Let’s get this out of the way up front: This was a bad episode of television. There are some redeeming things about it (which we’ll get to in a bit), but if I were a casual fan of TV, someone who thought last week showed promise but someone who still needed to be convinced, this episode might do a good job of convincing me to never tune in again, no matter how much critics or my friends said it got better. It’s not just that the episode wasn’t funny—I can handle that being the case in the first few episodes of a comedy that’s trying some new things. It was that the jokes being told were all so goddamn smug and insufferable. And on top of that, the episode didn’t really have a story; it just had a bunch of stuff that was repeated from the pilot, in lieu of having to come up with something new.
Now let me put on my TV critic hat. It’s almost a fact of life that new sitcoms—even the best sitcoms in the world—are going to put out a stinker episode or two in their first seasons. Everybody’s figuring out what works, and there will be episodes where the experimental nature of putting on the first season of a sitcom is going to result in everything going wrong. (To 2 Broke Girls’ credit, it didn’t smooth over the lack of laughs by goosing the audience. The audience sounded just as unamused by it as we were.) So I have every reason to believe this is a show that will repair itself next week—actually, I kind of know it will, since that was the episode I saw taped, and no matter its faults, I know it’s a damn sight better than this. Some of my favorite sitcoms of all time came up with worse episodes than this one somewhere in the stretch of the first 22, and they lived to tell the tale.
At the same time, having an episode this bad as your second episode? Rarely a good sign. Having an episode this bad at fourth or fifth in the order? Eh. It happens. You tried something. It didn’t work. But second? That means that everybody involved is scrambling to figure out just what kind of show they want to make. And that means it’s time for me to drop some random TV theory on your asses. You might have noticed back in the pilot that the whole thing split roughly neatly into two competing voices. The better, earthier voice was the sort that was making a show that, no matter how hackneyed and cliché, was trying to tell a story about getting through rough times and being young and living in the big city. The other voice, the worse, more superficial voice, was the sort that was mostly making a show about how much it would suck to have to live in Brooklyn because ew.
These two voices—let’s call the first “Whitney Cummings,” for the sake of our experiment, and the second “Michael Patrick King”—frequently seemed to be at war throughout the pilot. The latter voice dominated the rougher, shakier first half. The former voice dominated the much better second half, the one that made me think this could be a TV show worth watching. Now, as we all know, Cummings somehow sold a much worse show to NBC and ended up having to go spend much of her time on that, which means that this is the first show of the Michael Patrick King era. (Everybody involved will tell you that Cummings gets to contribute to every script. Most likely, she reads and adds a few jokes.) Where Cummings—for all her faults—seemingly wanted to tell a story about being broke in the big city, King, again, seems fascinated by the idea that there are people who live in this “Brooklyn” he keeps hearing about.
Uncertain of where to go with all of this, King (who takes sole script credit) just keeps tossing stuff that only sort of worked in the pilot at the wall. Laughed at Max’s boyfriend being dumb last week? Well, here he is again, for no real reason, being dumb again, even though she broke up with him. Mostly tolerated the socialite mother Max babysits for? Well, she’s back, too, though she barely even gets a scene to do anything in. Liked a joke about Max worrying about being pregnant? You’ll get a joke that’s virtually the same one here because, well, what else are we going to joke about? It’s not enough for the jokes to be unfunny; it’s that the jokes are recycled unfunny jokes from the pilot, that is when Beth Behrs isn’t falling in horseshit. (I am not making this up.)
Again, some of this is just trying to make an edgy sitcom and trying to figure out where the line is and all of that. It’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re trying to make a show like this. There are episodes in the first season of Roseanne—another blue-collar sitcom that should be a touchstone for the people making this show—that flail all over the place, trying to figure out what to do. But that show had solid stories to fall back on when the jokes weren’t working (this episode doesn’t even bother to have a story, beyond a few gag runners that don’t add up to anything) and it had a point-of-view. Whatever point-of-view 2 Broke Girls had in the pilot has mostly been washed aside here by attempting to retell the conflict from the pilot and making jokes about how Brooklyn smells.
And the worst part about all of this is that it’s very, very easy to see where all of this train wreck got started, just as it would be easy enough to fix it. Most networks ask shows to repeat the pilot five or six times before moving on to new stuff. It’s one of the perils of modern television, where the networks assume you’re an idiot who can’t keep up with stuff if you’re not constantly reminded Lost started with a plane crash. But there’s one way to do this—have one of the characters clumsily remind everybody else what’s going on before embarking on a new story—and then there’s the way this episode tried to do it, which involved pretty much every conflict from the pilot playing out again for no real reason. Oh, and also Beth Behrs falling in horseshit.
Actually, I kind of liked the horseshit in spite of myself. At least it was a thing that happened that seemed to be trying something more than just blatantly repeating old gags. And it played off of one of the few things the show has figured out works well—Behrs’ gift for physical comedy. I still like Kat Dennings a lot (to the point where I found myself smiling at things she said that weren’t particularly funny because I liked the way she delivered them). I still like the chemistry between the two leads. And I still think the show has a unique point-of-view buried somewhere beneath the easy stereotypes and “Brooklyn smells bad” jokes. And, again, much better shows have had much worse episodes. But while it may not be time to give up on the show just yet, it’s hard to look at this and say, “Yep. This is your next great sitcom right here.” Hopefully it’s all uphill from here.
- Line I smiled at that wasn’t actually funny: Dennings calling Behrs the “relationship ghost.” That Kat Dennings! Such a way with lines!
- I feel vaguely embarrassed for Matthew Moy and Jonathan Kite whenever they’re asked to do stuff (though Moy gets a subplot in next week’s episode that isn’t bad), but I can’t help but enjoy Garrett Morris, even if he’s playing yet another ethnic caricature. There’s something about the way he plays the character that really amuses me. (Here’s hoping he gets something to do other than occasionally banter with Max, though.)
- This is a problem I had with the pilot, actually, but it’s even more pronounced here: This show is too damn busy. Does Max really need two jobs? Do we really need to try to bring Robbie back into the story? The entire first season of Cheers barely left the bar. Let’s see how many stories we can tell just in the diner and the apartment before we get too crazy, okay, show?
- Again, I’ve seen next week’s episode being taped. It’s better than this one. (It would almost have to be, right?) Also, that photo has nothing to do with this episode, despite being listed by CBS as having appeared here. Maybe there's an alternate universe that got a really funny episode based on that photo.
- And now, the one line that actually got a chuckle from me (from the last scene, natch): “Get him out of here. He doesn’t know I’m a waitress.”