Every so often, we’ll take a look at two similar shows, old or new, and discuss their respective merits and flaws. This week, two new comedies centered around young, hip girls — FOX’s New Girl and CBS’s 2 Broke Girls. Next week, we’ll pit The Playboy Club and Pan Am against one another.
I think I’m over Zooey Deschanel. I know it’s blasphemous to say, and I’ll risk the little credibility I have, but she just doesn’t do it for me anymore. In 2009, sure, I would have fallen head over heels for a pilot starring everyone’s favorite Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But that was then, and this is now. We’re two years past the storm of Zooey-related fervor surrounding 500 Days of Summer, and whatever goodwill she had after that has been completely lost on me while watching FOX’s New Girl.
If only New Girl were the only pilot this year featuring a would-be indie princess, but alas, we have CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, a show I was admittedly very excited for, in no small part to the wonderful Kat Dennings, who has been relegated to supporting roles for too long and is destined for greatness. 2 Broke Girls won’t get her there.
While both of these pilots are fairly middling, and don’t do much for the comedy genre, there’s potential in both, and leads strong enough to potentially build competent series out of each.
Of the two, New Girl has less potential, but it’s not by a wide margin. The entirety of New Girl’s appeal will ride on your ability to tolerate Deschanel, which for most people, will make this appointment viewing. FOX knows this, and the entirety of the promotional materials for this show rest on her charms. A less-jaded viewer than myself might immediately fall in love with her character, Jess, whose brutal breakup in the opening scene leads her to move in with three men desperate for a roommate…
…but I found her as grating as any lead I’ve seen in recent memory. For most Deschanel fans, a half-hour of her signature quirk will be a dream come true, but I’m not buying her shtick this time. Perhaps it’s the overload of the indie dreamgirl in pop culture since 500 Days of Summer, but it’s not as winning as it once was.
Sadly, the rest of the cast is left to scavenge for screen time while orbiting Deschanel’s enormous presence. The three actors playing Jess’s roommates are given little to service their characters, and all come off as caricatures of horny masculinity— Heartbroken Horny, Sporty Horny, and Horny Horny all come out to play in the pilot. It’s a shame, as the actors involved are particularly talented when given the right material.
(Damon Wayans, Jr. had to leave the show after the pilot to return to Happy Endings, a show that will likely service his talents better, but his presence will be sorely missed.)
All in all, New Girl is a tough show to gauge. Deschanel could dial herself down in the coming weeks and provide a nice complement to her male peers, and vice versa. As for now, though, it’s nowhere near the worst pilot I’ve seen this year, but it’s no champion, either. Maybe most importantly, the show is an especially weird fit between Glee and Raising Hope, which could cause it some timeslot woes.
Over at CBS, 2 Broke Girls, another classic CBS multi-camera sitcom, is a perfect fit between How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. Even though I forgot how much I can enjoy a good laugh track, it appears to merely be CBS’s latest attempt at proving it’s more than a network for your great-aunt’s “stories” and NCIS. Perhaps that’s why 2 Broke Girls comes off as so tactless about its taboo subjects. In its effort to remain relevant, CBS is using the risqué subject matter that made Two and a Half Men a hit and cranking it up a few notches.
Other shows do this same trick incredibly well. In fact, FX has made an entire business of having characters say and do shocking and deplorable things. Maybe it’s just the fact that in a world after It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, networks trying to be hip by playing on the word “coming” and yuk-yuking at “clam chowder” appears more and more forced.
It’s a shame, too, because two names attached to 2 Broke Girls should make it a knockout. Creator Whitney Cummings’ stand-up is a master class in the kind of raunch the pilot aims for, but maybe CBS’s censors blocked some of the more biting portions of her script, leaving us with a watered-down version. I have high hopes, though, despite the script. That’s entirely thanks to Dennings.
Playing Max, a headstrong waitress at a Brooklyn diner, Dennings kills even the most hackneyed material. She’s a comedic tour de force, and she finds a surprisingly strong foil in Beth Behr’s Caroline, a socialite victimized by a ponzi scheme and forced to work in the same diner. The first half of the pilot comes off beyond strained — largely due to the supporting cast, which may cover almost every ethnic stereotype we’d come to expect from the mid-1980s. Even Dennings’ dialogue, while solidly delivered, sometimes borders on forced, as is the case during her opening exchange with some “hipsters,” which would have felt more en vogue back when people were still talking about “hipsters.”
One-note supporters aside, the two titular girls are serviced greatly in the pilot’s great back half. In fact, they’re so well-developed by the end of the pilot that I genuinely buy that not only could this show work, but that the writers could find enough for the entire cast to work with and create something special. I’m highly intrigued by the final twist, which could give these girls some true legs as a modern day Laverne and Shirley. If there’s anyone that could do it, it’s Dennings.
It’s always tough to judge a comedy pilot — the cogs for success are rarely in place, and many variables still exist, most prominently any character development that will occur. It’s awfully difficult to develop a lead within 22 minutes, let alone a whole cast — but it’s easy to at least service the peripheral characters. While both New Girl and Two Broke Girls do a fine job creating believable leads, the worlds around them are as cringe-worthy as network comedy can be in a post-Outsourced world.
Their respective casts aside, I see more longevity in 2 Broke Girls’ premise, and I can see us being around Max and Caroline for a long time. New Girl is less confident in itself beyond Deschanel’s inherent(?) charm, but it has a bench deep enough to keep itself relevant if the writers do their job well enough.
If I have to choose (which I probably don’t) I’ll be keeping a close eye on 2 Broke Girls, and unless something drastic occurs, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic about New Girl. Expect semi-regular updates on both. In a surprisingly strong year for comedy pilots, these two shows don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but then again, nobody asked them to.
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