I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the latest 2 Broke Girls had an actually funny story or scenes, but I would go so far as to say it had a funny idea for a story and a handful of scenes. The show’s struggled a lot to come up with solid comic premises in recent weeks, and it appears that was because it was shoving all of them into this episode. Think, for instance, of the fun rhythms the actors have in the scene where all of the secrets come out in the diner, the first time it really felt like this was an ensemble, not two lead actresses and a bunch of other guys who hang out around the set. Or look at the scene where Caroline tries to talk her way into jail to see her father like she’s talking her way into a club. That’s a pretty good idea for a comedic scene, honestly! Hell, even the idea of Max randomly running into a one-night stand—who’s now got her face tattooed across his abs—at the prison was an amusing comic idea.
In addition to this, there were at least three separate good ideas for sitcom episodes in this one: Everybody has a one-night stand, and the fallout is terrible; Max finds out it’s Caroline’s birthday, and she doesn’t know how to throw her new friend a party; and Max and Caroline go to jail to visit the latter’s dad. (That last one is particularly good for sweeps month, when all the new information comes out.) Any one of those ideas could have led to the best episode ever of this show. (Granted, that’s kind of a low bar to clear, but work with me here.) Instead, the writers crammed all of these ideas into the same episode and wasted a bunch of time on pointless scenes, like the rides to and from prison on the—ugh—“bang bus,” which were dominated by pointless guest characters that summarily took over said scenes.
When you’re writing a spec script for a TV show (a script written for an existing show that’s meant to show your prowess at writing within someone else’s voice), one of the first rules you learn is this: Don’t write a script with a guest character more interesting than the leads. The temptation is always there, simply because it’s always easier to write a character you come up with than it is to write the characters somebody else came up with. But the test of the spec script isn’t to see what your original vision is. That’s what a spec pilot (which is just what it sounds like) is for. The test of the spec script is to have an educated guess at how good you would be at collaboration, the beating heart of the American television model.
Tonight, I realized that pretty much every 2 Broke Girls scene that leaves the girls’ apartment devolves into one of those nightmare scenes from a spec script, only, even worse, the writers bring in broad, irritating guest characters just so the leads can pick on them. At least Shonda of the bang bus was presented as someone vaguely enjoyable to hang out with, but she still sucked up a lot of screentime, and as I look back on many of the other episodes of the show, the same pattern sticks out. It’s almost as if the writers don’t trust their strong lead characters and the relationship between them to carry the day. They want to toss as many straw men in their general direction as they can, the better to make sure Kat Dennings always has someone to stare witheringly at.
I really thought Margaret’s review of the episode from last week (which I liked less than she did) got at something weird about the show: It doesn’t trust its viewers to remember anything. I know the hip thing to do here is mock The Big Bang Theory, and it’s certainly a show with its share of problems. But that’s a show that established its characters, then trusted the audience to follow along from season to season. No one needs to explain in every episode about Sheldon’s fussy nature; the show trusts the audience to know that he’s a persnickety type, and he can often be the bane of his friends’ existence. Way back when I reviewed the pilot of this show, on the other hand, I assumed the premise—one’s formerly rich, and one’s poor, but they’re doing it their way!—would get tossed out fairly quickly in favor of hanging out with jokes. This is the way most comedies operate. I honestly didn’t think we’d be sitting here in February, watching as Caroline and Max once again remind us of their back-stories, as Max once again complains about her upbringing, while Caroline talks at length about her dad. Since we don’t even see Martin Channing, this feels like even more of a tease than usual. It’s a show that wants to appear slightly serialized—with that closing cha-ching—but it doesn’t want to do the most basic grunt work of serialization, grunt work that literally every other show on TV does.
But as mentioned above, that lack of trust extends to the writing on the show. No one will ever settle down and just let one story play itself out. There have to be a million things happening in any given scene. Scenes are overburdened with day players who are solely there to give sass and have Max give sass back. Things often seem to happen for little to no reason. The thing is, there was a time when this show was actually telling somewhat competent sitcom stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Now, it’s like it’s regressed, retreated back into itself, decided that all it needs to do to make us laugh is toss lots and lots of crazy stuff at the screen and have Kat Dennings raise an eyebrow.
And maybe that is all the show needs to do. Maybe people have seen so many sitcoms at this point that all they need is the barest idea of a sitcom story or a comedic scene to fill in the rest. Maybe the show just wants to keep throwing new elements into the mix to keep from getting bored, even as it becomes apparent that it has no intentions of bolstering the center of the show. (Shades of that other show I review, Glee!) Just look at the glee on Matthew Moy and Garrett Morris’ faces in that scene where they get to toss dialogue back and forth, then think about how little the show trusts them to do anything ever, or to be anything other than caricatures. This is a show with bad jokes, sure—that clam tonight about how Max didn’t know how to throw a party and didn’t even know how to throw a baseball was particularly awful—but you can beat bad jokes by buying better gag writers between seasons. No, it’s the story stuff that this show really sucks at, and it’s the story stuff any professional TV writers should be able to fix.
- Laugh (singular) of the week: I got some great excitement out of the very specific idea of Max only being able to afford a six-pack of Capri Sun for the party.
- So Oleg and Sophie hooked up. I really thought this show would stretch that out a bit more. I will admit I’m enjoying the way Jonathan Kite and Jennifer Coolidge bounce off of each other. If only they had better lines to bounce! (Also, I keep hoping that Sophie will turn into Sofie from Carnivàle. It’s a weird life I lead.)
- I suspect Caroline’s one-night stand was the “hot Asian guy” whose casting was going to be the way the show solved racism or something.