Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Catching Up on Two Broke Girls

It's a well-known fact that we don't love everything we watch on TV. There are shows that qualify as hate watching where the unpleasant aspects of the show are outweighed by the positives so we take the good with the bad ("Studio 60" is a popular choice here and although I'm in the minority, I view "The Americans" that way). There are also guilty pleasures where you realize that the viewing isn't particularly wholesome but you can't help getting caught up in the hooky nature of the subject matter. Lastly, there's the sort of campy viewing experience like watching an episode of "Batman" or (at least I'd argue) "Glee" where you're watching the show ironically.

Enter "Two Broke Girls" which stars Kat Dennings (Max) as a foul-mouthed lower class waitress and Beth Behrs (Caroline) as a trust fund baby and MBA who's financial assets have been suddenly dissolved. The two work as waitresses at a diner and team up as roommates and business partners to jump start a cupcake business from no capital with Caroline as the brains and Max in the kitchen.

Photo Courtesy: WilliamBruceWest.com
In no way does this show qualify as good TV. When the show premiered, the critics were so offended by the lazy racial stereotypes (particularly the Chinglish-speaking diner owner pictured on right, and the libidinous Central Asian fry cook), they derailed a press conference in the show's first season lobbing accusations of racism at the show's co-creator Michael Patrick King. Three seasons in, the show does not appear to have made any great tonal changes.

The best one can say about the racial stereotypes is that their screen time has been reduced, but that's less worrisome than the pace of the humor. The show feels like a 2010's version of vaudeville. The entirety of the plot or any character development is secondary to the never-ending routine in which Caroline, the straight one, sets up a joke, and Max delivers a one-liner without any situational awareness over whether it's the time for a joke or not. This isn't just a comedy structured around the laugh track: It's a comedy that is flat-out addicted to the laugh track. Nothing is more important than preventing 30 seconds from going by without getting laughter which results in a fairly low hit-to-miss joke ratio and undermines any attempts at a larger truth underneath the jokes.

In spite of all this, I can't deny I frequently enjoy this show. Curiously enough, I find it's a combination of all three things (hate watching, guilty pleasure, and irony) that keeps me glued:

Hate Watching: In spite of the show's shallow style of joke telling, there's something resonant to the premise. The two protagonists have a relatable problem being out of money with Caroline and Max arriving at poverty from two different perspectives. Additionally, whereas past comedies about the lower class ("Roseanne", "All in the Family", "The Jeffersons") have come off as pretty depressing, this show has a pretty fun take on poverty with characters who don't feel down about their lot in life. At the end of the day, I might even suggest the show is important.

Guilty Pleasure: The show qualifies as a guilty pleasure because there's something refreshing about watching an old-school sitcom with easily set-up jokes. It's a change of pace and it's comfort food. It also helps that Kat Dennings and Beth Behr are great actresses and can transcend hacky material.

Ironic Watching: The show's bad elements are so outrageous and misguided that they're just fun to laugh at. Again, part of the key here is Dennings and Behr: They deliver the jokes with a sort of punctuated wink. There's a self-awareness (and quite often with Behr, a visible giggle) that they know how awful some of the humor is.

At the end of the day, "2 Broke Girls" is weak but it's weak with style, consistency and heart.

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