Two and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls (19\9\2011)
Coming right on the heels of the two episodes of How I Met Your Mother (which you can find reviewed in full on the site) on Monday came two big episodes of comedy for CBS. First up was...
Two and a Half Men - 901 - Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt
As you are no doubt aware, Charlie Sheen left the show earlier this year in the least pleasant way possible. So it was no surprise that Chuck Lorre and company chose to send off the character Charlie with as much abuse as they could. I was relieved when Alan had his little tender moment with the urn. I wondered if the creative team were feeling so vindictive that they would ignore the storyline reality of Charlie just to stick it to Mr Sheen.
Ashton Kutcher (Sheen's replacement) then walked in to essentially fill Sheen's shoes and change nothing about the show. And I mean literally nothing. I don't need to watch anymore to see that although he is a different character, Walden is going to fill the space occupied by Charlie exactly. He is going to be successful with women, mock Alan albeit in a nicer way, bond with Jake, amuse Roberta and so on. I liked Kutcher. He is effortlessly charming and the writers have wisely made him seem a little dim just as he was on That 70s Show.
But I was amused by his instant success with women at Alan's expense. The producers could not have made it clearer that they want nothing to change. The episode did a monster rating of 27 million or so which is practically double what the show normally does. The question will be whether the show drops dramatically next episode or not. I suspect that the audience will go back to its regular numbers of around 15 million. Why would anyone care that Charlie Sheen has gone when the humour will be identical? I guess we will see if it really was Charlie that kept people interested in the same jokes being told over and over again.
Following that and with the biggest lead-in audience it could ever hope for was new comedy
2 Broke Girls - 101 - Pilot
Which was a genuinely confusing comedy. Never has a show so cried out for my system of breaking things down into "The Good" and "The Bad."
In case you don't know 2 Broke Girls is about Max, a waitress at a diner in Brooklyn who takes crap from no one and works very hard to make a living. She is soon joined by Caroline, a pampered Manhattan socialite whose father has lost all the families money. Caroline is useless at waitressing but has a keen business brain and the two eventually become friends. It's also worth pointing out that the show is a good old fashioned punch line driven, audience laughter filled multi camera sit com.
On the good side both leads come across well. Max (Kat Dennings) is excellent in her role and is written well. The way she treated some of her co-workers and particularly the way she was affectionate to her boyfriend really felt real. She seemed to understand that even though this is a comedy with laugh lines you still need to act like a real person. The dialogue backed her up most of the time and some of her conversations with Caroline were very engaging.
Caroline (Beth Behrs) was less good but will grow into the role I suspect. The writers seemed conflicted on whether they wanted her to be the ditzy blonde or the spunky business student. Her performance had to follow the script and so was uneven but when she played the spunky side she was just fine. It really helped that the episode ended with her turning the tables and suddenly giving Max a pep talk about their lives. It gave her character a real backbone and sense of strength.
I also really appreciated the dollar sign counter which ended the episode showing how much the girls had earned. That could be a fun gimmick to watch as it goes up and potentially down during their struggles. That sense of struggle is perhaps the best part of the pilot. You get the sense that the writers have understood how to set up a sit com that people will want to watch. The girls are going somewhere and their friendship will be built on their mutual need to make money.
Now here comes the bad. The supporting characters were awful. Awful! The three other diner employees were the lamest racial stereotypes imaginable. A quipping black guy, a sleazy European cook and a Chinese boss who can't pronounce his Rs. Seriously? In a comedy that cast two young empowered women as its leads these seemed like incredibly backward choices. Then we had the rich Manhattan mom who Max babysits for who was beyond a caricature. Imagine a joke about a rich woman who can't take care of her children. I bet your version is not as exaggerated as this woman. Even a chubby woman on the subway turns out to be gay just after Max bumped lips with her. What a coincidence!
Max' boyfriends friends play a stereotype too and he sleazes it up Jersey Shore style. Those characters are part of a script which jams in loads of punch lines that don't need to be there. It's such a busy pilot and yet we have to have joke after joke after joke. I don't remember laughing once. The sheer number of "here's a silly character, please laugh at them" moments clashed badly with the more serious moments surrounding Max and Caroline. The tone was jumping about all over the place.
As you can tell from the sheer number of smaller characters there was just too much going on. We got to see Max at two jobs, break up with her boyfriend, meet and befriend Caroline and invite her to move in. Those developments could have been paced out over several episodes and then the writers could have concentrated on the humour.
Despite its flaws the show has promise. I hope the writers learn quickly to clear the crap out of the way and let the two leads shine. They certainly have a good timeslot from which to build an audience.