Once again, before viewing tonight’s episode of 2 Broke Girls, I found myself chatting with a colleague, who had just finished watching the episode. It was, he said, not a particularly great episode—slow to start but with some nice interaction between the two stars in the middle—and the show remained more interesting to watch and think about than actually watch. And I guess I’d agree with that assessment (both of the episode and of the show as a whole). Outside of last week’s episode—which I genuinely enjoyed—I’ve had significant problems with what’s going on, but I still find the show fun to think about and fun to imagine in different contexts. I think there’s a great show buried inside of here, but I remain unsure if it will ever be unearthed. Because every time the show takes two steps forward—like it did last week—it summarily takes another step back, and the forward progress is halted.
It’s too bad that tonight’s episode is a bit of a dud, because it contains what’s probably Kat Dennings’ best performance on the show so far. The scene where she had to ask Peach—seriously, Peach?!—if she and Caroline could cater the babies’ birthday party was a great little bit of comedic acting from her, and I thought the scenes where she expressed her idea that trying just results in embarrassment were also good and solid at helping us understand just who Max is and how she came to be the person we met in the pilot. Maybe none of this was wildly original, but Dennings sold all of it, and I also enjoyed her awkwardness around her bartender friend, played by the sometimes amusing, sometimes irritating Nick Zano. (I could handle his cockiness if he didn’t end up going way over-the-top on every other line.)
The problem was that Max ended up in a bunch of storylines that just weren’t terribly appealing. Even with all of the problems with Han or Oleg, Peach just might be my least favorite character on the show, and she’s one I had really hoped the show had just forgotten about. But no. There she was, spray-tanning her babies and then complaining that they looked “foreign.” I suppose the producers have paid Brooke Lyons for a certain number of episodes and are going to get their money’s worth, but I find the whole conception of the character and her world completely pointless. We don’t need a way to make fun of wealthy socialites because we already have that in Caroline. Even if she’s not of that world, there’s still opportunity to mock the girl she was before she landed at the diner. What’s more, Peach is often a gateway into the lazy, stereotype humor the show indulges at its worst, and there’s nothing new there to play with. It feels like a bunch of material Michael Patrick King dug out of the bottom drawer from back when he worked on Sex And The City and repurposed for God knows what reason.
At the same time, I liked the central scenes between the two women at the center of the show. Again, the whole thing started out pretty slow—with what felt like millions of dumb dick jokes—but by the time the two were alone in the apartment together, things started to coalesce. Now, one of the problems with the vision board plotline is that what feels like millions of other TV shows have done a similar plot at this point. But worse is that Happy Endings did this exact plot last week and nailed it, coming up with some of that show’s funniest material yet. In the end, 2 Broke Girls just can’t compete, and the storyline about Caroline trying to build herself a Murphy bed that she apparently bought at an online hardware store or something is mostly a non-starter, even if Beth Behrs does her level best. (Side note: I will never understand how the cash tally at the end of the episode works, and I’d really like if the episodes at least nodded toward how the girls are making this money, when all they seem to do is spend it on things like Murphy beds.)
What I liked most here outside of Dennings’ performance was the way that this continued a theme from last week’s solid episode. Caroline is full of optimism and can-do spirit, but she lacks anything like self-sufficiency. Max is nothing but self-sufficiency, but that self-sufficiency has hardened her toward asking anybody else for help. These character beats feel organic to these people as developed so far, and they feel organic to who they were in life and socioeconomic status before the show began. (Here’s hoping the series never tries to do a flashback episode where we see Caroline at the height of her rich girl silliness, since that would almost certainly be pointless.) In the pilot, the cupcakes venture just felt like something tossed in at the end to make this feel like it had more of a structure going forward than “Here are some people who hang out together.” But the show has been good about playing up Caroline’s business smarts against Max’s bullheadedness, and it’s starting to make sense how these two could be successful in a business together. When Caroline broke down about how she didn’t know how to do anything because her dad always took care of her, it was a genuine moment, and I liked that it circled back around to Max deciding to help her friend out, almost against her will.
See, that’s the good kind of character development. Too much of the rest of the episode—namely the Max and Johnny stuff—was the bad kind, where we’re told endlessly that two people have sexual chemistry, because the producers fear we won’t pick up on it if we just see it (and for the most part, we don’t). I’m not sure what the series is trying to do here, beyond thinking that Max needs a romantic foil, but she doesn’t really at this point in the show’s run, and the series is trying too hard to make Max and Johnny happen. The scene where the two sit in the backyard and talk around their mutual attraction is the very worst kind of will-they/won’t-they bullshit, and it feels all the worse because it’s stranding a very nice performance with nowhere to go. There are good things in “And The Disappearing Bed,” but it’s also the episode that’s the most done in by the series’ half-assed approach to storytelling.
- If you haven’t read Alyssa Rosenberg’s excellent piece on the way this show has stumbled accidentally into being the closest thing we have on TV to an Occupy Wall Street sitcom, you really should. She thinks less of the show than I do, I think, but she’s right about how it has the potential to really be something great if it can work out its kinks. Speaking of kinks…
- The week in Oleg: The show continues to have no idea how to use its supporting cast. (Did Han even appear?) But Oleg is by far the character utilized the most poorly this week, as he continues his one-joke, one-note character. Han and Earl are pretty poorly utilized characters, but at least they’ve been given an extra note or two since the pilot. Oleg is just a walking sexual harassment suit, and the show doesn’t bother to do anything else with him. (The joke about him thinking Caroline had had a boob job was particularly bad.)
- After last week’s interesting paternal turn for Earl, we’re back to having him as someone who watches the women do something, then comments wryly on the action, mostly to underline how cool he is. I like Garrett Morris, so I’m fine with it, but your mileage may vary.
- The week in rape jokes: This week, Max complains about having to be invited to her friend’s one-woman shows, which are all about date rape. The sad thing is that this joke might have been funny if it happened in a vacuum, but with all of the other rape jokes the show has told, it lands with a dud. Try harder, show!
- My DVR froze up for a little bit right when Johnny grabbed Max’s boob “accidentally,” so maybe I missed the three seconds that tied the whole thing together. Let me know how wrong I am.