Spats are breaking out over 2 Broke Girls. CBS' hit comedy is this season's highest-rated new TV show, with fans and critics raving about the Laverne and Shirley-like chemistry between the show's two leads, Brooklyn waitresses Max and Caroline (played by Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, respectively). They're less wild about the show's three broadly-drawn minority supporting characters: A broken English-speaking Korean, a crass and horny Eastern European, and a jive-talking older African American. At a contentious press conference for the show Wednesday, one disgruntled critic confronted the sitcom's co-creator, Michael Patrick King, asking if he had plans to tone down the stereotyping. No, shot back a flabbergasted King, calling himself "an equal opportunity offender" and declaring that, because he's gay, he's earned the right to stereotype other minorities. The bizarre meltdown has reignited a debate that first flared when the show debuted. Is 2 Broke Girls "racist"?
Absolutely: Nobody expects every character to be fully dimensionalized early in the run of a new show, says Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club. And racial humor certainly has a place on TV — when done right. The problem is that King "perpetually exists at a Friars' Club in 1952," and is clearly wedded to the idea that "racial humor consists entirely of having a stereotype show up, portraying it in the most obnoxious way possible, then having everybody make fun it." It's a shame: 2 Broke Girls "has so many good elements that making it a good show shouldn't be hard."
"2 Broke Girls co-creator defends show's racial humor in worst possible terms"
And a refusal to evolve will harm the series: 2 Broke Girls' three minority characters are "excruciating," says Jaime Weinman at Macleans, but the show is a hit... so far. If King had just said "the public seems to like it" and moved on, "I wouldn't agree, but I'd understand." Instead he smugly offered an obtuse defense — that he sees nothing wrong with the stereotyping. From Laverne and Shirley to The Big Bang Theory to even the middling Mike and Molly, all sitcoms have learned that, to succeed long-term, they must develop their supporting characters beyond caricatures. By choosing not to do so, King has doomed 2 Broke Girls.
"He is the King!"
Stereotypes are par for the course: Sure, King's attempt to use his "get out of jail free" card — that as a gay person, he's a minority who has the right to offend other minorities — is infuriating, says Leslie Kasperowicz at Cinema Blend. But let's be honest. "Stereotypes on TV are nothing new." Especially on mainstream sitcoms, "satire is a big part of getting laughs." Good look coming up with an example of a hit sitcom that didn't eventually mock stereotypes. And after all, from Roseanne to Married With Children, "crass lowbrow comedies count among some of the best in history."
"2 Broke Girls creator defends against accusations of stereotyping and lowbrow humor"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- 10 things you need to know today: July 29, 2014
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
Subscribe to the Week