As the first season of 2 Broke Girls draws to a close, I find myself wondering just what it was about the show that made me so hopeful for it back in the early days. (Join me in season finale week, when I revisit the show’s pilot and see if I can rekindle some of that love!) Most of the problems—weird story construction, stereotypical characters, bad jokes—that have bedeviled the show have been there from the very beginning, though I will certainly say they’ve gotten worse as the season has gone along and the show hasn’t bothered to diversify its rhythms at all. (Tonight’s episode? Yet another tale of why Max and Caroline have such trouble trusting each other and being friends, as if we hadn’t already thought about that 21 times before.) Thinking specifically about tonight’s episode, I’d add to that that the show has always been “too busy,” only now getting rid of elements of it that didn’t really work. I’m assuming that tonight’s episode bids adieu to Peach for the foreseeable—like the show got rid of the horse back in the day—and that’s a good thing for the show’s long-term future.
The more I look at those elements, however, the more I realize why 2 Broke Girls fooled me back in the day: It’s basically Taxi! Taxi is, hands-down, one of my favorite shows ever made, and the rare multi-camera sitcom that was genuinely ahead of its time. Its dark stories, depressing milieu, and surrealist streak were all greeted with borderline puzzlement in the late ‘70s, but now, they’d fit right in in a schedule featuring tons of shows inspired by the original. Taxi was sort of the Arrested Development or Community of its day, though it had one hugely-rated, top-10 season. After that first season, however, it quickly sank in the ratings, and it was mostly kept on the air by critical acclaim and a march toward syndication numbers. (Studio Paramount shopped the show to NBC to get a fifth season that would put the show over the 100 episode hump. That season was the worst rated of all.) But the show possessed arguably the best sitcom ensemble of all time—Judd Hirsch! Danny DeVito! Christopher Lloyd! Andy Kaufman! Marilu Henner! Carol Kane! Tony Danza?—and intelligent scripts filled with great jokes. It’s a classic, and it’s a shame it’s so hard to see nowadays.
But Taxi was also a show about down-on-their-luck working class people living in New York. It split its time fairly equally between a grungy central location and with the various cabbies out on their adventures. It had at least one broad, ethnic stereotype in Kaufman’s Latka Gravas (and added a second one in the later seasons, when Kane came on board as Latka’s wife, Simka), and the humor was shot through with a mordant sense that things would never get any better. In addition, it was often a touch too cluttered, with at least one of the cabbie’s long-term career arcs getting shunted to the background with every new season. These were all people who dreamed of big things, but the show seemed resolute in stomping all over those dreams.
When I outline it like that, I hope you can see just why I had hopes that 2 Broke Girls might be vaguely similar to the earlier show. The obvious exception that was evident even from the pilots of both shows (and the pilot for Taxi is pretty rough) is the fact that the ensemble for Taxi is much, much stronger on the whole (though Lloyd wasn’t present in that first season). But at the same time, the two shows had such similar setups, even from the point-of-view of the timeslot they were in, that I had looked for some of that same creativity in 2 Broke Girls. And it was there in the early episodes! As the show started to make the neighborhood around the diner more of a character and tossed in some truly dark weirdness, it felt like a series that was coalescing around something fascinating and odd, something fueled as much by Occupy Wall Street as it was by dick jokes. Not everything worked, but the show was trying, at least.
So what happened?
Well, we’ve talked a lot about how the show simply refused to grow once it was settled in as a huge hit (though I’ll note that ratings have steadily eroded throughout the season). We’ve talked about the cluttered storytelling and the refusal to develop any of the supporting characters. We’ve even talked about the lack of good jokes. Taxi grew from that rough pilot. The first season isn’t as good as the three seasons that followed (the fifth is often a mess), but it was definitely a season where the show steadily worked toward finding its own voice, not a voice borrowed from other programs. That it did this at a time when it was a top-10 hit and probably could have settled into a long run as a hit was even more remarkable (especially since the changes kept making the show darker and darker, probably dooming it to the short run it had). 2 Broke Girls did none of those things.
When I started this piece, I was going to review a random episode of Taxi instead of this one, then say at the end, “So, basically, it was 90 million times better than this episode of 2 Broke Girls.” But that wouldn’t be fair to the three of you still reading this to find out about what’s happening on the show (and my thoughts about it) or even to the producers of the show, who deserve to have their work engaged with, even if I don’t like it. But the more I thought about it—particularly since this episode was so dismal—the more I realized that that earlier show perfectly expressed everything I had hoped this show might be when it launched.
Look: I get that shows need to repeat their conflicts. I get that jokes can get better. I get that the show is slowly smoothing out some of its worst elements—what with Peach being sent off to Mandyville with that damn horse. But this is the 22nd episode in a season of 24 of them, and it’s repeating the same basic beats that the pilot had. The show hasn’t evolved in any real way, outside of the sorts of natural evolutions that will happen in any show that makes it through a full season. (Exhibit A: The ensemble feels like a true ensemble in the scenes featuring all of them, like tonight’s lottery ticket cold open.) There are scattered good moments here and there, and the show has finally started to consider Han and Oleg and Earl as people, not just side characters in the Max and Caroline game. But it’s all too little, too late. I didn't laugh once, I didn't smile once, and I didn't find myself impressed by a story or character moment once.
In short, I don’t need this show. And I wish I'd never thought I did. I already have Taxi.
- Beth Behrs seemed weirdly off and manic tonight. She’s often given the brunt of the worst lines, but she seemed to overplay every single one of them tonight, and that made for a strained performance.
- The subway tunnel scene was such a weird botch. For one thing, the lighting made it all less dramatic than it could have been. For another, it’s just lazy to keep having Caroline and Max break up, then get back together again, like they’re the Sam and Diane of friendship.
- Once again, we’re back to the clunky, clumsy stories, where everything rattles around and nothing makes sense, where scenes don’t logically follow from each other. Stupid show. Only one more week!