(An imagined conversation between the CRITIC, TODD VANDERWERFF, and the IMAGINARY COMMENTER WHO LIVES IN HIS HEAD, TURK SCRUBSIER.)
(As the lights rise, Todd and Turk are enjoying PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE, eaten from plates perched on the FINEST LACE DOILIES.)
TV: Gosh, imaginary commenter who lives in my head and yells at me all hours of the day, this is some good cheesecake. You really know how to enjoy the finer things in life.
TS: THAT I DO, TODD. THAT I DO!
(Turk pulls up The A.V. Club on his PROPRIETARY TABLET DEVICE HE INVENTED HIMSELF, for he is a genius.)
TS: LET’S SEE HERE… A NEW INVENTORY… A HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER REVIEW… GADS, VANDERWERFF IS THAT A B+ FOR 2 BROKE GIRLS? I AM FIT TO POP MY MONOCLE!
TV: I can explain.
TV: Let me explain.
TS: WHY WILL YOU NOT SIMPLY SAY THIS SHOW IS TERRIBLE, AS WE ALL KNOW IT IS? WHY WILL YOU NOT, INDEED, SMASH THE BAD TELEVISION THAT CROSSES YOUR PATH, INSTEAD CONTINUING TO ENCOURAGE IT? IT IS A RACIST PIECE OF TRASH, ONE THAT RELIES ON TIRED JOKE SETUPS THAT WERE OLD WHEN I WAS WEANED FROM MY OWN MOTHER IN THE NINETEEN-HUNDRED-AND-EIGHTIES, TO THE TUNE OF THE FAMILY TIES THEME SONG.
TV: I hear what you are saying, Turk, and I always enjoy singing with you. But if you’ll give me a moment, I think I can perhaps win you around to my way of thinking. Tonight’s 2 Broke Girls…
TS: IT IS TUESDAY. I AM READING THIS ON A TUESDAY.
TV: Fucking time zones… last night’s 2 Broke Girls was the first to do all of the things the show does well in the same episode, while keeping the things it does horribly to a minimum. It was easily the best episode of the show so far, boasting good character development, some good and weird jokes, fun world-building, a continuation of the show’s serialized storyline, and, for once, some good episode-level storytelling that set up some interesting situations going forward. If it weren’t for the fact that this leaned heavily on a will-they/won’t-they plot that I just don’t give a shit about and if the show had embraced the economic reality stuff I’ve liked in some of its other solid episodes, I might be tempted to bump it up to an A-.
TS: I BELIEVE I SPEAK FOR EVERYONE WHEN I SAY, “BLASPHEMY.”
TV: No, I know. I’m a fucking traitor to good television and should be run out of town on a rail. But my thesis has always been that lots of comedies have rocky first seasons and pull it all together in the end. Would I like this show to be a comedy classic from the word go? Of course. I’ve been watching a lot of Cheers lately, and that’s reminding me of how confident that show was in its voice and its characters from the very first episode. But even it spent time trying things to see if they would work and sometimes failing (though it never flailed as spectacularly as this show has flailed). But then there are shows like Mary Tyler Moore or Taxi, shows that had problematic first seasons that weren’t always funny, with characters who didn’t always work (I’m looking at you, John from Taxi). Those shows took a while to figure themselves out, and they’re some of my favorites of all time. Hell, if you want a modern example, there’s Parks & Recreation, though that show only had a handful of episodes in season one. There’s enough I like in 2 Broke Girls to extend it the same consideration.
TS: RESPECTFULLY, SIR, EVEN IF THOSE SHOWS HAD ISSUES, THEY DIDN’T HAVE THE ISSUES THIS SHOW DOES, WHAT WITH ITS INSUFFERABLE WORDPLAY AND GAGS BASED ENTIRELY ON STEREOTYPES.
TV: A few weeks ago, I was starting to agree with you. My thought was that no matter how much I enjoyed the characters at the show’s center—and the strong work being done to develop them—I couldn’t forgive it for the fact that it seemed to take place in a giant ocean of stereotypes or that all of its jokes seemed to be based around the much-maligned “I wear knit hats because it’s cold out; you wear knit hats because of Coldplay,” which is everything that’s wrong with the universe, as you already know. And the show’s sullen refusal to tell coherent stories was starting to drive me up a wall.
