Somewhere along the line, the writers of 2 Broke Girls realized that there were quite a few problems with the original premise of the show—namely, the entire supporting cast—and decided to do a little rehabilitation of those elements in the background. This was almost certainly the right idea, and while I’m not going to say that Han, Earl, and Oleg are anywhere close to good, inoffensive characters yet, they don’t make me cringe anymore and, instead, mostly just make me say, “Oh, right. They’re on the show.” (Tonight’s B-story about Han trying to rejuvenate the diner’s performances of “Happy Birthday” mostly withered on the vine and disappeared before we even got to act two. This wasn’t the worst call in the world.) Unfortunately, the show needed to fill all of that space with something, and it wasn’t ready to just turn the show into the Max and Caroline free-for-all it could so easily become. Enter the will-they/won’t-they.
I’m not incredibly opposed to a good will-they/won’t-they. I think a solid example of the form can provide a show with a throughline that keeps other elements in line, even when they might be threatening to go astray. But building a show around a will-they/won’t-they is always tough, simply because you have to get the casting exactly right. For every Cheers or Moonlighting, where it’s oh so obvious that the leads are arguing so much because they want to knock boots, you have a million other sitcoms where the chemistry between the actors is flat, and, worse, the series keeps having the other actors insist that, holy crap, these two have such fucking awesome chemistry, can you even believe it, you guys? Far better, usually, is to set up a number of potential relationships and then see which ones spark. That’s how you end up with April and Andy, where once you had Leslie and Mark.
But 2 Broke Girls doesn’t really have the opportunity to do that. Max and Caroline’s only realistic romantic partners within the main cast are each other. Oleg’s too creepy, Earl’s too old, and Han’s too childlike. It’s difficult to imagine either of them dating (or even hooking up with) any of these dudes and the show making it convincing. And much as the show pretends to be one that breaks the envelope, I don’t know that CBS is terribly ready to have a show that’s all about two cute girls in their 20s who get a little experimental and discover it’s actually what they prefer. So the show has frantically decided to take Johnny, a supporting character from an earlier episode, and bump him up into what amounts to a male lead, even though he’s still a guest star. And while I’m glad that’s giving the show the time to work on the supporting characters and turn them into an ensemble of characters, rather than an ensemble of stereotypes, it’s also turned the show into one where everybody talks about how much chemistry Johnny and Max have because the writers are clearly overcompensating for how much chemistry the actors don’t have.
The thing about a will-they/won’t-they is that it needs to be one of the two or three very most important relationships on the show, and while this is true of the Max/Johnny pairing, it’s pretty much true only by default. The Max and Caroline relationship is the show’s best, and then after that, you’ve got… nothing, really. Max and Earl, maybe? Caroline and her never-seen dad? Grasping at straws here. Now, the show’s failure to build interesting relationships outside of its central one is one of those things it can work on—and the subject of another essay—but it becomes glaringly obvious in an episode like this one where it seems like Michael Patrick King and his writers cut out all of the Friends plot summaries from TV.com, shook them up in a plastic bag, and dumped them out all over the writers’ room table. For even if the Max and Johnny relationship had some sort of spark to glom onto, that wouldn’t forgive the fact that the plotting of the storyline has been utterly predictable, right down to the much, much cooler girlfriend Johnny has. (The nickname the girls give her is “Cash,” and I’m really surprised I didn’t see the joke about “Johnny Cash” coming and was rather tickled to have it arrive out of nowhere.)
But if a cliché “girl falls for boy and he has a girlfriend but he actually likes the main girl” storyline is what it takes to give the show the cover it needs to make the other elements better, then, ugh, I’ll take it. The storytelling, for the second week in a row, is fairly solid, with the story of Caroline making consistently bad predictions about Johnny’s actual feelings and Johnny kissing Max in secret more or less making sense. Everybody in it behaved like a recognizable human being, and the plot points followed from each other in logical fashion. (This sounds like it should be sitcom 101, but if you’d seen this show’s second episode, you’d know you take what you can get.) The scene with Max and Caroline at the art show—where Johnny kept trying to make time with Max and Cash just wanted to feed him his favorite cupcakes—was another scene with a nice sense of comedic momentum, and there was even a pretty solid semi-Stan Daniels turn, in which Max said she wouldn’t be kissing Johnny again, then immediately kissed him again. (I think it avoids being a full Daniels turn by virtue of a jump cut, but what do I know?)
On the other hand, the way this storyline concluded—with Max and Caroline shoving cupcakes into their faces and into their bras—all but screamed the network getting itchy and saying, “But when are they going to turn into Lucy and Ethel already?” and the whole thing was a little too “forced jocularity” for my tastes. (It did end up with the two waking up in bed together, covered in frosting, which surely sent the fan fiction writers of the Internet into a tizzy.) Plus, as mentioned, it was all based around a will-they/won’t-they storyline that just doesn’t have the kind of resonance it would need to truly be effective. On the other hand, when the audience applauded Caroline slamming Johnny’s picture down over Max’s foot, so she can start to get over him, or when Caroline let Max sleep and decided to cover her shift at the diner, there was a growing sense of the emotional resonance that’s growing between these two women. Indeed, it’s almost to the point where the show has more or less proved it knows how to write good Caroline and Max storylines. That’s 60 percent of the battle right there. Now it just has to figure out how to do everything else. And that “everything else” will determine if this show gets seriously good by the end of the season or if it remains content right where it is. As long as the baby steps keep headed in the right direction, I’m sticking around.
- Tonight in awful supporting characters: This felt like a bit of a backslide episode for Han, who laments having a tiger mom and is the subject of an “Asians are really good at math” joke from Max. (Though I’ll admit that that one made me smile, mostly because of Kat Dennings’ delivery.) Earl is mostly just there to talk about being old, and… did Oleg get to do anything? I guess he helped Max determine just how much to unbutton her blouse to let Johnny know what he wouldn’t be getting. Oleg helping Max have sex with someone other than himself is… progress, I guess.
- Money counter mania: Max and Caroline make $500 off the art show (and seriously, who would pay them for the cupcakes they just shoved into their mouths/bras?), but Caroline blows it all on Johnny’s painting, just so Max can have the thrill of putting her foot through it. That means the counter stays right where it was, because the women are blowing all of their tips on super sweet vegetables for Chestnut.
- I find the “BOMP BOMP BOMP BOMP BOMP BOMP!” transition music becomes more bearable if you imagine an alcoholic gorilla beating on a button that only makes the “BOMP!” noise.