“CALL ME KAT” RINGS UP AN AMERICAN TAKE ON A BRITISH SITCOM
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“CALL ME KAT” ON FOX You could probably count on one finger the number of times the biography of a television performer would list both actor and neuroscientist as their occupation. That narrows it down to Mayim Bialik, best known for small screen roles in “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Starting her career as a child actress, Bialik has an extensive resume of roles in both film and television, but mostly the latter. Now she has the lead role in the new FOX series “Call Me Kat” as the titular character.In between acting gigs spanning a few decades from a young age, Bialik found time to pursue an academic career as well. It wasn’t enough to graduate with a degree in neuroscience and teach; Bialik managed to secure a doctorate in the same field of study at UCLA.
Fans of British television may recognize the premise of “Call Me Kat” from a BBC production comedy of “Miranda,” which was written by and starred Miranda Hart as the impossibly clumsy and hopeless romantic who lives above the joke shop she owns and operates. During a recent FOX pre-Winter Press Tour, Bialik observed that “Miranda” was about a character breaking the fourth wall and “having this kind of dynamic, exceedingly eccentric and really life-loving kind of woman,” which is the type of vibe coming to an American program. In a similar fashion to its British cousin, Bialik’s Kat has to cope with a bossy mother who is desperately trying to marry her off, considering that she’s 39 and does not have many prospects until possibly an old high school classmate arrives on the scene.
Struggling every day against society and her mother Sheila (Swoosie Kurtz) to prove that she can still live a happy and fulfilling life despite still being single, Kat arrives at a crossroads in her life after the death of her father and quitting her job as a math professor.With finding Mr. Right a possible option but not a pressing need, Kate decides to spend her entire life savings to open a cat café in Louisville, Kentucky and employ friends in her new venture.
Helping to run the café are impudent Randi (Kyla Pratt), who chastises a regular who fails to tip, and flamboyant Phil (Leslie Jordan), a senior citizen recently dumped by his partner. The British series may not have feline companions roaming the joke shop, so at least the idea of serving coffee and pastries to patrons that are not allergic to cats is one facet of originality for this series.In “Miranda” one running gag is that the lead character is so tall and sturdy that she is often called “sir” or otherwise mistaken for the opposite sex. That’s not so much an issue for Kat, though there is a slight nod to that notion in the first episode.
Social anxiety is a condition that plagues both Miranda and Kat. Both are not very good at relationships or make bad choices in dating. They tend to fabricate false identities when engaging a conversation with an unattached male. That Kat is socially awkward, stumbles when talking to a member of the opposite sex or nervously prevaricates about her romantic life can’t be fully blamed on her meddling mother.Maybe the return to Louisville of her former crush and good friend Max (Cheyenne Jackson) to take a job as a bartender at the piano bar across the street, working with his friend Carter (Julian Grant), will lead to something.
Kat’s insecurity or social anxiety plays out with Max when she fibs about her status, claiming to be married with two kids until the story shifts to a divorce and the loss of the children to frostbite on a Himalayan vacation.The $64,000 question hanging over Kat is whether she remains content to be single at age 39 as often claimed, or whether chemistry with Max leads to something more than a platonic relationship.Much like the British version, Kat talks directly to the camera, breaking the fourth wall. During the press tour, Bialik referred to the audience as “another person in her life,” noting that the viewers are “in on her experiences because that’s how she views the world.”
That Bialik, by all measures, has a cheerful, amiable personality is an endearing quality for any performer, which may explain her observation during the press tour that “acting chose me” when she had two possible career paths. Despite the sweetly awkward vulnerability of Bialik’s Kat, the comedy material on display in the series, at least for the four episodes offered for press preview, allows for a modest sitcom of no lasting significance.However, there would be no harm in giving “Call Me Kat” a quick onceover before switching over to Hulu to compare it to “Miranda,” and then deciding whether to watch either series if you have the inclination or desire.