Tuned In

A Second Look At: 2 Broke Girls

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When I previewed the pilot of 2 Broke Girls, I noted that it was essentially two sitcoms that seemed to be fighting for space. One was an odd-couple insult comedy, surprisingly crude for network primetime and crowded with ethnic stereotypes, not-especially-funny zingers and wacky situations (a horse in the backyard!). The other was an appealing–if not as joke-heavy–unlikely-buddy comedy that was trying to say something genuine about what it was like to be young, ambitious and struggling in an expensive city. It was a show that could easily go either of two ways.

I watched the second episode last night, and unfortunately it looks like it’s going the less-good way.

I could spend a lot of time listing the clunky gags and running jokes with diminishing returns (like the pervy cook character). And of course, there were the vomit- and horse-poop jokes (more on that in a minute), which, along with the semen and drying-vagina gags from the pilot, mean that Broke Girls could run out of bodily effluvia to make jokes about by its fourth or fifth episode.

But the larger problem overall was that this just does not feel like a sitcom that knows what it is. The most promising thing about the pilot was the work between Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, and again we saw flashes of that potential, in roughly the last three minutes of this episode. But goodwill for Dennings and Behrs can only earn this sitcom so much time before it turns into, “Man, it’s too bad these actresses have to be in this sitcom.”

Maybe the best way to approach the episode’s problems is to return to the horse crap. The extended scene—which seemed to be an attempt to get to Bridesmaids-style, it’s-so-gross-it’s-hysterical humor without getting there—encapsulated a lot of the show’s problems at once. First: Ew. Second: Like the aforementioned “edgy” jokes from the pilot, this felt forced, like a self-conscious attempt to push boundaries.

Third and most important: the way the gag played out shows that the sitcom doesn’t know, or willfully misunderstands, its characters and setting. The horsecrap in the backyard is set up with Behrs’ character, Caroline, shrugging off the manure smell from the backyard as smelling “like Brooklyn.”

Except it doesn’t. This is not me being defensive about my borough. On a warm, humid day like today, Brooklyn can smell God-awful. But in an entirely different way. It smells like garbage juice and rotting fish and gasoline, depending where you are. Horse manure, on the other hand, stinks, but it stinks like the country. It smells like manure, yes, but even when you smell it in Brooklyn—which you can, all the time, on the trails around Prospect Park—you realize that horse manure smells like the opposite of Brooklyn. (Dog poop–now that’s a different story!)

This is a totally picky point, yes. Except: Caroline would know this. She’s grown up with horses. Arguably, her love of her horse is the single most defining aspect of her character. A show that knew her character would have ditched the joke, even if the writer loved the joke, because it didn’t work. But 2 Broke Girls does not look like a show that ever wants to ditch any joke for any reason.

This matters because the good part of the pilot was good because it was willing to be real. And a good sign of that realness is authenticity of place. Michael Patrick King’s Sex and the City worked in part because it was regionally specific. (With co-creator Whitney Cummings on her own show, King seems to be doing most of the lifting here.) It knew Manhattan, lived Manhattan, breathed it—it knew what was on which corner and what any given neighborhood felt and smelled like. But now King has move to CBS and (figuratively) across the East River, and he’s settled for making a sitcom set in Generic Dirty City-land. And it shows.

I still think 2 Broke Girls can turn things around and prove itself work sticking with. But it needs to show us that it knows its crap.