Friday, June 22, 2012

Yes, I Watch Two Broke Girls, But Try As I Might, I Can’t Recommend Season 1!

The Good: Some very funny lines, Good cast
The Bad: Very predictable plots, Terrible acting, Very forced humor.
The Basics: While I enjoyed the first season of Two Broke Girls, objectively it falls to the lower spectrum of average comedies on television today.

Some people have a notion of a “guilty pleasure.” I no longer do. Instead of “guilty pleasures,” I simply acknowledge the difference between things I like on an emotional level and works that are actually qualitatively good. So, when I both admit to watching Two Broke Girls whenever it comes on and to not recommending the DVD boxed set of Two Broke Girls, there is actually startlingly little contradiction. I enjoy Two Broke Girls, but I know that it is not good.

Before there comes a pile-on of nasty comments, let’s backtrack. Two Broke Girls is very funny. The show is usually very well-written for one-liners and zingers. But, the acting is terrible and the humor is telegraphed and until the second half of the season when Sophie entered the mix, something was missing. Why did I so enthusiastically watch the first season of Two Broke Girls? Quite simply, I’m a fan of the works of Kat Dennings. She’s smart and funny and yeah, there’s a little crush there on my part. But in Two Broke Girls, the directors do not hold her to any sense of standards; they don’t push her toward the greatness she has exhibited in other works. How do I know? In Charlie Bartlett and Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Kat Dennings doesn’t crack up on screen at her own wit. In Two Broke Girls, she does with unfortunate consistency. The only member of the cast less able to keep a poker face on screen is Dennings’ costar, Beth Behrs.

I wish I could find a way to blame Whitney Cummings. Cummings is a comedian who seems to be very vogue all of a sudden. She is one of the two co-creators of Two Broke Girls and a terrible actress in her own right, laughing through much of her own material on her own sitcom, Whitney. In fact, for me, the two biggest, least pleasant, surprises of the 2011-12 television season were that Whitney mysteriously got renewed for a second season and that she was a co-creator of Two Broke Girls. I can’t complain too much; it is virtually assured that as soon as Whitney gets shitcanned, Cummings will appear on Two Broke Girls as Max’s mother.

Regardless of her similar acting style (or failure to act and simply be amused by her own creations) and her influence in Two Broke Girls, Whitney Cummings is not to blame for the show’s problems. CBS, who airs Two Broke Girls enjoys reinforcing conventions, as opposed to defying them. So, Two Broke Girls exists as a string of back-and-forth lines of dialogue that stop for a telegraphed laugh track to tell viewers that what they just heard was funny. Some of it is, but Two Broke Girls forces the humor far too much, making it feel like the show is trying way too hard to amuse its audience (who is pretty much predisposed toward comedy anyway).

Two Broke Girls is, as the title suggests, the story of two young women who represent the working poor. Max works at a crappy diner in New York City and takes care of babies for an ultra-rich woman (at least until a mid-season course correction for the show). Caroline Channing is a down-on-her-luck heiress who suddenly finds herself cut off in the world when her father’s massive white collar crimes leave the family out on the street. Determined to survive in the City, she gets a job at Han’s diner with Max and she moves in with Max as well. The arrangement takes on positive spin for both when Caroline begins to apply her expertise in business to Max’s small-time cupcake-making business.

Over the course of the first season, Max and Caroline try desperately to save up the money needed to truly grow their cupcake business. However, they are frequently hampered by being forced to spend money on things like a new stove, artwork whose destruction might bring about a catharsis, a Murphy bed, and an ice cream cake. The comedy frequently comes from zippy, sarcastic one liners from Max that acknowledge her terrible childhood, promiscuity or poverty or poke fun at Caroline’s abrupt change in social status and the differences between being rich and poor.

The season has a number of sitcom standards. The two young women are trying to build their own business, but in the process, they are navigating relationships in New York City. Max flirts with a very cool artist and Caroline largely remains in a state of forced chastity. So, it is unsurprising when – after a few months of being poor – Caroline starts looking for a one-night stand. Pretty standard plots come when the pair breaks into Caroline’s father’s townhouse for a few hours, Caroline must sell some designer rings, and the pair has a dramatic misunderstanding over what the new neighbor upstairs does for a living.

The essential characters in the first season of Two Broke Girls are:

Max Black – A young woman who has no idea who her father is and whose mother was a crazy alcoholic, she is on her own getting by as best she can. She makes cupcakes from a mix and sells them as a premium product at Han’s diner where she works as a waitress. Despite showing compassion toward Caroline and the twins of a New York socialite, she is deeply sarcastic and jaded. Very quick with a sarcastic remark,

Caroline Channing – The daughter of a now-imprisoned billionaire, she is on her own in the real world for the first time in her life. Cut off from all she knew, she learns how to waitress and coupon from Max, while teaching Max to enjoy sushi and the finer things in life. She comes with a horse, Chestnut, who she is forced to give up over the winter. She takes over running the business end of the cupcake business, including getting her and Max enrolled in classes at a local bakery to learn how to make the cupcakes nicer looking,

Earl – The old host of the Williamsburg Diner, he used to be a jazz musician. He and Max are pals. He has a heart attack, which makes Max realize just how important he is to her,

Oleg – The cook at the diner, he is obsessed with sex and spends each interaction with Max and Caroline making a crass remark. When he meets Sophie, he becomes determined to hook up with her and, despite being from very different ends of the social spectrum, he succeeds,

Sophie – Max and Caroline’s new upstairs neighbor, she runs a cleaning service. She is impressed with Max’s work ethic and Caroline’s sense of style. Despite being ashamed of herself, she continues to hook up with Oleg. She has a cottage she is having built in Europe,

And Han – the short proprietor of the Williamsburg Diner, he tries desperately to be hip and cool, and usually fails horribly. He ignites a war with the women of the area when he dramatically raises the price of tampons sold in the lady’s room at the diner.

While the show focuses heavily on Dennings’ Max and Behr’s Channing, they are well-supported by Jonathan Kite, Jennifer Coolidge, Matthew Moy, and Garrett Morris. Kite is relegated to the lowest form of sidekick until the appearance of Coolidge on the staff. As Oleg, Kite is mostly responsible for seeming smarmy. Moy, similarly, is given the role of appearing constantly uncool and he plays that well. Garrett Morris – who it’s always nice to see getting work – does a decent job as Earl, though he is given astonishingly little to do, but appear in the background and make the occasional one-liner. Jennifer Coolidge, then, explodes into the series as Sophie and her appearance brings a spark that had been missing. Far more active than the male cast members, Coolidge brings a zany quality to Sophie that feels fresh and fun.

Even so, it’s impossible to recommend a season that is largely contrived and features talented actors constantly failing to act. Perhaps the second season will be more disciplined and worth adding to the permanent collection, instead of just watching, enjoying, and forgetting about.

For other situational comedies, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Happy Endings - Season 2
The Big Bang Theory - Season 4
30 Rock - Season 4


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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