23rd Jan2013

1 Broke Plot: How 2 Broke Girls Shortened Its Lifespan

by Will

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I don’t care if CBS is the #1 network, there’s something seriously wrong with the pacing of their shows. We don’t even need to get into How I Met Your Mother, as its problems are apparent. It’s funny how it spent its first 3 seasons “on the bubble” of cancellation because a certain CBS exec didn’t like it, and now it just won’t die gracefully. Another problem is the pacing of Two and a Half Men. In the span of 1.5 seasons, Ashton Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt has gone through a divorce and had 2 serious girlfriends. The show has successfully weathered the departure of Charlie Sheen, but it seems like they’re throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. I mean, the Sheen era also had this problem (what exactly happened with his engagement to Chelsea?), but it’s more pronounced here. My biggest issue, however, is with 2 Broke Girls. I had a discussion on Twitter about it the other day, and the other party acted like I was pulling this out of my ass. If nothing else, I am a student of television. I understand the format and the business side of things. Plainly put, 2 Broke Girls rushed its main plot point so quickly that there really isn’t anywhere left for it to go.

In case you’ve never seen it, the show follows former socialite Caroline Channing, whose father has just gone to jail for some Bernie Madoff-like crimes. She’s blacklisted and penniless, and with nowhere to turn she finds herself under the wing of Max, a tough gal who’s sensitive under her brash exterior. If that wasn’t enough, Max is really great at baking, and dreams of one day opening her own shop. Caroline, who happens to be a Wharton grad, decides that her business sense and Max’s talent make the perfect combination. They’ll open a shop together, but in the meantime, they work at a local diner filled with colorful stereotypes. There are two conceits at work here: Caroline has to learn to live within her lesser means AND the girls have to struggle toward making their dream happen. To drive home the latter, the show always ended with an updated total of how much they’d saved toward their ultimate goal. This total also took into account losses, such as unexpected costs or bad investments. Kinda like Pokemon, it was nice to have a real-time figure, but it also made you realize that they had their work cut out for them. Then, they threw it all out the window.

In the first half of this, its second season, the girls have already established their cupcake shop. Did they win the lottery? No. Did Caroline’s dad have a secret stash of cash? No. Did they sell Caroline’s horse? No. You see, Caroline happened to find a newly vacant shop (which seems to have been the site of a murder, considering all the blood splattered on the walls), and she decides that now is the time to strike. Even though they only had something in the low four figures saved up, they manage to get $10,000 from Jennifer Coolidge’s Sophie. It still isn’t clear whether that was a loan or a gift, but the main point is that they now have their shop, while still juggling shifts at the diner. Why now? Where was the struggle? Sure, it’s not an instant success, so they’re still struggling, but it has creatively painted itself into a corner. They simply didn’t have the financial wherewithal to take this step and, in the real world, their business would fail. So, are we to look for another deus ex machina to keep their shop open?

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A typical sitcom has a lifespan between 5 and 7 years. Using that measure, the “getting the shop” development shouldn’t happen until the end of season 3/premiere of season 4. Then, you can turn your attention to the whole “Man, running a shop is harder than we thought” angle. It may not seem apparent, but this rush job has changed the main goal of the show. What began as “We want to open a cupcake shop” has now become “We want to run a successful cupcake business”. These are NOT the same thing; though subtle, there’s a big difference there. It’s the same thing I think of when I say that the show is called How I Met Your Mother and NOT How I Met My Wife (I still think there’s a reason for that). Also, the rushed timeline has cost the show certain aspects of character development. It had been criticized for the stereotypes of the other diner employees, but they were still important parts of the show. Someone had to understand that the shop would move Max and Caroline away from that world, but they seem to want to have their cupcake and eat it too. It’s so forced, like , “Hey, our manager from our other job just happened to be walking by our shop and came in to visit!” The diner folks may have been downplayed in an attempt to steer away from controversy, but the show is lesser without that interaction, as one-note as it may have been. Also, I don’t feel like Caroline was really experienced poverty enough. I mean, there were a lot of early season 1 episodes involving her discovering the Goodwill and other things, but she seems to have forgotten that she’s poor. In fact, she seems kinda OK with it. I think they could’ve squeezed a little more out of that aspect – at least through the end of season 2.

