Things I laughed at in tonight’s 2 Broke Girls:
1.) Kat Dennings’ evident glee when she said “THIN ICE!” with Big Bill.
2.) The way Jennifer Coolidge pronounced “Yelp” in a thick, Eastern European accent
That was it.
Now, I’m the world’s biggest believer in the idea that comedy doesn’t have to be funny. If the characters are pleasant and the world of the show is at least somewhat interesting, I’ll hang out for some moderately fun times. (I’m looking at you, Up All Night!) In some ways, I think the push toward more and more jokes, rather than more and more character moments was what broke comedy in the late ‘90s and created a rut the genre is still crawling its way out of. If you’re just going to overload on jokes, the jokes have to be funny as shit, and that’s a pace no set of comedy writers can keep up. Even 30 Rock, the most joke-heavy show of the current glut of good comedies, has a strong central relationship at its core, one the show can fall back on whenever the gags just aren’t working.
But that’s not the case with 2 Broke Girls, not by a long shot. The show is aiming for the solid “three jokes per minute” structure of the classic multi-camera sitcoms, and too many of the jokes aren’t landing. For the most part, writing funnier jokes is something that’s pretty easy for a sitcom to do, particularly at this stage in its run, when the actors are settling into their roles and the writers know exactly what each performer is and isn’t capable of. The back half of season one is when many of the great sitcoms really found their voices, so it’s a naturally fertile time for even bad shows to figure out what they’re going to be doing going forward.
Here’s the weirdest part: 2 Broke Girls is still trying new stuff. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with shows that try to push boundaries or figure out what is or isn’t possible. But this is a show that doesn’t have a formula at all. It hasn’t even bothered finding one. Normally, you’d think I’d be saying this like it was a good thing, but I’m not sure it is in this case. If you’ve watched every episode of this show, is there an episode that you can point to and say, “Every episode of the show looks something like that one”? I’m not sure there is, weird as that seems to me. Both the best and worst episodes of the show seem to occupy separate universes from each other, even as they self-evidently feature the same characters and central ideas. One of the reasons it’s easy for fans of the show to ignore what’s so awful about, say, the diner scenes is because everything involving Earl and Han and Oleg seems to be happening on another show entirely, one that isn’t as good as the scenes featuring just Max and Caroline.
Now, obviously, the biggest reason this show doesn’t have stronger jokes is because the writers rely on an unending string of puns and crude sex gags, but I think another part of it is that the show doesn’t have any underlying solid foundation to play off of. When the audience knows roughly what to expect, the writers and actors can play with those expectations. As much as I find Oleg making crude sex jokes stupid, at least that’s one area where the writers are able to play with what we expect to happen, as we saw in the scene tonight where Sophie smacked him around a little bit after he said he wanted to Gisele her Bundchens. This wasn’t the pinnacle of wit or terribly funny, but it was a scenario that was built around what we expected would happen when the two characters came into conflict. That’s a foundation stronger writers could build something on top of.
But without a strong foundation, we get a show that’s weirdly reliant on repeating the conflicts of the pilot. Tonight—after over a dozen episodes that were all about how much better Caroline and Max are together than apart—we get yet another episode that’s about whether one of the two will leave the other of the two in the lurch. I get the need to show the friendship solidifying in the early going, but I’m not sure why the show is repeating this point over and over this late in the game. We’ve seen the title. We know the friendship between the two is at the center, and we’re more than willing to take it as a given. The series remains way too enamored of its “One of them is rich, and one of them is poor!” conceit, and it often seems like that’s the only thing it knows how to use to build stories.
Anyway, all of that is moot because in tonight’s episode, Caroline saved a model who’d overdosed on pills by dumping hydrogen peroxide down his throat and thumping him a few times in the diaphragm. Leaving aside whether this would work (I’m going to assume it would because Michael Patrick King, in addition to being the greatest writer of all time is also an expert in human physiognomy), I’m just going to comment on how weird this whole thing was. You’re seriously going to end the episode with a bit where a model almost dies? And where previous episodes have played up Caroline’s business acumen or organizational and social smarts as reasons for Max to keep her around, this one is going to suggest that one of the advantages of being a rich girl is that you learn how to save models who’ve overdosed? On top of that, it’s a tremendously weird sequence because it doesn’t seem to have any stakes or consequences. There’s just a guy who’s almost dying, then Caroline saves him with plucky optimism. It’s a bizarre conceit to begin with, and making it the thing that the entire episode hinges upon is even stranger.
But let’s look beyond that! Let’s look at the long string of predictable fat jokes in Big Bill’s apartment! Let’s look at the way that the studio audience only seems to perk up when Oleg is making double entendres! (They were quite perky tonight.) Let’s observe how the “taking a photo for the website” idea was raised in that first scene, then quickly shoved aside before being brought back at the end again (something the show often does)! And let’s watch how the supporting characters—awful as they are—continue to be shunted off into one tiny, tiny scene per episode, as though someone somewhere is fulfilling a contractual obligation! What’s fascinating about 2 Broke Girls at this point isn’t that it’s a bad show; it’s that it’s a bad show that’s bad in entirely different ways each week, to the point where it occasionally makes a pretty good episode, entirely by accident. It might seem obvious at this point, but this wasn’t one of those.
- Kat Dennings just looks weird when she smiles. Check out her odd grin in that final photo the two take on the subway.
- This is a stupid sitcom thing that I’d go along with if the show were better, but it’s so ridiculous that those two women would dress like that when they were going to clean somebody’s apartment, no matter how hot they thought the model might be.
- I continue to like Jennifer Coolidge as Sophie quite a bit, and I hope the show has something to do with her beyond, “Let’s have Jennifer Coolidge come in and do a funny accent.”