The best sitcoms are the ones that are just relatable enough to be reasonably realistic, making you care enough about the characters to overlook the exaggerated ridiculousness of the situations they get themselves into. However, 2 Broke Girls’s Max Black (Kat Dennings) and Caroline Channing (Beth Behrs) are too bitterly sardonic and snobbishly whiny, respectively, to ever become endearing enough to sustain viewers’ interest. Although its first season showed promise, now in its fourth year and renewed for a fifth, 2 Broke Girls has lost momentum and seems to be on its way to comedy bankruptcy.
Sitcoms are not necessarily known for their compelling plots and intricate storylines, and the format of the genre itself is intended to be repeatable, but 2 Broke Girls takes it to the point of tedious redundancy. It’s not surprising, given the limitations of the premise: two roommates from drastically different ways of life struggle together to make ends meet. Max, who grew up in poverty and makes repeated yet brief and conspicuously unaddressed references to what by all accounts sounds like a psychologically traumatic childhood, is the streetwise and sassy one. Caroline, however, the daughter of a now-disgraced and imprisoned multi-millionaire, was brought up in the lap of luxury and struggles to adjust to and accept her new working-class life.
Holding down multiple jobs, sometimes of the odd variety, and cracking jokes in the face of despondency with the wacky gang at their one stable gig, a diner where they never seem to do any work yet never seem to risk being fired, the princess and the pauper get thrown together to deal with some outrageous situations, and hilarity should ensue, right?
Unfortunately, the concept proves to be too strained to last as long as 2 Broke Girls has, its value instead depreciating into a barely funny, repetitious show that relies almost exclusively on tired re-hashings of the same jokes: the owner of the diner, Han (Matthew Moy), is short, sexually inexperienced, and ambiguously gay; the cook, Oleg (Jonathan Kite) is smelly, unhygienic pervert; and the cashier, Earl (Garrett Morris) is an elderly man with failing vision and an affinity for marijuana. You can only make so many jokes about these various qualities, yet the writers of 2 Broke Girls continue to try, often unsuccessfully.
The dialogue is often forced and only minimally resembles actual conversation, instead taking the form of endless one-liners, with shaky set-ups sometimes thrown in between. All of the actors deliver their punchy and often strained quips, frequently only tangentially related to the scenario, with the same overstated sarcasm in clear anticipation of the pauses needed to insert the overused laugh track. The reactions of the actors not delivering the punch lines are also bafflingly formulaic, Behrs’s response to every joke, for example, no matter the context, is always a bemused half-chuckle, often ignoring direct insults at her character’s expense.
While Kat Dennings has brought a sense of wry playfulness to the Thor movie franchise as Jane’s sharp-tongued consort Darcy with her wisecracking banter, and is a passably charismatic leading lady in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), her deadpan delivery of every punchline, followed by her tepid grin and characteristic head nod, loses its charm when echoed repeatedly as one of the only would-be sources of humor for an entire series, particularly because of the rest of the actors seem to follow her lead in their performances.
The other moderately prominent actress, Jennifer Coolidge, a regular in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary films and also known for her prominent roles in such films as American Pie and Legally Blonde, plays a dramatic and supposedly Polish woman with an unrecognizable accent. According to the laugh track, she is supposed to be the Fonzie of the group, as her “grand” entrance each episode paired with her “catchphrase” “Hay, everybahdy!” is always met with cheers and applause. Her character does inject some humor into the show, particularly when she highlights her self-absorption, slow-wittedness, and lack of taste, but she is so strangely out of place due to her extravagance and disconnection from the goings-on of the rest of the cast that her presence never fully makes sense, even as she takes a more prominent yet contrived role in the direction of the storyline through her torrid relationship with Oleg.
Although puns are standard fare for many sitcoms and can be done well, the jokes in 2 Broke Girls rely almost exclusively on the bad variety. In one episode, Max briefly wears an eyepatch due to an injury and pretends to be “the pirate queen of the subway,” afterwards justifying it by saying “well, no one arrgh-ued with us”. Hardy har. Additionally, the sense of humor is chiefly built on sexual innuendo and racial slurs, often forced and insipid, with frequent jabs at gay and lesbian stereotypes that are sometimes lewd and sometimes outright distasteful.
The moments that might elicit some giggles are few and far between, and they usually involve some kind of pop culture reference, or a pointed and sometimes pointless criticism. This commentary is just current enough to at least make viewers think about laughing, including naming a bland, lazy kitten after Amy Adams, and Max exclaiming that, upon discovering her boy toy is only 18-years-old and has never heard of Blockbuster Video, he’s been alive less time than Caitlyn Jenner has been a woman. Although such moderately humorous instances of relevant cultural critique do increase as the season progresses, they are not enough to save a sitcom so otherwise comedically impoverished.
The bonus features in this box set aren’t much of a bonus, comprised of a few deleted scenes that didn’t need to be un-deleted and a mildly funny gag reel that shows that these actors have good on-set chemistry on set and may actually be funny if left to their own devices and unconstrained by the stale dialogue. All in all, though, season four of 2 Broke Girls shows that this sitcom’s ending is past due. Its value has depreciated since its promising debut, and is not worth much to viewers anymore. 2 Broke Girls has been drawn out, and now its balance is overdrawn.