Mayim Bialik played Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory for so long that they might have forgotten how talented she is. She’s great at physical comedy, and she has a decent singing voice. Of course, on top of all that, she is a smart person playing smart characters. Her BBT husband, Jim Parsons, picked her to play the title character in the remake of the BBC sitcom Miranda he was producing. Is the resulting sitcom, Call Me Kat, a good follow-up for Bialik?
CALL ME KAT: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A woman pours a cup of tea and takes a sip. She turns and does a spit take. “You’re early!” she says to the TV audience. “Or I’m late. Either way, hello!”
The Gist: Kat Silver (Mayim Bialik) breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience her story; after her father died, she decided to quit her job as a math professor and open a cat cafe in her hometown of Louisville. Suffice to say, her mother Sheila (Swoosie Kurtz) isn’t happy about that, but is even more upset that Kat is 39 and still single.
So a social emergency comes up when Kat’s bestie Tara (Vanessa Lachey) sends out invites to a vow-renewal ceremony, which concerns her because “your best friend has had two weddings and you have had none.” Kat’s intrigued, however, by the plus-one on the return card. She decides to ask the baker at her cafe, Phil (Leslie Jordan), to go; he’s been down in the dumps since his husband left and always wanted to go to the ballroom where the wedding is to be held. As he goes to call his mother, Kat tells her barista Randi (Kyla Pratt), “I wonder what it’s like to be excited to call your mom.”
She goes to the piano bar next door, owned by her buddy Carter (Julian Grant) and finds her college bestie Max (Cheyenne Jackson) — or “Hot Max” as she tells the audience — tending bar. He was overseas for about a decade, but needed some time away when his Parisian girlfriend broke up with him. So here’s the dilemma: Does she ditch Phil for Max. Nah, she stays loyal, but Tara tells her the plus-one is for significant others only. When Kat asks how long a relationship has to be for it to be considered more permanent, Tara says “when you go from ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ to ‘What are we doing this weekend?'” Or about four months.
So Kat decides to declare (not convincingly) that Phil is her boyfriend, and he goes to the wedding in his sparkly blazer — Kat wears the same comfy green pantsuit she wears to every formal event.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Call Me Kat is based on the British sitcom Miranda, starring Miranda Hart. The main gist of Miranda’s character is that she’s single and awkward but also enjoying singledom. Kat is all of those things… and she owns a cat cafe.
Our Take: We really, really wanted Call Me Kat to work. The adult version of Bialik deserved a sitcom vehicle of her own after her nine or so years in the Big Bang Theory ensemble. Her BBT co-star Jim Parsons is one of the executive producers. And the supporting talent on the show, from Jackson to Jordan to Kurtz, is top notch.
But the show doesn’t work, at least for the first couple of episodes, because showrunner Darlene Hunt and her writers depend on the fourth-wall-breaking way too much. It’s so relied upon, that it seems like Bialik is talking to the audience as much as she talks to the other characters. For all of Bialik’s myriad talents, you can feel her trying a bit too hard in the first episode, trying to show that Kat is just fine with being single, and in fact she intends to rock singledom in her approaching middle age.
Things settle down in the second episode a bit, but not a lot. More humor comes out of character, especially for Kat and Phil, but it’s still too reliant on the fourth-wall breaks and other gimmicky devices. Those gimmicks just can’t get past hacky sitcom plots like “Kat tries to date two guys in one night but is really hot for Max,” or “Kat calls her much-older gay employee her boyfriend just so he can go to a wedding with her.” It doesn’t give the characters or the show much room to breathe and explore just how much of a “rad cat lady” she wants to be.
Oh, and a couple of more observations about the cat cafe gimmick: It seems to end up looking like a normal cafe by episode 2, and besides a few lines about cats acting like they’re humans, the whole “cat cafe” conceit pretty much gets shoved to the background halfway through the first episode. Maybe that’s for the best, though.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Max asks Kat out for coffee, to catch up. When she goes to change, he says that if she’s comfortable and doesn’t care what others think, what does it matter? It’s the exact thing Kat told the audience earlier. Then the entire cast comes out, introduced by the end credits. Tara is still in her wedding dress.
Sleeper Star: How can we give this to anyone but Leslie Jordan? The guy makes us laugh just walking into a scene.
Most Pilot-y Line: All of the gimmicks reminded us that It’s Garry Shandling’s Show did all of this in the ’80s, and did so in a much funnier, less frantic way.
Our Call: SKIP IT. We hate to give Call Me Kat a thumbs down, given all the talent in front of and behind the camera. But the show sacrifices character for gimmicks, and the parts that aren’t gimmicky are mostly hacky and unfunny.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.