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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ben And Kate: “Emergency Kit”

Illustration for article titled Ben And Kate: “Emergency Kit”
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One of the aspects that Ben And Kate has established so well is that it can take a conventional plot and turn it on its head, like a fake party or even a real party. Hell, even Ben And Kate’s concept is seen over and over again: fun, loose male lead coupled with constantly-sighing, stick-up-her-ass female lead. But Ben And Kate has been so wonderful because it can subvert those well-worn tropes (calling them cliché is almost unfair) and take the plots in different directions. I’ve started yelling at gags before they happen on Modern Family, but Ben and Kate is always nicely off-kilter.

“Emergency Kit” was the first time that subversion of expectation didn’t really work. Each plot thread started out strong, but as they all progressed, they never really gelled. After Ben slightly injures Maddie while testing out some Indonesian-made, Japanese knives, Kate insists that Ben is not prepared enough for unexpected disasters (swollen tongues, second 9/11s) and will never understand why she keeps emergency beans in her cupboard because Ben is not a parent. Ben, on the other hand, believes gut instinct will get him through any situation, whether that involves zombies or or infectious germs. Ben tries to throw one disaster after another at Kate, but each time, she deflects with possible solutions. “Emergency Kit” was about understanding that while no one can be prepared for everything, there’s no danger when a good safety net (read: family. Aw!) is in place, a worthy theme and lesson for both Kate and Maddie. But the emotional resonance of this lesson was deflated if only because Kate was, in fact, prepared for everything, even in teaching her child that she couldn’t prepare for everything.

The two B-plots—Ben’s crazy ex relapse and BJ’s date with her boss Buddy—felt like they were competing for space when each deserved room to breathe, especially the face of a comparatively weak main plotline.

The episode’s strongest moments belonged to BJ and her boss Buddy (the reliably great, Emmy winner (!!!) Rob Corddry) competing to out-weird each other to prove their affections and revealing that they both try to scam restaurants out of free meals (their bond grows ever tighter after BJ reveals she “found” a screw in the bar’s burger just for fun).  Just like BJ's refusal to give it up to Buddy on Kate’s insistence (BJ’s counterpoint: “Interesting argument. I’m extraordinarily good at sex, and I like it. A lot.”), their date set up kept me wanting more. In the end, it felt like quite the complicated workaround just to get BJ back to Kate’s house so they could all end up there for the heartfelt conclusion. This openendedness at least allows for return visits from Corddry, who confirmed at least one more return, if not more, depending his Childrens Hospital schedule. But I would have rather watched BJ and Buddy’s outing, complete with shards of glass, than Ben and Kate prove to each other that they fit the archetype that they’ve already proved they fit.

Similarly, Lindsay Sloane as Ben’s crazy ex-Louise (an Aquarius and former lesbian) was worth more than a spacey pantsless chick who could fix a circuit breaker. Sloane has played plucky with lunatic lurking just under the surface so well in the past, but she kept getting pushed to the sidelines. Louise’s appearance as the obligatory crazy ex felt especially strange, considering last week, we were reminded that Ben is someone else’s crazy ex.

“Emergency Kit” was far from terrible. Echo Kellum, in particular, has been carving out his own comfortable place on the show, a tough task considering Lucy Punch’s absolute dominance of BJ. He is nicely juggling Tommy’s need to be both Ben’s partner in crime and straight man. “I noticed that me climbing through a window at night is a one-way ticket to a vigil that turns into a riot,” he tells Ben, even as he attempts to participate in Ben’s emergency drill. They’re seemingly diametric qualities, but it’s possible, because of Kellum’s commitment to Tommy’s equal enthusiasm for both of the Fox siblings, like when he fakes anaphylactic just so he could go check up on Ben, but then admits his performance wasn’t up to par. Despite its flaws, “Emergency Kit” proved that his enthusiasm is deserved and infectious.


Stray Observations:

  • Nat Faxon’s look of horror when Maddie reveals she hates bouncy castles bumped this episode grade up a bit.
  • “My niece just cut her forehead and they may have to amputate. So let’s touch base if and when she pulls through.”