Early-season check-in: 2 Broke Girls

 

Over the next week or so, I’m hoping to check in with a number of the fall’s new series. Most have aired half-dozen or so episodes by now, so it feels like a fine time to see what they’ve improved on, if anything, since the pilot. These pieces won’t be too long, but they will still be good. Obviously. Up next: 2 Broke Girls

I didn’t get to this on Monday night or during the day on Tuesday and that’s my bad because I certainly want to check in on what has become one of the few stand-out hits of the new season. If you can recall back a month-and-a-half, I actually liked the pilot episode of 2 Broke Girls a lot. The premise worked for me and Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs had a fun chemistry that charmed me enough to keep watching.

Unfortunately, continuing to watch led to the fairly miserable experiences that were 2 Broke Girls’ second and third episodes. I’ve long-discussed my willingness to give second episodes free passes because they’re often dedicated entirely to repeating the pilot’s narrative set-up and in the case of a sitcom, following through some of the same comedic beats and bits as well. 2 Broke Girls had those issues in both the second and third episodes, but also struggled because those efforts highlighted the pilot’s most obvious warts, most notably a relatively offensive handling of racial stereotypes and a general hateful glaze. Dennings and Behrs did their best, I just don’t think anything could have saved those first two post-pilot episodes.

Thankfully, the last four episodes, particularly the last three, have suggested 2 Broke Girls isn’t quite ready to be a lost cause. There’s no question that the series still has a troubling viewpoint on how to construct and interrogate racial identity and stereotypes, something a number of critics have addressed over the last few weeks. Michael Patrick King should definitely heed the advice of those very smart people and tone down, nay, completely dissolve the awful racism that permeates 2BG whenever Oleg or Earl are on-screen. I understand that CBS is where unsubtle and surprisingly crude sitcoms go to thrive, but I think that 2 Broke Girls’ racism is more erroneous than Two and a Half Men’s generally sexist and nasty demeanor. They’re both wrong, but 2 Broke Girls is young, maybe we could still save it.

In any event, those still-very-apparent racial issues aside, 2 Broke Girls has turned into a solid way to spend 30 minutes on a Monday night. Max still might be a bit hateful for my liking, but the series has figured out a way to make her sarcasm seem more like a defense mechanism in recent episodes. Her relationship with Nick Zano’s Johnny* has forced Max into situations she’s not comfortable with, which illuminates her awkwardness and reinforces that she uses the constant (and I mean constant) one-liners as a way to keep people at a safe distance – and not just because she chooses to, but because she doesn’t really know how to be friendly.

*I feel like Nick Zano has played the love interest role on every C/B-minus-level sitcom that has aired over the last five years. This might just be my residual What I Like About You memory taking over (that happens so often, you know), but I refuse to believe anything different.

This is a little wrinkle to the character that not only adds depth, but also just intrigues me. Max basically cannot function in social situations. She chews out customers, she makes horrible decisions around guys and is terrified of taking any chance, risk or whatnot that could benefit her in the long-run. And I like that the series isn’t interested in overly-heartwarming moments, but still finds a way to point out the small progress Max is making, mostly with the help of Caroline.

Speaking of Caroline, she has quickly become a much better, more nuanced character in the recent batch of episodes. Even though I was somewhat surprised at how well the pilot did actually stray away from making her seem too stereotypical and cliché, Caroline has progressed nicely over the last few efforts. Max continues to make jokes about her family’s unfortunate financial demise and all the obvious jabs that come with being from a famous, wealthy family are still there, but Caroline herself isn’t actually embodying those stereotypes. She rises above them and has shown a lot of agency, determination and intelligence in her drive to get the cupcake business off the ground. The series isn’t afraid to let Caroline be smart and let Max be the short-sighted fool, something I was certain would be a problem before I ever watched a second of 2 Broke Girls. It’s nice to be surprised sometimes.

And together, Max and Caroline continue to be a festive, feisty duo and Dennings and Behrs’ chemistry has only improved since the pilot. Perhaps most importantly, the characters are friendlier to one another and the sarcastic jousting is positioned as all in good fun. Behrs knows when to sell Denning’s deadpan line delivery and I think the writers are figuring out ways to let Behrs be funny on a consistent basis as well. The rhythms are still a work in progress, but after seven episodes, I’m satisfied with 2 Broke Girls in that regard.

I guess that’s a great way to put how I feel about 2 Broke Girls: satisfied. I see the racial issues. They’re apparently and ugly and just wrong. But it does feel like 2BG is making some progress there and the rest of the series has enough spark and wit to it that I’m willing to let Michael Patrick King figure out how to fix the issues moving forward. 2 Broke Girls isn’t as good as some of the season’s other new comedies (New Girl, Suburgatory), but it’s effectively entertaining, for now.

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