TCA gets testy when critics question stereotypes in ‘2 Broke Girls’
It’s no secret that the new hit CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls” features minority characters drawn very broadly. What wasn’t known to creator Michael Patrick King, apparently, is that some view the jokes directed at those characters as racist and lazy.
King, along with “2 Broke Girls” stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, took questions from journalists at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on Wednesday, during what quickly became a contentious panel between King and reporters. The very first question asked of King was in regards to the ethnic caricatures that populate the diner where Dennings’ and Behrs’ characters work. Does he think his show reflects the way that New Yorkers in gentrifying neighborhoods interact with each other?
“[The show] takes place in Williamsburg, New York, which … is a complete mash-up of young irreverent hipsters, old school people, different nationalities, different ethnic backgrounds,” King said. “What our show represents is that mash-up of very current, very young, smart girls and a wide range of characters that come in. I like to say that the big story about race on our show is that so many are represented.”
Critics had a hard time buying that answer, especially since CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler had earlier in the day said her notes to King regarding those diner characters are “continue to dimensionalize, continue to get more specific, continue to build them out.” Tassler also called the show “an equal opportunity offender,” a phrase King repeated during his press conference.
“If you talk about stereotypes, every character when it’s born is a stereotype,” King said. “I mean, this show started with two stereotypes: a blonde and a brunette. And that implies certain stigmas as well, which we immediately tried to diffuse and grow.
King talked about “shading” his characters over time “so they become more and more rounded, a little bit more grounded,” but denied that they are currently flat.
“I don’t think the characters were one-note [when the show premiered]. I think the characters were the first note,” he said. “The characters are dimensional, and they’re seen in segments of 21 minutes, which limits the amount of dimension you can see. So I will call you in five years, and you’ll have accrued enough time to figure out if these characters became fully fledged out,” he said to the increasingly tense room.
“It’s called ‘2 Broke Girls,’” he reasoned. “Our main job is to take care of the girls. They’re the engine. They’re the heart. They’re the soul, and they’re the acid of the show. So we’re going to always throw to them first. The other characters will grow and grow and grow the way they do on ensembles.”
But is it appropriate to be writing those jokes before that half-decade mark when we’re promised cumulative depth?
“I’m gay!” King retorted. “I’m putting in gay stereotypes every week. I don’t find it offensive, any of this. I find it comic to take everybody down. That’s what we’re doing.”
Which elicited the question: Does being a part of one traditionally disenfranchised group make it then carte blanche to make fun of other traditionally disenfranchised groups?
“No,” King said. “No, I would say that you could rephrase that being a comedy writer gives you permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what people think about other people.”
Journalists’ criticism of the show didn’t seem to come from a place of animosity, rather the hope that King and his writing staff might be working on improving a weak aspect of a creatively promising sitcom. But King refused to acknowledge the flaws that critics pointed out.
“I’m personally thrilled with everything we’re doing,” King said. “I’m real happy with the growth. I feel there is a growth. I feel there’s places to grow. I feel we’re in the right arena, CBS, who understands what the idea of a big bold joke actually means. I love the fact we’re in front of an audience who let us know whether the joke worked and if we’re growing in the right direction. I’m really happy with where we are.”
Which ultimately means if you’re not happy with where the show is now, don’t expect much to change. “2 Broke Girls” is one of the highest rated series this season, after all.