03 November 2011

2 Broke Girls, 1 Ambiguously Offensive Show

Usually I spend the beginning of the television season writing about all the shows I'm excited to see both returning and new. This season there was definitely lots to be excited for but given my already full television schedule, I was hesitant to commit to any particular show before viewing it.

The first night that How I Met Your Mother returned 2 Broke Girls came on as well and I just kind of rolled into it. The conceit of the show is pretty simple: Max, played by Kat Dennings is a working class waitress with a talent for making delicious cupcakes. Caroline, a rich Upper East Sider is forced to work in Max's Williamsburg dive diner after her money is seized by the IRS due to her father's Ponzi scheme falling apart and the two of them are saving to open their own cupcake shop. Easy, peasy. I was immediately drawn to Dennings' ballsy irreverence. And surprisingly, Beth Behrs' Caroline is pretty charming.

Broke Girls has been criticized for it's less than flattering portrayal of the Brooklyn hipsters but what I find more disturbing is the show's subtle insinuation that anyone who isn't a White, American and "normal" is lesser or wrong. It's hard because while I'm cheering on Denning's portrayal of this working class woman and Behrs' compelling rich-girl comeuppance and redemption, I'm also struck by the stock side characters and what they represent in the overall schema of the show.

 In the diner the two girls work at there are three male characters who are identified largely through their ethnicities. There's the often emasculated and overly accented Chinese diner owner, Han. The sassy, jazz musician and counter man, Earl, played by the venerable Garrett Morris. And finally there's Oleg, the skeevy Russian short order cook who hits on Max and Caroline incessantly. These characters mainly serve to add some color and some off-color comments that provide the laugh track with something to do. But although Max flirts with Earl, Han is hopelessly in love with Caroline and Oleg has been begging for some since the pilot we are definitely meant to understand that these men are not there for more than the purposes of a few chuckles. They are definitely never going to get the girl or any respect. In fact the only male character that has interested the girls is Max's friend, Johnny, who despite his decidedly hipsterish look is apparently okay because he's an artiste. Oh and he's White.

Now where this begins to become even more insidious was after last night's episode. The girls decide to take a decorative baking class after a local coffee shop refuses to place an order because their cupcakes aren't "pretty" enough. Again, I'm torn. While the show makes a good point about our tendency as a society to buy things cause they look good and define "pretty" in a rather narrow way, the show also relegates the two baking teachers to bitches and it's largely because of their Jersey Italian accents and Snooki-like behavior. Believe me, I'm no Jersey Shore apologist but it occurs to me that in an effort to make our girls the heroes, they are often set against these stereotypical figures. Similarly, the owner of the coffee shop is a dreadlocked hippie-yoga White woman who calls herself Semrah. Again, all things that make me laugh when it seems like everyone else on the show is other-ed or otherwise villainized for not being "normal". The Jersey girls are over the top bitchy and painted as caricatures. Semrah is just a hippy poseur so her critique of Max's cupcakes is immediately dismissed. Personally, I think the show is much stronger when it shows Max and Caroline overcoming their own personal demons and biases rather than going up against the physical embodiment of stereotypes that are outdated and overplayed. It's a sitcom so I'm not expecting every episode to be a Very Special Episode, but relying on overused tropes is not going to win this show any more viewers. And some may already be turning away.

No comments: