Earlier tonight, I was talking with one of the other TV Club writers on instant messenger as he watched the East Coast broadcast of 2 Broke Girls (I won’t identify him because I would not want you all to associate more than one of us with our suspect 2 Broke Girls affection). “I laughed a bunch. It has all of the same problems,” he said. “But the girls were being funny.”
And that’s ultimately the question about 2 Broke Girls. If you can overlook all of the problems—and let’s be honest here; these are some pretty huge, shitty problems—then there’s a fun show about two women who find themselves thrust together under unlikely circumstances and end up becoming pretty good friends. It’s a time-worn sitcom concept, but Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs have the sort of comedic chemistry other shows wish they could bottle and apply liberally to their own shows. The sequence tonight where the two realized how their class differences couldn’t change the fact that both were raised in single-parent households and liked the same indie-rock tunes could have been cloying—and almost was—but damned if I wasn’t grinning as Dennings and Behrs lived it up. Two people dancing to indicate that they’re now best friends is the oldest trick in the book, but in these hands, it worked for me.
Since this was easily the best episode since the pilot (and maybe even better, my grade to the contrary), I thought it might be good to stop defending the stuff about the show I like—since I’m guessing most of you are on the same page with me in regards to how good Dennings and Behrs are—and make a brief list of things that the show will need to fix or outright get rid of if it wants to be taken seriously. And these aren’t elaborate shifts. They’re simple things that could be done before filming the very next episode without tearing apart the fabric of the show or damaging what’s made it a hit.
1.) Matthew Moy’s accent has to go. One of the problems with living in the modern era where we all get crazy about TV shows and talk about them on the Internet is that shows can’t make the sorts of sudden, abrupt changes that used to be commonplace on TV. If John from Taxi abruptly disappears with no real explanation, well, it might seem weird, but unless your water cooler was surrounded by hardcore Taxi fans in 1979, you were probably the only one who noticed. Now, if this show dropped Matthew Moy’s offensive and stupid accent with no explanation, we’d all talk about it and call even more attention to it, even though it would unquestionably make the show a better one. I’m even willing to cut a deal with the producers: Drop the accent, and you can make the most stereotypical Asian jokes you can think of—I’m talking “can’t drive, really good at math, love Karaoke” shit here—every other episode (but only one; let’s not go crazy here). I get the impulse to want to have a bunch of minority and immigrant supporting characters, and I think it’s great, but making this character have a stereotypical accent makes it literally impossible to take him seriously. Drop the accent, and you’ve just got a sweet, earnest man who really wants to run this shitty diner as well as it can possibly be run. That’s a comedic character with a real voice, not someone who feels like a leftover from a 1977 Saturday Night Live sketch. (And look! I’m allowing you to keep Oleg! Isn’t that great? I know how you love Oleg!)
2.) Cool it with the rape jokes. I don’t want to say you can never tell a politically incorrect jab about a topic such as this. But every single episode has featured a rape joke, and there’s been a definite sense of diminishing returns. I think it stems from wanting Max to be as edgy as fucking possible, but there’s a limit to how edgy someone can be before they just start to seem like a TV writer’s idea of what someone edgy would be like (and joke about). Max is almost always better when we get a sense of how being self-sufficient has marked her as a person and how that’s also made her a touch dark, pessimistic, and cynical. But the rape jokes—which I’ll admit have been funny a time or two—don’t need to be the automatic go-to. Tonight’s rape joke wasn’t even trying, simply having Max suggest the creepy dentist guy who wanted to work on Caroline’s teeth was going to, well, rape her. (And, actually, I kind of enjoyed the whole “Subway Smiles” concept without that idea.) There wasn’t a joke here; just a reference to something designed to make us laugh through shocking us.
3.) Class differences are about more than smells. While watching last week’s episode of 2 Broke Girls, other TV Club writer Myles McNutt said on Twitter that the show often equates being poor to being in places that smell badly. And that seems to be the sole understanding the show has of being poor, yes, since it often has the characters complain about how bad everything smells. But even as I write this, tonight’s episode was… sort of a step in the right direction. I’m not going to say that the show was suggesting something nuanced about how Caroline grew up with everything, and Max grew up with nothing, but at least that idea was present. With all of the talk of class distinctions in this country right now, there’s a great show just waiting to be made about these questions. And while I think the premise of the show—formerly rich girl helps a poor girl find her inner goodness—is either repugnant or silly, I do hope the show digs a little more into ideas of how hard it can be to stretch a budget on a waitress’ salary plus tips. (This is where much of the antagonism toward the horse comes from, though I kind of enjoy that as a silly sitcom device.) On the other hand, this can’t just be a show where the kindly rich people come in and solve everything, as it skews uncomfortably close to being in the scene where Caroline’s dad calls. The best version of this show realizes the good and bad in all of these characters (yes, even Caroline’s dad), and it’s not quite there yet.
4.) Stop pretending you’re taking place in 1976. The writer mentioned in the first paragraph—who lives in the great city of New York—said that he’s mostly made peace with the idea that the show thinks of Williamsburg as existing in the 1970s. But, honestly, Williamsburg is no longer a haven of street crime and general depravity, as the show often seems to portray it. Are there bad neighborhoods in Brooklyn? No doubt. But the show’s portrayal of Brooklyn as cesspool and Manhattan as promised land is unfairly reductive and suggests that Michael Patrick King hasn’t visited New York since at least 1985, when I know that’s not true. This isn’t that big of a fix; in fact, it goes along with the question above. But when the show seems to take place in a fantastical universe, it’s hard to take seriously.
5.) World-building is cool and all, but we don’t really know anything about the diner. You keep heading out for adventures in the city, adventures designed to develop Max and Caroline’s relationship, but one of the funnier things about the pilot was the section where Max tried to teach Caroline the ropes of the diner. Right now, the diner is just the place where all of your terrible supporting characters hang out. What’s more, you seem sort of ashamed by that (as you should be). The problem, I think, is that Max and Caroline are such good foils for each other that you don’t need additional comic foils. Han—even an accent-less Han—is meant to be a sweet, earnest foil for Max, but Caroline already possesses those qualities. Earl is meant to be the guy Max can turn to when things are just getting to be too much, but Caroline is already filling that role as well. (That said, I still like Garrett Morris, and I liked that the jokes tonight weren’t all about how older women want to sleep with him.) The only real character here is Oleg, who’s, uh, just a creep. And that’s not really adding much to the show. Behrs and Dennings are great, but you can’t build an entire show around them. A lot of shows would cut the diner loose and immediately toss the girls into the proposed cupcake shop, but I think you guys can do this. I think you can buckle down and make these characters more than stereotypes and find ways to give them unique comic voices within the show’s universe, just like all of the barflies at Cheers became sharp, distinct characters over the course of season one. This is by far the biggest problem you’re going to face, but I think it’s doable.
Look. There are always going to be people who don’t like this show. This show is always going to seem to be trying too hard for them. But there are times while watching this show—mostly the scenes where Dennings and Behrs are goofing around—where I forget that this is a show with a lot of problems and just start having fun. And there’s also an indication every week that this show could have a huge heart as well, particularly in the scenes where we get glimpses into Max and Caroline’s respective pasts. The next stretch of episodes is going to determine if this show gives in to the stuff that’s entertaining or the stuff that’s genuinely terrible. You can do it, guys! Go, team!