After watching the first five minutes of "2 Broke Girls," the new multi-camera sitcom from Sex and the City producer Michael Patrick King and in-demand comedienne Whitney Cummings, I tried to imagine the pitch meeting that convinced CBS to produce this show.
PRODUCER: So there's this really urban girl, tough as nails, doesn't take crap from anyone. And then she meets this Paris Hilton-type girl, used to be super rich, but her family lost all their money, so now she has to work at a diner.
NETWORK: Interesting. Can the diner be in a 'cool' part of the city? We want to attract young people.
PRODUCER: For sure. We can put the diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Williamsburg is the cool part of Brooklyn. We can call it the Williamsburg Diner.
NETWORK: And then what?
PRODUCER: And then the two girls live together.
NETWORK: Great. And what kind of tone are you thinking?
PRODUCER: We're thinking funny, cool, hip, and young.
NETWORK: OK, we like that. But can it also be broad and for everyone?
PRODUCER: Sure, but don't those two styles seem to contrast?
(Everyone shakes hands)
And that's pretty much the extent of "2 Broke Girls." Throughout the course of the pilot episode, our protagonists (played by Kat Dennings of "Thor" and "Nick and Norah" and newcomer Beth Behrs) utter a string of one-liners so forced that one can't believe they actually got past a team of young writers who live in a modern American city.
Example quip to a hipster in the diner: "I wear knit caps because it's cold out, you wear knit caps because ColdPLAY."
Along the way, we meet a host of ethnic stereotypes straight out of the dusty sitcom playbook. The Asian diner owner (played by Matthew Moy, complete with caricatured accent) is studying for his immigration test and the Russian cook Oleg (Jonathan Kite, ditto) wants to bone all of the waitresses. Former SNL player Garrett Morris plays the diner's cashier, who at one point remarks that Behrs' character is "workin' harder than Stephen Hawking trying to put on a pair of cufflinks."
The whole package is unfortunate because Dennings makes for an especially appealing presence onscreen; she doesn't look like other young starlets her age and she's got the unaffected naturalism down pat. She's fun to watch, but this show gives her nothing to work with and no discernible emotional center.
"I'm dead inside," she says at one point. Which, I guess, is supposed to make young people nod with understanding.
It's an encouraging sign that the pilot was directed by James Burrows, who has helmed episodes of almost every great sitcom of the past 20 years -- "Friends," "Frasier," "NewsRadio," and "Cheers," are among his many credits -- but tonally, this thing is all over the place. It tries to expand on the Judd-Apatow-brand raunch of "Bridesmaids" while simultaneously bogging itself down with broad jokes and characters we thought were left in the 1980s. There's also something deeply unsettling about a raucous laugh track erupting after a line about a dry vagina.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could, as a society, finally agree to ditch the sitcom laugh track once and for all? The studio laughers don't even sound like real human beings anymore, they sound more like reverberating computer-people from some metal room on a far off planet.
"2 Broke Girls" isn't a slog to watch, and a couple jokes actually work quite nicely: A "Temple Grandin" reference was appreciated, and a sight gag at the end involving iced coffee and a horse fared well.
Yet news that the show apparently tested better than any other in CBS's "history" makes me wonder what type of audience it was actually tested for. Perhaps if the team behind this new sitcom can figure out a tone for itself, things can be salvaged here. Dennings, especially, deserves better than this pilot episode. Heck, even hipsters deserve better.