After a few years of think pieces about the women of comedy (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, et al) and that eternal question, “can women be funny?,” we got Bridesmaids. To the industry, $283 million at the box office proved what we already knew: of course, women are funny, and audiences want to see them.
Capitalizing on this development, this season was supposed to be The Year of the Woman, where shows created by and starring women would returned to the forefront of TV comedy. Unfortunately, this fall’s first offerings rely too heavily on tired stereotypes and tropes, missing their chance to build interesting, relatable female characters.
2 Broke Girls, from Sex and the City mastermind Michael Patrick King and it-girl Whitney Cummings (more on her later), stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs as the titular broke girls, Max and Caroline, a pair of mismatched waitresses at a dingy Brooklyn diner. The premise is both “odd couple” and “fish out of water:” Max is street smart and razor tongued while Caroline is a naive “Manhattan socialite diva,” and you can tell by her pearl necklace and hooker heels.
The rest of the diner is rife with lazy stereotypes that range from stupid to offensive. There’s Earl, the jive-talking cashier with puns and one-liners for every occasion (“Don’t talk to him unless you want to feel whiter than you already are,” Max warns Caroline). The diner is owned and operated by Han Lee, who swaps his L’s and R’s and changes his name to Bryce Lee — see what they did there? The gang is rounded out by Oleg the horny Russian line cook.
While a few jokes aim for twisted (“Are you sure we can’t get the meth addict back? She was really good at cleaning.”) most go for the easy gross-out (a clam chowder / semen joke, twice) or Amelia Bedelia-type idiocy (Caroline doesn’t know what “marry the ketchups” means). When Caroline accidentally tazes Max on the train, the ensuing rape joke feels misguided.
Apart from obvious, stereotypical characters and lazy humor, the worst part of the show is how Max is characterized. She works two jobs with low pay and no perks and is clearly on her own. Yet when she gets home, she’s putty in the hands of her scummy, slacker boyfriend, characterized only by his 8-pack abs. Not only does The Boyfriend make a move on Caroline, but he’s also screwing around. After dumping him, Max confesses that his muscles “make smart girls stupid.” No, bad TV writers do.
In the same vein, Fox adds New Girl, keeping things simple and sticking with the working title. From “Fempire” member Liz Meriweather, New Girl is a starring vehicle for indie fave Zooey Deschenal in the role she’s most comfortable in, that of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
For the uninitiated, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Deschanel’s Jess is Quirky in a entirely predictable way – she sings her own theme music, wears a bathing suit in the shower, and generally carries herself with the gravitas of a cartoon character. But in classic fashion, take off her glasses and put her in a black dress, and it turns out this girl is a knock out!
The show’s inciting incident is a striptease gone wrong, as Jess catches her boyfriend in flagrante. Tired of living with her friend Cece because she’s a model (which makes no sense, by the way), she moves in with three men, mistakenly thinking their ad was written by an apartment full of women.
Nick (Jake Johnson) is the most redeemable of the three, a recently-dumped bartender with a dour look on life. Schmidt (Max Greenfield) is a self-obsessed, misogynistic frat boy, whose bro-tastic antics are penalized by his roommates with a Douchebag Jar. Coach (Damon Wayans Jr., who will be replaced by Lamorne Morris due to his spot on Happy Endings) is a personal trainer who has no idea how to talk to women, or worse, without yelling.
In the pilot, the three guys do their best Pygmalion, trying to get Jess out of her post-breakup stupor and back in the dating game. The results are predictable; even when she gets a date, she overtexts her way to loneliness. When Nick finds this out, he chooses Jess over a chance to reignite a relationship with his ex; his bros come along too. The producers seem intent on getting their money’s worth for the licensing on “Time of My Life,” as the cast all sing the Dirty Dancing theme in a crowded restaurant. One episode in, and Jess is already teaching these guys to “embrace life and its infinite mysteries.” Let the adventures begin.
Predictably, both shows are already hits. 2 Broke Girls notched 19.2 million total viewers; 10.1 million watched New Girl. Numbers like that will certainly lead to more of the same. Already, there’s Whitney Cummings’ abominable Whitney, which rode an Office lead-in to 6.71 million viewers, more than both Parks and Rec and Community. At mid-season, NBC will add Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea to the list. Unfortunately, while created by and starring women, these shows don’t share much with 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. It may be the Year of the Woman, but the networks are determined to give audiences the same old girls.