The New Destitution
by DAYNA EVANS
2 Broke Girls
creators Michael Patrick King & Whitney Cummings
Not that anybody asked for it, but TV has finally filled an empty hole in the Monday night lineup with a hipster, Ponzi-scheme, young white female buddy comedy for the recession era. 2 Broke Girls stars Kat Dennings as the sarcastic “no funny business” Brooklynite Max, and Beth Behrs as Caroline, a washed-up Sex and the City rich girl.
Caroline is a lively but sharp Wharton grad (yawn) who has been rendered penniless by her father’s Ponzi scheme mistakes and now seeks validation from the only person who will begrudgingly have her. The pair toil as waitresses at a cheesy nondescript diner that Max would never actually work at if she were in fact a hipster Brooklynite. Chanel-baubled Caroline wouldn’t bother hailing a cab over the bridge to make poor-people jokes. Poor Max! As if her eight-packed boyfriend who strangely resembles the lead singer of Maroon 5 and the greasy Russian sex offending line cook didn’t cause her enough trouble, she now has a third nuisance to interrupt her already sorrowful life. Make that four — Caroline comes with a pet horse named Chestnut.
The two end up living together in what will be known in television history as the world’s largest broke-girl New York City apartment with the exception of Rachel and Monica's apartment on Friends. When she isn’t working at the diner, Max bakes cupcakes (sold for $1.50 — a savvy entrepreneur she is not) and nannies for a rich Manhattanite because cupcakes and nannying simply don’t seem to want to die in film and TV executives’ views of young-sassy-hip contemporary culture.
Poor Caroline in her new destitution is forced to endure the “smell” of Brooklyn, whatever the hell that could be given the fact that Brooklyn is larger than a square yard and can be as fragrant as a powder room in a townhouse on Gossip Girl, which it is important to note, is filmed in the great big smelly borough. Due to Caroline’s desire to return to wealth and unconvincing need to help Max reduce her level of snark, which she interprets as “bad self-esteem,” a business model is established to sell — but what else? — cupcakes.
The two require only $250,000 and if the viewer can try to make it to the end of each episode, an amount pops up on the screen to notify us of how much startup cash they earned. As it turns out, the curiosity to see this number go up or plummet down bears the weight of the entire show’s intrigue. That and the hopes to see the eight pack of Max's now ex-boyfriend just one more time.
Despite Max’s blazers, lipstick, and vintage t-shirts — such as the oversize Run DMC shirt she wears to bed — the show feels like it is written by people too old to actually “get it” or worse, too Manhattan to have ever set foot in the borough of Brooklyn. One can imagine a conference room and a white board on which buzzwords are splayed in geometric and sharp handwriting: Coldplay, fedoras, tweet, kale, beanies, riding the subway, plaid. I mean, Coldplay? That meeting was already off to a disastrous start if they think that self-identifying Brooklyn hipsters are actually listening to Coldplay.
The humor written for Dennings’ character takes a stab at “edgy” when she drops bombs about masturbating and drug dealing, but it doesn’t work when her counterpart reacts with sheer horror and naivete.
The two have a falling out by the second episode when Max’s boyfriend hits on Caroline. In a moment of sitcom catharsis, they scream what the viewer is supposed to be digesting without scripted help: that all the qualities that make them so wildly different and thus more endearing will magically transform them into besties. It is as annoying as it sounds. Once the two kiss and make up by way of drunken late-night apology, Max is all of a sudden out buying Caroline organic juices and expressing interest in their “business.” Girl fights can all be resolved over a little cleansing pomegranate wheatgrass nu-health blend, you know?
Only five minutes into the third episode of the series, Max and Caroline, counting their tips at the diner after closing, have an extended conversation about facebook. We learn that Max does not check hers because she has no interest in seeing people update their statuses about the weather. Though this joke feels like a natural thing that two young women might talk about, the moment lasts too long and it is ruined. When Max and Caroline go shopping, as newly cemented besties are wont to do, and Max finds a “dope Strokes tee” at Goodwill, this marks both the first time Caroline has been to a thrift store and the first time the words “dope Strokes tee” have been uttered since 2001 or — scratch that — ever.
Physically, the two are mismatched and unnatural together. There is the weird way that Max talks while holding her hand over her belly and Caroline’s tendency to mug and gesture violently about as Max deadpans, unmoving. It's not that the chemistry isn’t there — between them, there is a determinate energy. But it is the energy between two people who simply would never be friends, making the moments when they are being girlfriend-y severely uncomfortable to watch and believe. Caroline enters the living room of their apartment wearing short-shorts and stilettos, booty-dancing to Nelly’s "Hot In Herre," which she sings with an inexplicable Latina lilt. Max makes a face that isn’t so much "Ugh, you're so not like me!" as much as it is registered indifference.
At a bar, we are introduced to JPEG, Max’s bartender/street artist friend who is the variety of attractive man fit for a rodeo in the Midwest, not a bar in New York. To mask this poor casting, he wears a pair of black Buddy Holly frames and a T-shirt with numbers on it. If that man is a street artist, then I am a marine biologist.
After one more catty fight over something more mundane than the last, we see Max’s soul for the first time, which has been glaringly and intentionally absent as a cheap way of showing how totally jaded she is. She slinks into their backyard, finds a shovel, and takes Chestnut for a walk as a favor to Caroline. While they walk, she talks to the horse lovingly and the animal nuzzles her in response. Her hand grips the shovel and the depth of Max’s feelings about her friendship with Caroline is revealed in hushed tones between young woman and quadruped. They reach a vacant lot, brick walls emblazoned with graffiti, and the horse relieves himself while Max waits, taking in the smells of Brooklyn.
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