‘Ben and Kate’: A brotherly brother

September 13, 2012

← “Ben and Kate” premieres at 8:30 p.m. on Fox

Comic actor Nat Faxon — who also won a screenwriting Oscar earlier this year for his work on “The Descendants” and has appeared in an array of ironic-ish TV commercials for insurance and such — plays Ben Fox, a good-for-nothing brother who has a habit of dropping in on his younger sister, Kate (Dakota Johnson), whenever he needs something. This time, he shows up and sticks around to help Kate raise her daughter, Maddie, played by Maggie Elizabeth Jones, one of this TV season’s many precocious child actors who all seem to have been given the same role — that of the wise imp whose patience and intuition surpass those of the grown-ups around her.

Faxon’s antics lean too heavily on the Will Ferrell/Jack Black/Zach Galifianakis school of oddballery, in which an irritatingly latent man-boy is in fact meant to come across as irresistible and even paternally heroic. That path is fairly well trod at this point, as is the “New Girl” vibe “Ben and Kate” reaches for. Some funny lines still manage to peek through, and Lucy Punch turns in an enthusiastically bizarre performance as a British cocktail waitress at the bar where Kate works. Grade: C

— Hank Stuever

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