to serve the plot, but the waterworks brought on by authority figures didn’t serve anything, especially when Kate’s inability to lie would have been enough. Hopefully, future episodes will know when to call it quits.
- Please let there always be a scene with Lucy Punch and a silent Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
- I laughed more at Ben and Kate’s opening discussion of sex (“The point is I might check some mates”) than I did at most of the pilot.
- “Uncle Ben asked me to ask you, what’s a walk of shame?” “There’s nothing shameful about it. It just means you’re dressed for the next day.”
- “I almost got arrested by the cops. The cops, Gee-off.”