TS: THERE IS NOTHING YOU LOVE MORE THAN COHERENT STORY STRUCTURE. AND COOL RANCH DORITOS.
TV: You know me so well! But I do think all of these things have been shifting a bit in the last few weeks. The first thing to shift was the stereotype humor. Granted, last week’s episode was based around a long string of unfortunate jokes about Italians, but the supporting cast—when it’s used at all—has started to come into its own. The writers have made Earl less a cool, aging hepcat and more the father figure Max would never admit she needs but enjoys having in her life. And look at how Han was used tonight. He’s still got that awful accent, but he’s included in the fun now, instead of the characters mocking him. He gives Max advice that she takes. He gives Johnny five. He’s morphed from a walking racist joke into a sweet, earnest man who’s really into his shitty little diner and the people who work there. He’s like a reverse Louie De Palma in almost every way. Oleg, of course, is still Oleg, but the show’s at least showing some willingness to let him get in on the running jokes, instead of just having him be a creep. But he’s still by far the most problematic character.
TS: THE JOKES STILL SUCK ASS!
TV: Humor’s subjective, of course, and probably more subjective than anything else. But I would disagree. I think the tired joke constructions have increasingly given way to weird humor. Take tonight’s long centerpiece, a scene set entirely in the apartment of a hoarder who hires Max and Caroline to clean his apartment (there’s that economic reality again; happy points!).
TS: HAPPY POINTS? HOW HAVE YOU NOT BEEN FIRED.
TV: I have certain information. Now, jokes about hoarders are incredibly old, even though they’ve only existed for a few years. Every sitcom, seemingly, has done a plot about a cah-razy hoarder. But I liked 2 Broke Girls’ willingness to push into weird places with this gag. Sure, we were going to have gags about the weird stuff this guy had in his apartment, and some of those things were pretty rote—a fishtank full of doll heads feels like something I’ve seen before (though I like the cadence of the phrase). But as Max and Caroline dug more deeply, the scene started to settle into a really nice comedic rhythm. The actresses bounced off of each other nicely, and by the time Max—who was really into this whole thing—was suggesting that Chestnut would like his own horse head made of cans, I was laughing quite a bit. A successful comic scene acquires its own rhythms and momentum, and this was the first time I felt like 2 Broke Girls pulled that off, and all without resorting to stereotype humor.
TS: WHAT OF THE HOARDER? ISN’T HE JUST A HOARDER STEREOTYPE?
TV: I guess. And you might have me there! But as voiced by Eddie Pepitone, I thought he was a lot of fun. I have a weakness for characters who are offscreen interacting with characters who are onscreen (outside of, perhaps, Howard’s mother on Big Bang Theory, whom I don’t like). If he didn’t work for you, I’m not going to be upset, though.
TS: I DIDN’T WATCH THIS. I WAS WATCHING TERRA NOVA.
TV: Jesus. That show!
TS: I KNOW. MORE OF THE KIDS NEED TO GET EATEN.
TV: With you there. Anyway, there was stuff I didn’t like, and I’m sure you’d like to hear about that, but will you permit me another moment of defense?
TS: IF YOU SPEAK TOO MUCH LONGER, I WILL SNATCH THE DOILY FROM YOUR HAND.
TV: A fitting punishment. Anyway, the cold open—with Oleg’s running 69 joke and the girls giving nicknames to their customers—was something that was cut from the episode I saw taped, probably because it just didn’t work in that episode. But the producers—perhaps just loving the concept—brought it back for some reason. And while I wouldn’t call it great, since the idea at the center is kind of dumb, I think the way it was retooled shows how the show is starting to evolve toward its strengths. In the original version, the weight was much more on Max showing Caroline the ropes and less on Caroline playing along. Here, she’s allowed to get in her own licks, and the joke is much more about the two’s camaraderie, rather than their slight antagonism. It’s still not a great bit, but it shows that the series has realized the two work much better as friends than anything else and that the other denizens of the restaurant work better if they’re allowed to participate in the fun. Basically, it’s realized Max is only a good central character if she has foils, and that’s opened the show right up.
