I want badly for Kat Dennings to have a great career, and have ever since she stole The 40 Year Old Virgin away from the movie’s adults every time she was on screen. It was frustrating watching her play second banana to the leaden Natalie Portman in Thor, and I really hope she breaks the streak in 2 Broke Girls, a show that, among other things, seems to be about the Bernie Madoff scandal and small business ownership, as well as about the gentrification of Brooklyn.
That gentrification thing, first. Part of Michael Patrick King’s schtick in Sex and the City was giving the sense that he was ahead of the curve on New York Trends: the show helped create the country-wide sense of the Meatpacking District as cool and cupcakes as a thing. But 2 Broke Girls feels like it’s desperately trying to catch up and prove its cred. Max’s (Dennings) monologue that’s been all over the trailer — “I wear knit hats when it’s cold out, you wear knit hats because of Coldplay. You have tattoos to piss off your dad. My dad doesn’t know he’s my dad.” — is both unfunny and a couple of years ago. Only the final, dry line about how unaroused her customers’ rude behavior makes her has any sting. Similarly, Max’s lament that “The cliental used to be all Eastern Bloc criminals and crack whores, but then he took it over and ruined it,” would be funny if Brooklyn wasn’t already so ridiculously gentrified and if there wasn’t something a little bit weird about treating folks from the former Soviet Union as they’re all sleazy, slutty crooks.
Then, there’s the Madoff thing. Caroline, Max’s blonde foil, is the daughter of a Madoff-like con artist named Martin Channing, and apparently, we are supposed to feel sorry for her, even though my reactions trended much more towards Max’s. I feel some pity for Mark Madoff, who finally figured out his father’s fraud, reported it, and eventually committed suicide as the investigation into Madoff’s frauds mounted. But I find it a lot harder to feel pity for someone who just totally missed that her lavish lifestyle was financed by extensive white-collar crime, and who very belatedly is having her first experience with the idea that people have to work to support themselves. And the show overcompensates by making Max’s other boss, a Manhattan socialite, so pathologically stupid it’s impossible to imagine how anyone stands to be in the same room as her. She’s a walking hathos alert.
All of that said, I think this show has potential. Dennings is very good about keeping her character from becoming sour; in 22 minutes, she’s stressed, seduced, warm and wry. Beth Behrs, who plays Caroline, may be stuck with some unfortunately high-concept characterization, but she’s got a nice way around a line reading, whether she’s telling Max’s loser boyfriend to get up out of her Chanel when he tries to hit on her, or coming up with a new business plan on the spot. That last bit is the smartest thing in the show: the frame device for at least the first season looks like it’s going to be Caroline and Max working together to save the start-up capital to earn a bakery. It both feels timely—the recession prompts people towards alternative jobs and start-ups—and a good character synthesis. Max is hustling, but so exhausted she doesn’t have the energy to put together a bigger plan, and Caroline is irrepressible enough to give her the kick she needs, even as she needs Max to keep her honest and from doing things like stealing the extra money she’s charging for cupcakes. That’s a great, sturdy setup, if the writing calms down a bit. And if the show stops making bad jokes about people getting raped at Duke.