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First Impressions: Is ‘2 Broke Girls’ Trying Too Hard to Be Cool?

Youth. Cosmopolitanism. Diversity. Sass. Raunchiness. And, most of all, coolness. These are the themes that the new, Whitney Cummings-created, Kat Dennings-starring 2 Broke Girls is trying to sell us. The fact that it airs on CBS — a network notorious for its older demographic — and happens to be a multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track, at a time when most young and discerning viewers prefer the more realistic, single-camera stylings of NBC’s Thursday night comedy line-up, is only the first hint that something isn’t quite right. We tuned in to last night’s series premiere of 2 Broke Girls with high hopes (especially since we found its de facto rival show, New Girl, so disappointing), and while we still find it promising, Cummings and co. are going to have to do a lot of tweaking to reach the viewers they seem so desperately to want.

The pilot kicks off at a greasy spoon called The Williamsburg Diner (you know, so viewers immediately understand that we’re in the very hippest part of Brooklyn), where Max (Dennings) works as a waitress. She’s the younger, prettier version of your standard brusque diner server — she sasses customers and co-workers, reserving her only kind words for Earl, the elderly African-American cashier with whom she constantly and innocently flirts. Within the first few moments of the episode, she tells a trustafarian that his snapping is “the sound that makes my vagina dry up.” No waitress who wanted to keep her job would ever say that to a customer, and no hipster we’ve ever met is as spoiled a stereotype as the kids depicted in the opening scene — but although the situation itself is unbelievable, there is something wonderful about watching Kat Dennings tell off an entitled asshole.

Soon enough, Max finds the only other waitress on duty in the back room, audibly in the throes of passion. (“Where’s my waitress?” the hipster asks. We hear a moan. “She’s coming,” says Max.) Her co-worker turns out to be a prostitute — who, for some entirely implausible reason, thinks it’s a good idea to turn tricks on the job. She’s fired and replaced the same night by Caroline (Beth Behrs), a beautiful, blonde heiress whose father is a Madoff-style scammer who’s just been found out. The family has lost everything, including their home, and that’s what brings Caroline to “a place no one from the Upper East Side would ever go” to seek her fortune.

Eventually, perhaps because all tough-talking TV diner waitresses are hiding sensitive, compassionate souls, Max allows Caroline to stay with her in an apartment she shares with her stupid, philandering musician boyfriend. Of course, the musclebound moron immediately makes a pass at Caroline — who, to her credit, rebuffs him and tells Max she deserves better. By the end of the episode, Max has caught him with yet another woman and thrown him out. Now, the girls are roommates with a crazy plan to open their own cupcake shop, a project that combines Max’s baking talents with Caroline’s Wharton-honed business savvy. Oh, and Caroline’s horse (a refugee from a Manhattan stable) has taken up residence in the backyard.

As some of the quotes we’ve included above illustrate, the show seems intent on using dirty humor to seem edgy. We’re not scandalized, but many of the pilot’s jokes are so lewd as to seem unrealistic. There is, for example, a running gag about a stain on the hooker-waitress’s old uniform that “isn’t clam chowder.” Ugh. Sure, frank talk about sex is always welcome, and is likely to attract a younger audience — but out-of-nowhere gross-out jokes wreak of a writing staff trying too hard to be cool.

Meanwhile, if 2 Broke Girls really wanted to score points with the Williamsburg denizens whose lives it professes to reflect, the show could at least get the details of Brooklyn life right. In one scene, Max and Caroline leave the diner together, and Max admonishes her new colleague, “You can’t wear a fancy leather jacket in this neighborhood. Turn it inside out.” That’s funny, considering that just about every other person walking down Bedford Avenue has on a fancy leather jacket that costs about half our monthly rent. Those people don’t seem worried! At another point, a barrage of hip 20-somethings storm the diner, and Max explains that an Arcade Fire concert has just let out. Can anyone think of a Williamsburg venue ca. 2011 that’s big enough to house that Grammy-winning, Madison Square Garden-playing band? Sure, these are details, and their falseness is nothing compared to the entirely ludicrous back story that brings Caroline to Brooklyn — but they make a difference when the audience you’re trying to reach is so similar to the characters you’re depicting.

Still, there’s something about the show that will keep us watching, at least for a while. We were impressed that Caroline — although she certainly has her ditsy moments — isn’t painted as a one-dimensional, party-girl heiress. She’s an intelligent woman who attended a prestigious business school, and her run-in with Max’s boyfriend shows that she actually has a moral compass, too. Dennings, for her part, is charming as always; her character may be a riff on an ancient cliché, but she’s a wonderful comic actress who makes every scene more interesting just by virtue of being there. Max and Caroline may not be a wholly believable pair, but they’re a likable one. Despite all of our qualms, that’s what will keep us coming back to 2 Broke Girls – at least for a few more episodes.

Did anyone else tune in last night? What did you think of the premiere?

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