TS: BUT KAT DENNINGS IS TERRIBLE AND DELIVERS ALL OF HER LINES IN THE SAME MONOTONE.
TV: You know, most criticisms of this show, I get, but I don’t get this one. I think she’s terrific here, in a way that shows she’s going to be a great TV actress if she gets the right material and the right amount of time to learn the ropes. Look at the way she makes Max’s actions when she learns Johnny has a girlfriend feel vaguely spontaneous—even though you’ve seen this thing in millions of sitcoms before. Look at how she lets her growing affection for Caroline and the other diner denizens creep through her harsh façade. She’s building a great character here, and the writers are finally catching up to her and letting Max’s anger be both defense mechanism and an earned reaction to a world that treats her like shit. Plus, she held a kitten! Aw!
TS: ARE YOU SERIOUSLY JUST GIVING THIS A B+ BECAUSE IT HAD A FUCKING KITTEN IN IT?
TV: The thought crossed my mind.
TS: SO PREDICTABLE! ALL RIGHT. WHAT WAS BAD? I NEED MY ANGER FIX.
TV: Well, I don’t give two shits about Johnny and Max, and I think the show is forcing this relationship. Even if the basic beats of the story—concluding with Max and Caroline seeing the billboard art—make sense and work as a story, I wish the series had given this courtship time to grow, instead of insisting the two were into each other. (My wife’s bought into it completely, so this might be me being cranky.)
TS: QUIT TALKING ABOUT YOUR WIFE, VANDERSMURF. DON’T YOU KNOW HOW IT PAINS ME?
TV: You’ll find love, Turk. You’ll find an angry, angry girl. There’s gotta be one in my head somewhere. And did you know my spell check recognizes VanDerSmurf?
TS: I DID NOT.
TV: It totally does! Anyway, I also didn’t like how the hoarder bit just fell away and was resolved through dialogue. It was clumsy. And the old “But he really has a girlfriend!” twist keeps getting used because it works so often, but here, it felt too abrupt, mostly because we don’t know a damn thing about Johnny, other than the fact that he likes Max’s boobs. I liked the idea of her being cooler than Max, however. That has some promise. But overall, this was a non-stereotyped, funny, well-constructed episode of 2 Broke Girls. And just last week, I was thinking I’d never be able to say that.
TS: I STILL HATE IT. SIGHT UNSEEN. IT’S ON CBS! EVEN IF IT WANTED TO GO IN A GOOD DIRECTION, THE NETWORK WOULD NEVER LET IT!
TV: This is the argument against the show I’m least convinced by. CBS has been more than willing to let shows evolve over the years. Granted, most evolve in the wrong direction, but that’s because most shows on TV are mediocre or bad, and it’s often just easier to do that. But The Good Wife went from a fun procedural to, arguably, the best drama on the big four networks, and How I Met Your Mother went from promising sitcom to what was one of the best comedies on TV in its heyday. Hell, even The Big Bang Theory—which debuted with good numbers, let’s recall!—got more popular the better it got, as the show evolved from one that laughed at the nerds to one that laughed with them (then back into one that laughed at them, but I digress). And it’s not as if Michael Patrick King isn’t a powerful man in his own right. Back in the day, being a big hit meant you got “fuck you” ratings. If the network didn’t want you to pursue certain story directions, you could point at your ratings and say, “Fuck you, network!” This doesn’t really happen anymore (since the most innovative TV is low-rated nowadays), but if it’s going to happen anywhere, wouldn’t it have to happen at CBS, where everything gets good ratings? Maybe it won’t—hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if next week’s episode is absolutely awful—but this episode gives me hope, maybe naïve hope, that there’s a way to parlay this show’s giant hit status into something longer lasting than what it was befor.
TS: I HATE OPTIMISM.
TV: I know you do. But you do love kittens.
TS: I DO.
TV: So watch this one. I promise the kitten is cute.
(Turk turns and nods, then begins to weep. Todd holds him tightly, and we slowly end scene.)