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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ben And Kate: “Bake Off”

Illustration for article titled Ben And Kate: “Bake Off”
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“Bake Off” was an episode dominated by the ladies, but it was Kate who got the gold star. Everything about Dakota Johnson’s performance and the choices her character made were spot-on perfect, simultaneously proving how rich the female characters are in the world of Ben And Kate and moving Kate’s trajectory forward. All in all, the ladies killed it this episode, even Ben’s business partner/lover Vera, whom I’m beginning to enjoy as the cougar ball-buster with a bone for Ben. The representation of women on Ben And Kate has always been one of show’s strong suits but this episode was particularly positive, allowing both the characters to hold their own, as well show off the depth of talent the women in the cast have.

Kate is in that awkward period post-break-up where seeing the former significant other is a complete drag, yet the hope of reconciliation still hasn’t been dashed by reality yet. Will returns to invite her to a party and reveals that he’s begun dating again, leading Kate to get up the courage to go out with Lance (Lukas Jones, whose scraggly shtick I fell for in Best Friends Forever and continued to enjoy when I dropped in on Up All Night from time to time), a baker who appeals to Kate in part because he has to get up early so she feels no shame in going to sleep at eight. If only he was into sweatpants and unshaven legs! Lance, unlike Will, is okay with the craziness built in to Kate’s life, although he hasn’t experienced much of it to fully understand what he’s getting into. Things are going well until Will steps back into the picture. Johnson’s ability to pull off Kate’s intense awkwardness is why Kate feels so human, but her monologue about why she is so stressed (who is Will dating now? What is she into?) was such a wonderfully natural moment. Kate’s character has layers, she can still pine for the man who she thought was perfect for her, but wasn’t perfect for her constructed family, yet still understand it’s not what’s best for her. We never got to see Kate mourn the death of her relationship to Will, and it never felt truly concluded after the winter hiatus. But Kate’s moment with Will, telling him that the things that didn’t work in their relationship in the past would not work in their relationship in the future, gave Will a nice send-off. Yes, they were good together, but they weren’t good all together.

Kate’s dating life overtook “Bake Off,” which it should have to give closure to a previously loose thread storyline, but it just as funny as watching Maddie and BJ prepare for their big break in the world of candy commercials. Since the pilot, the Maddie-BJ scenes have always been highlights, with BJ’s inability to comprehend that Maddie is a child, constantly speaking to her as if she’s an adult. In fact, BJ treats her like she treats Kate, with the right amount of disdain and love (“I was going to ask your permission Kate, but then I thought, why should I?”), as an equal even though they are clearly not on the same playing field. It gets old reiterating how adept of a comedian Lucy Punch is, but her tour of accents from around the British Empire was nothing short of excellent (too bad she can't pop into The Trip and add her Michael Caine impression to the mix). Maggie Elizabeth Jones similarly deserves praise for holding her own with Punch. I craved more Maddie and BJ time, although it was so nicely done, any more might have been overkill.

But watching BJ flourish alongside Maddie just proved once again how inconsequential Tommy is to a given episode. Tommy had one solo joke of substance: “I think the secret to being a creative force is to wear red pants and state the obvious.” As funny as it might be, that’s not a character so much as a line. BJ has the benefit of being the funny one to Kate’s straight man, chiming in about how boring Kate’s reunion with Will is, but then able to go off on her own plotline with Maddie while Kate gets serious. But Ben is not the straight man, and Tommy is too goofy to be the audience’s reference point of sanity, so when Tommy and Ben are together, it seems as if Tommy has even less to do, which is a shame because some of the greatest moments of Ben And Kate come from the chemistry between Nat Faxon and Echo Kellum. The scene where they scatted business ideas was perfect best friend behavior, especially capped off by Stephanie (Sarah Burns) concluding that she’s made a terrible mistake in leaving Vera. Watching their business jazz was funny, but ultimately it was Ben who moved the plot forward. It was important to establish that Ben was integral to the ever-changing Rail Mall/Rail Meal, otherwise there was nothing but sexual chemistry preventing Vera from leaving Ben out in the cold on his own idea yet again, as with bunkbed pizza, although compared to the movement and depth of the other plots in this episode, it felt like a bloated way to get to that singular point, but I don't know if I'd be so lackluster about the boys' subplot if the women hadn't so thoroughly knocked it out of the park.

Stray observations:

  • I loved Ben trying on the piano key tie in the opening because of course he would wear on a piano key tie.
  • Shout out to Dave Holmes!
  • “Do you remember how chunky you got after Maddie’s dad left?” “I was pregnant.” “That’s no excuse.”
  • “For an imaginative and flexible lover, your business acumen is very rigid and missionary.”