In Defense of 2 Broke Girls
Say what you will about CBS’s sitcom 2 Broke Girls, a lot of people out there love and adore the thing. It just won the People’s Choice Award for Best New TV Comedy, which, say what you will about that too, is better than getting cancelled mid-season.
I admit that after watching the pilot I convinced myself this was yet another out of touch TV-land version of what real life as a struggling waitress is like, but I still set a series recording and have watched every episode since. The ADD-era laugh track had my thumb hovering over the delete key more than a few times, and the fact that they’re so “poor” but living in Williamsburg — the Riviera of Brooklyn — was a little tough to swallow. Sure they’re “squatting” in the apartment but what does that even mean these days? Usually people squat in run-down, rat infested warehouses right, not super nice Williamsburg apartments with little backyards? Characters in The Wire might squat, not these chicks. Anyhow, what started off as a kind of skeptical, anthropological curiosity from afar has somehow, somewhere along the way, turned into something more. Which got me wondering… why? Where did they go right?
If you haven’t been watching the show you’ve probably at least seen the billboards and commercials and magazine articles about 2 Broke Girls and know the basics. The title plus the poster of two chicks in diner uniforms holding out a tray at least gives a little bit away. Plus it comes from Sex and the City creator Michael Patrick King and comedian Whitney Cummings so you know this ain’t gonna be Homeland or Downton Abbey. Endless comparisons to Laverne & Shirley and the 70s/80s era sitcom Alice aren’t totally ludicrous. Female-driven working class comedies tend to stick together I guess. The premise of 2 Broke Girls is timely if a little far fetched: Kat Denning’s character Max is the poor, hard knocks waitress with a gift for making cupcakes (what IS it with cupcakes these days anyway?! Instead of burning bras everyone’s making cupcakes), and Beth Behr is her bubbly blonde BFF Caroline whose dad is in jail for being a Madoff type guy, leaving the one-time socialite totally alone, totally broke, and totally dependant on Max.
The fact that the daughter of a white collar criminal would lose every single friend and family member just because her dad screwed up seems exaggerated — but if she was able to go live with some sister in Switzerland or some bestie on the Upper East Side there wouldn’t be a story really so, that’s the situation. Over time it becomes less annoying that Caroline went from sleeping in a penthouse to sleeping on the subway so quick, and you kind of feel for the girl having a crook for a dad.
Before we get to where the show started going right, let’s address another issue even more offensive than the incessant laugh track: the racist portrayal of just about every dude who works at the diner. During the first episode, when the diner owner Han Lee (Matthew Moy) appeared, it felt like watching Mickey Rooney’s uber-offensive portrayal of a Chinese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At least Moy is Asian and not a white guy in crazy makeup, but still — this is the twenty-first century! Han trots around the diner in what sounds like an exaggerated accent, mispronouncing “American” slang and being ridiculous. He’s as clueless as Long Duk Dong and since he’s obviously been in the US long enough to own a diner it would be nice if Han were a little more with it, and not such a caricature. Word on the street is that the show put out a casting call for a “Hot Asian Guy” so we’ll see where that goes. Hopefully it goes in the polar opposite direction of Han Lee.
So, despite all of this, I kept right on watching, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the season that I started to realize I wasn’t just watching for that anthropological curiosity anymore, I was watching because I started to believe the main characters’ friendship, and it reminded me of my own friends — which is a feeling that can really tug a girl’s heartstrings. Just ask any woman who has ever found herself crying during an episode of Sex and the City she’s seen for the tenth time where the girls rally around a grieving Miranda or a sick Samantha. Basically, I started to care. It was during an episode called “And the Rich People Problems” where Max and Caroline get the brilliant idea to go break into Caroline’s old penthouse (well, she has a key so they’re not exactly stealth criminals here). They raid Caroline’s closet and jewels which are what I’d imagine the Olsen twins’ closets look like. What worked in the episode is that the two characters started to bond, and they had fun. And it worked.
The tried and true odd couple formula also works here. You have the cynical, sassy brunette and the “fluffy” upbeat blonde whose disparate personalities balance each other out. They bring out the best in each other, and the show is doing a pretty good job of creating their character arcs, and showing how these girls are influencing each other. Sounds kinda hokey, but it’s true. You start to root for these girls and after the slightly off chemistry of the pilot and fist few episodes they’ve kind of found their rhythm.
Introducing a new character added some promise — Jennifer Coolidge plays a sort of Polish Mae West with dreams of her own, and her kitschy mother figure might just open the show up a little and provide some fresh laughs. 2 Broke Girls isn’t 30 Rock or Modern Family, and where the show falters (besides the 21st century racism and the 20th century laugh track) is that the characters do things like take forever to realize that there’s a treasure trove of fancy items in Caroline’s house just waiting for them to sell on eBay. But if you focus on what’s working, which is the relationship between the broke BFFs, you’ll realize it’s not perfect, but you might just keep on watching.