2 Broke Arguments: Picking Fights at TCA

Sometimes, shows are so bad, it’s not even worth asking about. Better to sigh and ignore it, as critics largely did for “Rob,” the frequently offensive send-up of a culture clash with Mexican-Americans that began this week.

But when critics generally like a show and are uncomfortable with one aspect of it, they will not be still.

Such was the reason for a showdown at the TV Critics winter press tour Wednesday in Pasadena, where some would not let go to the notion that the characters in the diner where the “2 Broke Girls” work.

It wasn’t helped by the fact that creator Michael Patrick King wouldn’t budge an inch and wouldn’t allow that the thinly drawn characters of an Asian diner owner speaking pidgin English and a lecherous Armenian cook would not be offensive to some.

In fact, CBS chief Nina Tassler had already agreed that the show is “an equal opportunity offender” and that of the side characters, “our comments and our dialogue with Michael is, yes, continue to dimensionalize, continue to get more specific, continue to build them out.”

But King wouldn’t give, choosing instead to begin with a travelogue and a crude physical comparison.

“I think that our show is a big ballsy comedy,” he said, “but it has a bigger heart than it has balls.”

Because there was no studio audience there was no laugh (and laughs usually come freely at the mention of body parts on CBS comedies). He went on:

It is broad and brash and very current, and it takes place in Williamsburg, New York, which you know if you don’t know, all you have to do is Google it, and you’ll see it is a complete mashup of young irreverent hipsters, old school people, different nationalities, different ethnic backgrounds.

Because the best way to discover an area, even an area as much in the public eye as Williamsburg, is to Google it, he seems to say.

What our show represents is that mashup of very current, very young, smart girls and a wide range of characters that come in.

And they are only very, very smart, he seems to say, because he himself is the very, very smart writer.

Nina likes to say we’re an equal opportunity offender. I like to say that the big story the big story about race on our show is that so many are represented, that the cast is incredibly, not only multi ethnic including the regulars and the guest stars, but it’s also incredibly not ageist.

So the big story on our show is we sort of represent what New York used to be and is currently very much still alive in Williamsburg, which is a melting pot.

And there he thought the matter was settled. Which it was not.

Someone asked about Tassler’s comment that she asked the show to “dimensionalize” using that unfortunate term.

It’s an interesting process because, if you talk about stereotypes, every character when it’s born is a stereotype. 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.

And we happened to have Garrett Morris’s character, who’s an African American. We’ve done an episode where he has a very personal experience, and you start to see the family showing up around all these characters.

Every character on a series hopefully, if you have the journey that everybody would like to have on a series, which is time, you get to shade the characters so they become more and more rounded, a little bit more grounded.

A short character like Han will always be referred to as short. There will always be short jokes, the way that Danny DeVito’s character in ‘Taxi’ was a short guy. There’s going to be jokes. That’s what comedy is. You point out the objective viewpoint of somebody else.

I don’t think the characters were one-note. I thought the characters were the first note, and as a writer I mean, I’ve had a lot of experience being on shows over years, and what you try to do as a writer and what we try to do as writing staff and what the actors are doing every day perfectly is you grow.

But then the question came to what specifically the network had asked him to do.

A. Keep making the show the way you think you want to see it.

Q. But that’s not really what she said.

A. Okay. So you’re asking me if I was asked by Nina to change the show to make the characters more dimensional? 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’ll have accrued enough time to figure out if these characters became fully fledged out.

Fully fledged-out may be a more unfortunate term than dimensionalize. But King announced that peripheral characters are peripheral for a reason.

It’s called ‘2 Broke Girls.’ Our main job is to take care of the girls. And 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 because, of course, look who we have. The other characters will grow and grow and grow the way they do on ensembles.

But asked if he’s happy with the quality of the characters in the diner, King snapped:

I’m thrilled! I’m personally thrilled with everything we’re doing. 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.

And all this before even bringing up the cruder jokes and double entendres the show obsesses with.To that, he pointed out,

It’s 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 2012. It’s a very different world than 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 1994. And I feel no need I consider our jokes really classy dirty. I think they’re high lowbrow. I think they’re fun and sophisticated and naughty, and I think everybody likes a good naughty joke. I also think if the show existed only in naughty jokes without pathos, I would not be happy.

So I feel no need to pull away from the brand of “2 Broke Girls,” which is basically in your face girls. It is ballsy. It is right in your face and hopefully funny.

I did “Sex in the City” for many, many years. That was a completely different vibration of comedy, and the one thing that they have in common, to me as the writer creator of the show, is people pull away from something if it’s not in good taste. People lean into something if it’s okay, and week after week, more and more people are leaning into “2 Broke Girls.” So there’s something there that they feel okay about, not something there they feel offended about.

Soon there was an example of it, when a reporter, trying to point out her location in the room, began by saying “In the back…” to which he snapped, in his classy dirty way, “He doesn’t want you to make anal sex jokes, ma’am!”

Someone pointed out that the objection with the Han character is not that he’s short, but that he’s drawn with Asian stereotypes.

I like Han. I like his character. I like the fact that he’s an immigrant. I like the fact that he’s trying to fit into America. I like the fact that in the last three episode we haven’t made an Asian joke. We’ve only made short jokes. I mean, you start to see the character, and I like Matthew Moy because I believe Matthew Moy is almost a unique being unto himself.

So we’re basically writing that character now. I mean, would you say that the blond, rich bitch is a stereotype? Would you say that the tough ass, dark, sarcastic mouthed waitress is a stereotype? I like all of them. I think they work together as a nice set. Of course, the characters will grow, and I wish we had a lot more time every episode to continually bring out new wings of who these people are, but that’s what the series is for.

Q. So are you does that mean that you’re not going to go back to the Asian stereotypes?

Suddenly he plays the pink card.

A. I’m gay! I’m putting in gay stereotypes every week. I don’t find it offensive, any of this. I find it I find it comic to take everybody down. That’s what we’re doing.

Q. Does being a part of one traditionally disenfranchised group make it then carte blanche to make fun of other traditionally disenfranchised groups?

A. 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.

Then he asked the reporter’s name – it was Tim Malloy from The Wrap – and, unbelievably his background, as if to find the quickest way to skewer him and his pesky questioning.

A. So you are Irish?

Q. Yes.

A. Okay. So we’ve identified your sexual problem!

Things got worse, as they read back questions and answers to one another as if this were court.

All of this made Kate Demmings blurt: “OMG!”

Finally, King said:

Nina Tassler is so far above this conversation. It’s not even funny. Nina Tassler, first of all, is about creativity, hilarity, success, and being proud of what we do, which is what we are proud of. And our relationship is nothing but fun, and we believe that the show is nothing but fun for the audience. So I’m surprised that the questions are not about fun.

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