UPDATED: CBS’ press tour panel for raunchy hit sitcom 2 Broke Girls turned into a riveting verbal brawl between some critics and the series’ showrunner, who vehemently defended the comedy from accusations of stereotypical characters and profane jokes.
Ever since 2 Broke Girls premiered to high ratings in September, the series has been criticized for its portrayal of an Asian character named Han (who’s been at the receiving end of jokes like, “You can’t tell an Asian he made a mistake, he’ll go in the back and throw himself on a sword”) and an African-American character named Earl.
Before the show’s panel in Pasadena, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler assured critics that writers would continue to “dimensionalize” the 2 Broke Girls characters as time went on. Then the show’s creator, Michael Patrick King (of Sex and the City fame), and stars Kat Denning and Beth Behrs took the stage. What followed is one of the most combative press tour panels in recent years (and was also verbally graphic, so fair warning).
The debate started with the very first question, when King was asked about the show’s “broad racial and ethnic humor.”
“The big story about race on our show is that so many are represented,” King said. “The cast is not only multi‑ethnic, including the regulars and the guest stars, but it’s also incredibly not ageist. We represent what New York used to be and what is currently very much still alive in Williamsburg, which is a melting pot.”
Then a reporter asked what changes Tassler specifically wanted to “dimensionalize” the characters and make them less stereotypical. “Every character is born a stereotype,” King replied. “This show started with two stereotypes ‑‑ a blonde and a brunette. And that implies certain stigmas, which we immediately tried to diffuse and grow.”
But that answer didn’t really answer the reporter’s question. When the critic pressed, again, what Tassler wanted changed, things grew tense.
“You’re asking if I was asked by Nina to change the show to make the characters more dimensional?” King asked, sounding annoyed. “No. 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 will have accrued enough time to see if these characters have become fully fledged out … Our job is to take care of the girls. They’re the engine. They’re the heart… The other characters will grow and grow and grow, the way they do on an ensemble series.”
A critic pressed: “But do you feel happy with the quality of the diner scenes that–?”
“I’m personally thrilled with everything we’re doing,” King said. “I’m really happy with the growth. I feel there is growth. I feel there are places to grow. I feel we are in the right arena with CBS, which understands what a big full joke actually means. I love the fact were in front of a [studio] audience that lets us know if a joke worked. I’m really happy with where we are.”
Then this was asked: “Do you see the need to get away from making vagina and anal sex references?”
Dennings mock gasped. “We’ve never said that, sir.”
But it’s been “implied,” the critic continued, and the sitcom airs in early primetime, at “8:30 on Monday on CBS.”
King bristled. “Can I just correct you on that? It’s 8:30 on Monday on CBS — in 2012. It’s a very different world than … 1994. I consider our jokes really ‘classy dirty’–“
Some critics laughed.
King plowed on: “I consider them high-lowbrow. I think they’re fun and sophisticated and naughty and I think everybody likes a good naughty joke . .. and if it was only naughty jokes without pathos, I would not be happy. I feel no need to pull away from the brand of 2 Broke Girls which is ‘in-your-face girls.’ It is ballsy. It is right in your face, and hopefully funny. … People pull away from something if it’s not in good taste. More and more people are leaning in to 2 Broke Girls.”
A reporter calls Han’s character a “stereotypical Asian” and asked King if he wished he had written the character differently.
“I like Han,” King said. “I like his character. I like the fact he’s an immigrant. I like that he’s trying to fit into America. I like the fact in the last three episodes we haven’t made an Asian joke, we’ve only made short jokes … Would you say the ‘blonde rich bitch’ is a stereotype? Would you say that the tough‑ass, dark, sarcastic‑mouthed waitress is a stereotype? I like all of them.”
Reporter: “Does that mean that you’re not going to go back to the Asian stereotypes?”
“I’m gay!” King exclaimed. “I’m putting in gay stereotypes every week. I don’t find any of it offensive, any of it. I find it comic to take everybody down.”
The critics don’t let him off the hook. One counters: “Does being a part of one traditionally disenfranchised group give you carte blanche to make fun of other traditionally disenfranchised groups?”
“No,” King said. “You could rephrase that. I would say being a comedy writer gives you permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what people think about other people.”
And then … and then:
Reporter: “Going back to classy-dirty. Are there restrictions about things you can say? Is there one way to make a facial joke that is allowed and other ways that maybe you can’t do it?”
King: “Make a facial joke?”
Reporter: “Jokes about facials, yes.”
At this point in the conversation, everybody in the hotel ballroom is giving the stage their full attention. Some jaws are dropped. (You either know what the reporter is referring to or you don’t. And if you don’t, I’m pretty sure I can’t describe it here).
Dennings (sounding confused): “Facials? Like a scrub?”
Behers: “What’s wrong with that?”
Laughter. Dennings and Behers are presumably pretending to not understand, but that’s not 100 percent clear.
Reporter: “I’m not going to explain it any further if you don’t know what I’m talking about, but ‑-“
Dennings: “You are hearing things that don’t exist.”
Reporter: “I don’t think I really am, Kat, but okay. Fair enough.”
“CBS is very vigilant with us with what they consider to be the line between funny and passable … what goes too far,” King said. “We have a constant dialogue about whether the edge is …. sex is a part of comedy writing. We seem to offend people with the use words rather than nudity. There is no nudity on our show. We’re more than happy to toil with our paintbox of words.”
Another critic circles back about the “dimensionalizing” the characters. There’s an awkward prolonged squabble between King and a reporter which is a bit confusing and involves King joking about the questioner’s Irish background (“we’ll we’ve identified your sexual problem,” King said. “I’m the same way”). “OMG,” Dennings said.
The tension was eventually broken somewhat when a critic flew to the absolute other end of the reporting spectrum and asked the actresses how they like working with the show’s horse, named Chestnut.
King: “I wish he were here now.”