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Let’s talk about Caroline for a bit. When the show started, it was driven by sharp-tongued Kat Dennings, whose every line was some baudy double entendre. This season, however, the focus has been more on Caroline, which I think is probably the only good development of the season so far. That said, we still don’t know a lot about Caroline’s motivations. Most of her time has been spent trying to get laid, which then developed into new, yet ill-fated, love. Fine, but let’s look at the lifestyle aspect. Caroline really has no reason to stick with Max. Sure, she’s been somewhat blacklisted, but she’s still a Wharton grad, so there’s got to be something better for her out there. She was abandoned right after her father’s trial, but enough time has passed by now that she could move on if she really wanted to. No, I understand that she stays with Max because Max was all that she had when the upper crust of society turned its back on her. I get that. Still, outside of the dream of running a business, there’s not a lot to Max & Caroline’s friendship. After all, it was Max’s dream – Caroline just latched on because she saw a way to reinvent herself. At the same time, there’s this odd couple aspect that is being completely ignored currently. They come from two separate worlds, and by all rights, shouldn’t be friends. This is where the twitter disagreement came from, as the other party thought I was crazy for saying that Caroline wouldn’t be friends with Max due to her education and financial background. That’s exactly what I’m saying – your circle of friends tends to be governed by your socioeconomic status. There can be exceptions, but you’re not typically hanging out with millionaires unless you are one. Caroline kinda uses Max for her street smarts, but that relationship doesn’t go both ways. Now, Max isn’t exactly the most receptive audience, but I think the show could benefit from more culture clash, if only to prolong the conceit of working towards the shop.

So, the main question is WHY the rush job? What possessed the writers to rush the timeline on the cupcake shop? I’ve often thought that it was an odd time for Kat Dennings to sign on for a television series. Sure, it’s steady work/pay, but her star was just starting to rise in movies. She wasn’t Natalie Portman, but she’d done some good, snarky supporting work, and starred in Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist. It seemed like an odd time to theoretically devote yourself to 5-7 years of a show, where you could only do movies during season breaks. So, are they rushing things because she’s got an itch to get back to movies? Also, keep in mind that the show was co-created by Whitney Cummings. It’s not clear whether or not the Max character was written with Whitney in mind, as she was already committed to her self-titled NBC show. Still, Max’s “voice” is clearly Whitney’s, so I wonder if Dennings was more of a stand-in choice. There are enough clues to show that this wasn’t how the show was meant to unfold. For instance, they borrow the money from Sophie – a character who wasn’t even originally part of the show. Jennifer Coolidge was added early on as a subtle retooling of the show, but she wasn’t even a thought when the pitch was made. Now, I don’t expect that Whitney and Michael Patrick King had the entire series mapped out; Hell, even 24 was written 6 episodes at a time. I just feel like something happened behind the scenes, either at the studio or network level, that made the show speed up to where it is now.

As it stands, I don’t really want to watch the show anymore. I know that a lot of my Twitter pals don’t like it, but it’s not a bad show. I think the “cult status” world has gotten too comfortable with Arrested Development and Community that they just can’t deal with the multicam sitcom anymore. I get that, but I’m old fashioned. I like the characters and the dialogue (to think, people used to think Married…with Children was edgy!). Still, a lot of what made the show interesting was the struggle. These chicks were below the poverty line, but they were struggling towards a dream. Instead, they jumped on the first opportunity to come along, and got the funding out of nowhere. In my mind, they didn’t earn the shop yet. I know someone’s reading this and saying, “Will, it’s not real. It’s a TV show.” Yeah, I know, but there’s a science to these things. Right now, there are two ways to play it: they could lose the shop, causing them to have to start over. This would be a bad move, because they’ve already blown their “we got the shop” wad. OR they could continue to struggle, and eventually break even. At this point, though, that’s the path of a 5-season show, max (Which will still get it to syndication). We live in a different time, where maybe you can’t depend on getting 7 seasons anymore, but I still think that’s something you consider in season 3 and NOT season 1.5.