One of the fall season’s big success stories is “Ben and Kate,” which has been renewed for a full second season.
It’s an innovative camera comedy about a brother and sister living together in Los Angeles starring Academy Award®-winning writer*/actor Nat Faxon, Dakota Johnson and as the little girl, Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
Their happy home is the drop in spot of choice for Ben’s ex (Lucy Punch) and his best friend (Echo Kellum). The show’s original premise about siblings living together, dares not to pair them up romantically with the best friend and ex, which would be the obvious choice.
It’s a refreshing departure from Sitcom 101. We spoke with Nat Faxon who plays Ben, in Toronto.
Monsters & Critics: TV sitcoms are usually predictable so I just assumed that the characters were paired off, but they aren’t which is a total bonus.
Ben Faxon: It is ground-breaking. Oftentimes the easy out is this person likes this person and now you have two couples, but Ben and Kate is centered on the relationship between them, a brother and sister helping raise Kate’s daughter.
He’s the centre but it’s a four person ensemble but everyone gets a chance to shine. There are storylines generated for everybody. Oftentimes shows aren’t given a chance to develop and let them figure out direction they want to go because you’re after ratings or the network isn’t sure about you and forced into things quicker than you want, I love that the Fox and the writing staff has allowed the show to be what it is and support the vision of what it should be, and that it’s not made to be something it is not intended to be. The network has been incredibly supportive of it, allowing the show to exist and find its viewers; it’s a marathon not a sprint.
M&C: TV rarely portrays single brothers and sisters living together, but we know why they are. Everyone’s feeling the economic pinch now.
BF: The economic aspect of Ben living with Kate is definitely part of it. Ben hasn’t demonstrated that his crazy inventions or entrepreneurial dreams have caught on so it’s a necessity. He needs to live with Kate and Kate as a single mother with a daughter working at a bar and she’d welcome the help that Ben can provide. It taps into what is going on this society about making ends meet on an economic level.
On a lifestyle level Ben needs structure and boundaries and Kate needs some time to be a young woman. As a single mother hasn’t had any time because she’s been exclusively concentrated on raising her daughter. She needs to get out there, so everyone is providing something.
M&C: There is a lot of humour in your “Yuck” moments, a universal experience for anyone with siblings. You’re probably not going to watch 91/2 weeks together!
BF: Which I think is very relatable. I have a sister and there are certain things I don’t want to talk about or imagine with her in the room and be myself without strange things happening. That relationship hasn’t really been explored on TV. And looking back it seems so obvious and for one reason or another. I love that we don’t have to answer the question together and that we bicker.
M&C: As an improvisational actor is it tough to stick to lines? Is any of Ben and Kate off the cuff?
BF: They are very supportive of improv and improvising on the show, they fully support and request it and it’s liberating as an actor to be able to do that. 90% of it doesn’t make it but you feel you’ve been given the chance to be part of the creative process. It’s so freeing and I love that they support us.
M&C: TV sitcoms have changed drastically in the past couple of years, there’s more irony and fewer cameras and laugh tracks.
BF: Going from a multi camera to single camera format, I like the multi cam format. I don’t know it works. CBS is doing well with that but for me as a TV watcher and somebody that is strictly coming from a viewer’s standpoint, I find single camera stuff more relatable.
As an actor a multi camera show is reminiscent of theatre playing to a live audience. Getting that rush as a viewer I respond more to single camera shows because it’s more honest and relatable. And I like not being told when I should laugh, that’s unnatural and hurts the rhythm at times. Set up joke. Go to it, repeat. We’re conditioned to laugh at certain spots and groan at certain spots. It feels bizarre. I think when you’re watching a single camera show shot the way movies are shot it feels like a representation of what life is like. It allows more opportunity with things you can do coming from a writers standpoint, in doing flashbacks and quick cuts. Jokes have a lot more flexibility and it’s relatable. For that reason there are moments in our show where it’s certainly silly and funny and heartfelt and emotional; and those moments ring truer with a single camera format.
M&C: Were you one of those guys who grew up funny?
BF: I knew I wanted to be an actor at a very young age and I would do impressions of my family at the dinner table and I would impersonate friends at school and get other people to laugh and that was cool.
*Faxon won the Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Descendants with Alexander Payne and Jim Rash.