Ben and Kate is such an unusual but exciting series to watch, considering the types of shows that surround it. So many half-hour comedies, like Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory, seem content with recycling the same ideas from shows before them and forcing the laugh track to kick in whenever the characters punctuate each sentence with a supposed laugh. But what has been refreshing in these first four episodes, and especially in the best episode of the season so far, “21st Birthday,” is when the show starts off with an idea that on the surface sounds relatively familiar and then pulls the rug out, doing something completely unexpected.
In “21st Birthday,” Ben decides to throw Kate the 21st birthday party she never had, since she was pregnant at the time. Kate doesn’t want the party and would rather have her yearly tradition of going to an ice cream parlor for a single scoop. The show sets up that the episode will be all about the party and that a majority of the episode will be about planning this blowout near the end of the episode that ultimately, in typical sitcom fashion, Kate will disapprove of. But Ben and Kate doesn’t do that. Halfway through the episode, the party has already been kicked off and both title characters have already left the party for their own side adventures.
This leads to “21st Birthday” switching things up once again. While Ben and Kate’s adventures have so far involved each one of them working with their close friends—for Ben it’s Tommy, Kate it’s BJ—here the friends are reversed. At the party, Kate has been reunited with her old best friend Molly, who wants to party hard and go to a club. Since Tommy is in love with Kate and Molly still owes him $15, Tommy decides to drive them on their night of debauchery that ends with Kate accidentally buying drugs from a bouncer.
While this is happening, Ben goes to the house of his ex Darcy to dig up a tree in the yard she now shares with her husband. Along for the ride is BJ, who takes Ben’s shovel, throws it into Darcy’s window and allows Ben and Darcy to finally have a conversation about their past.
We’ve seen both Tommy and BJ as comedic relief so far, but here they are fleshed out and come off as caring and true friends rather than just good for a few laughs. Plus, switching them up with different partners breathes new life into the formula that the show has created.
Not to mention the connection between Ben and Kate grows even stronger. Separate, they can be fun, but together they are a joy to watch on screen. Their sibling relationship feels more realistic every day. When Ben throws Kate the party that she didn’t want, Kate doesn’t show disappointment, but rather accepts her brother’s choice to do something kind for her and goes for it. And the episode’s final few moments boast some of the most heartwarming and sweet moments, not only on this show, but that I’ve seen on any comedy so far this season.
But it’s hard to even consider Ben and Kate solely in the genre of comedy. The show does have plenty of funny and amusing moments, but it’s also somewhat built on the idea of tragedy. They’re from a broken home; Kate had an unexpected pregnancy that left her completely alone, and Ben lost what he considered to be the love of his life and now lives in a garage. But the best shows on TV today—like Louie or Girls, where the comedy and drama flows naturally through the story—don’t dwell in just one genre of television. Ben and Kate most likely will never be at that groundbreaking a point, but it is on track to be one of the best comedies, and shows in general, to debut this year.