I feel this weird compulsion to apologize for continuing to write about 2 Broke Girls. The show is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely insane: something that’s a massive hit despite the fact that it relies on heavily and genuinely offensive content and that doesn’t necessarily seem to be learning the lessons of its best episodes or best laugh lines. And yet, like Todd VanDerWerff, the good things about it strike me strongly enough at times that I just can’t walk away from it, in part because I believe that if it did get better, it would be a stark rebuke to the show’s early bad impulses, to the idea that terrible racial and ethnic humor and stupid scatology is what sells in 2011.
Which is why I’m glad to hear that Jennifer Coolidge is joining the show as Max and Caroline’s neighbor. Coolidge is spectacularly good at playing roles that are very, very funny precisely because in the hands of another actress, they’d be stupid stereotypes, but that she manages to turn into something far stranger and more specific. In Legally Blonde, her undereducated manicurist could easily be a dumb confidante for Elle, but she imbues the role with a specific rage, and her empowerment feels genuinely triumphant:
In Best in Show, she delivers a vicious parody of gold-digger self-justification—and then, of course, a very funny and unexpected riff on lesbian culture that’s totally unmalicious while still being very much on point:
And it’s not like she’s given a lot to do in the American Pie movies, but even then, the joke is more on people who took up MILFs and cougars as if they were a thing.
That combination of specificity and newness seems to me to be exactly what 2 Broke Girls needs. The problem the show has, across both its endemic racism and its dated hipster references, is a sense that the only way to use stereotypes for comedic effect is to reference. It’s a low order of humorous thinking, and not one that anyone mistakes for sophisticated. But you can riff on stereotypes, and you can puncture the people who rely on them rather than the people who are supposed to exemplify them. 2 Broke Girls could do something clever by having Han end up dating a hipster, for example, simultaneously humanizing them both and dramatically reducing the social capital Max and Caroline get out of demeaning their boss and their neighbors. Having Coolidge as a hard-working neighbor could inject some genuine weirdness into the show’s vision of Brooklyn, while also illustrating the long-term financial struggles Max and Caroline are both facing. I hope it works.