‘Call Me Kat,’ Starring Mayim Bialik, Leans Too Hard on an Ill-Fitting Format: TV Review

There are enough moments in “Call Me Kat” that veer close to working that they become even more frustrating when they don’t. Enough good ingredients to make a broadcast hit are right there, most notably Mayim Bialik starring as Kat, her first regular TV role since “The Big Bang Theory” made her a network TV mainstay. A solid supporting cast — including Swoosie Kurtz, Kyla Pratt and Leslie Jordan — accompanies her as she vamps for the camera, which becomes another character all its own as Kat constantly talks straight at it. And in one of the show’s best creative decisions, Darlene Hunt’s “Call Me Kat” doesn’t let Kat, a single 39 year-old Louisville woman who ditched academia to open her own cat café, become the total spinster cliché she could have.

When her fretful mother (Kurtz) asks her if she’s not afraid of becoming “a sad cat lady,” for instance, Kat just smiles, picks up one of her many cats, and insists that she’ll be “a rad cat lady.” It’s not a line that deserves the burst of audience laughter it immediately gets, but it’s at least one that makes it clear that Kat isn’t a completely depressing mess just because she’s a single 39 year-old who ditched academic to open her own cat café. She genuinely, mostly, likes her life.

This, unfortunately, is about the most interesting the show gets in its first four episodes. “Call Me Kat” is ostensibly based on “Miranda,” a screwball comedy from British comedian Miranda Hart. For its own iteration of the show, “Call Me Kat” takes the (very) basic “Miranda” premise of “a woman in her late thirties runs a shop and doesn’t have a boyfriend” and Hart’s signature fourth wall breaks in which she talked to her audience, pulled funny faces and shared some of the thoughts she didn’t dare speak aloud to the characters right in front of her. (For those unfamiliar with “Miranda,” think “Fleabag” with the punctuation of an enthusiastic studio audience.) Kat’s mother, like Miranda’s, is an eccentric worrywart who just want her to get married, already. And like Miranda, Kat pines for her handsome friend, played this time by Cheyenne Jackson. Their dynamic is another point that suffers when directly compared to the one that inspired it on “Miranda,” where Hart and Tom Ellis had an immediately recognizable romantic chemistry despite the wacky hijinks surrounding them at all times. On “Call Me Kat,” Bialik and Jackson can barely keep their friendly banter afloat, let alone hint at the possibility of anything else beyond it.

Bialik is an enthusiastic lead who throws herself headfirst into the challenge of playing Kat as a more fulfilled person than her logline would suggest. But she doesn’t have as firm a grip on the tone and format as Hart did, and very often feels like she’s doing an American impression of Hart’s very specifically British character and tone. Turning and grinning at the camera might be a time-honored cheesy sitcom tradition, but it’s also deceptively hard to pull off without seeming distractingly unnatural, as is the case with “Call Me Kat.” Without a sharper central performance to ground it, nor cohesive enough directing and editing to stitch it all together, the show struggles to maintain its own pace and becomes more jarring than charming.

“Call Me Kat” airs Thursdays at 9 pm on Fox.

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