Of Critics and "2 Broke Girls"

posted Jan 16, 2012, 1:05 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Jan 16, 2012, 1:18 PM ]

Twice a year, critics fly in from all over the country to Pasadena, where the creative community comes face-to-face with those nameless and/or faceless wordsmiths who have either praised their efforts, skewered them mercilessly or fallen somewhere in between.

The winter press tour is a midseason report while the summer tour focuses on the forthcoming fall season. Sessions are generally formatted as a Q&A with a panel of brave broadcasting and cable executives, producers, writers and stars from selected shows that are of some particular interest.

During most sessions, the executives and producers tout how great their shows are, how well they’re performing, how much faith they have in them and how bright the future of their respective networks are. In the meantime, the critics use their questions for informational purposes or to cast a little incredulous darkness on anything they find to be bullshit.

So everyone keeps rather busy during these sessions.

Despite that, most of them tend to run rather drama-free as everyone in the room understands that it is the panelists’ job to make everything sound good and the critics’ job to get closer to the truth.

Things, however, got somewhat contentious during the panel discussion of the first-season CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls according to a recap by hitfix.com. The show has been quite the self-starter, having built upon its How I Met Your Mother lead-in consistently since its premiere. And while CBS touted the pilot last May as its highest testing comedy EVER, it has since come under fire for its frequent vagina jokes and ethnic stereotyping – particularly of the Asian character that owns and operates the diner where the two title girls (Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs) work.

At the center of contention was Co-Creator and Co-Executive Producer (with Whitney’s Whitney Cummings) Michael Patrick King who found himself unable to handle many of the critics’ questions without taking offense, catching an attitude or tossing back a zinger.

As a creative person, I'm not always receptive to criticism – constructive or otherwise. While I can always handle the former much better than the latter, there are a lot of critics (and now bloggers) out there who are more interested in dish and dirt than anything having to do with the shows they are meant to cover. So I understand King’s irritation. I can also understand having to answer a barrage of questions about the same general topic that many in attendance seemed to jump on just because it proved to be a sore spot for King.

At the same time, King did himself no favors with many of his responses. They just didn’t sit well. When asked about the stereotyping and prevalence of ethnic jokes, King replied that they were “equal opportunity offenders”.

There was a time where I didn’t roll my eyes at that approach to comedy, but in recent years it has become, for the most part, carte blanche in many minds to just say and do whatever they want. It’s a flawed mentality to believe that no one should get offended at anything just because everyone is fair game. I may be black but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to get offended by how an Asian is portrayed onscreen or that I’m going to be okay with a black joke that’s followed by an Asian joke.

King then tried to put a bright spin on it by pointing out the representation of so many races on the show.

Nice try.

I often cringe at how the Asian character of Han (Matthew Moy) is portrayed in the show. With specific regard to this, King noted that there have been no jokes about his ethnicity in the last three episodes filmed because now they’re making short jokes.  

That makes it all better.

None of that was to say there wouldn’t be more ethnic jokes. King was asked about whether or not he should be making such jokes, so he pointed out the fact that he’s gay and incorporates gay stereotypes all the time but takes no offence because he finds it comical to take everybody down.

King was then asked if his status as an oppressed minority gave him the right to make fun of every other oppressed minority, to which he responded, “being a comedy writer gives you permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what people think about other people.”

Including himself, it seems.

I give the critics credit for calling King out on some of what came across to me in the article as bullshit, but here’s where they went wrong:

Though their intent may have been to identify parts of the show that they don’t like so that they’ll live up to the parts that they do like, they seemed to forget that 2 Broke Girls is not a 30 Rock or a Modern Family. Nor is it trying to be.

I wasn’t sold on 2 Broke Girls early on. I found nothing of interest in either the concept or the casting of the leads. Once I gave the show a chance, I discovered that its premise is classic “Odd Couple” with an established goal to save up enough money from their waitressing jobs to establish a cupcake business. It’s a bawdy comedy in the vain of its lead-out Two and a Half Men -- an identity that was clear from the get-go. Watching the show on that level is far more enjoyable than picking away at its shortcomings.

But the critics at the panel session (and any critics in general) who point out the low-brow humor and one-note supporting characters seem to be watching the show at a level it’s not trying to attain. 2 Broke Girls knows what it is. Creators and Executive Producers King and Cummings know what the show is (although the same can’t really be said for Cumming’s other sitcom Whitney).

A lot of critics don’t seem to have the same understanding. Should they ever come to it, they will be able to enjoy the show much more. Though there isn’t always an accounting for viewers’ tastes (witness Jersey Shore and the Kardashians), they seem to get it and 10 million-plus viewers each week can’t necessarily be all that wrong.

If the panel was for 30 Rock or Modern Family, which has always and is now expected to operate on a higher plane, then much of the critics’ concern about the underdeveloped supporting characters, crass one-liners and occasional cheap jokes would be warranted.

However, it’s clear that the minority characters Han, Earl and Oleg aren’t generally meant to service the main plot as much as to comment on it or provide comedy business aside from it. Perhaps that’s the critics’ issue. They want more from a show that won’t give it to them.

Which is my issue with the critics. Some shows are what they are and should be reviewed accordingly. Other shows aim to be a 30 Rock or a Modern Family. Those are the ones that should be more heavily scrutinized because they’ll have more room and desire to improve. 2 Broke Girls is the show it’s going to be – and it can be downright funny.