'2 Broke Girls' make for one whole sitcom

2 Broke Girls (tv program)CookingEntertainmentStephen HawkingNick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (movie)Garrett MorrisWhitney Cummings

Sometimes watching a drama a second time, you notice nuances undetected at first. Watching a comedy again, especially within a couple of weeks of the initial viewing, rarely enhances the experience.

Jokes seem forced or stale the second time around. An exception is CBS' "2 Broke Girls" premiering Monday, Sept. 19, after "Two and a Half Men."

As the funniest new show of a rather humorless season, the sitcom mines familiar territory with a Brooklyn diner as a backdrop. Sharp writing and the lead actresses make this work.

An interview with the two of them, giddily in their own world, proves why. Kat Dennings ("Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist") and newcomer Beth Behrs, who play Max and Caroline, settle into a table at the Beverly Hills Hilton bar.

A waiter approaches to take their order; it turns out he and Behrs were schoolmates. When he leaves, Behrs whispers to Dennings that he had a bad breakup with a friend. Dennings pretends that she'll order a chai latte, half soy milk, half skim, just to make his life more difficult -- all in sisterhood solidarity. They giggle.

The actresses had shot only the pilot so far, and returned for one day of work before meeting with the press. That evening was their first major party for the network, and they were talking about how high their heels would be and what they would wear. Whatever they chose would be a major improvement over their work gear, which look a lot like Burger King-issue mid-'70s polyester.

"I think it's better for everyone, including my immune system, if I don't wear this," Caroline says of the uniform.

For Max, the uniform is nothing new. She's a poor kid from the boroughs who's always had to work.

Max is "a badass and independent and smart," Dennings says. "There's a lot of Whitney Cummings in Max," Dennings says of her executive producer.

The show has sterling credits; the other executive producer is Michael Patrick King of "Sex and the City."

It would be too easy to dismiss this as the latest version of "The Odd Couple." Yes, they are roommates from different worlds. But they live in a small apartment in a sketchy neighborhood, and the humor will also come from dealing with the outside world, the diner's regulars, and like all comedies, wherever a joke can be worked.

Be warned that there are a couple of lines in the pilot bound to offend. One, said by Garrett Morris as a sardonic cashier, pokes fun at Stephen Hawking's immobility. The others are raunchy. "2 Broke Girls" has far more sex jokes than expected for its 8:30 p.m. ET slot, which it moves to in its second week.

Max dumps her boyfriend, a buff baboon, but not before jokes can be made about his hot body. Max juggles two jobs -- she's also a nanny to an incredibly idle rich woman -- and bakes cupcakes for the diner.

Incidentally, those plates laden with burgers aren't props. And Behrs knows what she's doing stacking plates; she had worked as a waitress.

Her character, Caroline, had known nothing but extraordinary privilege as the daughter of a Bernie Madoff type. When he was imprisoned, she lost everything except what she was wearing and could carry. Naturally she's now slinging hash in Louboutins and a Chanel necklace.

There's a high gloss about Caroline, who looks as if she leaves wafts of exclusively blended perfume in her wake. Max looks as if she smells of spray cleanser and French fries.

"The thing I love about Caroline is she has this incredible background, and I don't think there's ever been an Upper East Side girl who's really intelligent," Behrs says. "She's not mean."

The pilot sets up ways for her to use her Wharton degree. Initially the women are wary of each other. Max sees an entitled young woman who is her age and never had to work for anything. Max also sees that Caroline needs help.

Caroline immediately realizes that Max has had to work so hard for so little that she never allowed herself the luxury to dream. Caroline can help her by broadening Max's world and boosting her confidence.

And as broke as Max is, she can help Caroline by giving her a place to live. These are fully realized characters.

"Max hates hipsters," Dennings says of her character's take on those who think they discovered Brooklyn, usually wearing hats, many tattoos and piercings, and looking terminally smug.

Dennings, more accustomed to the pace of film, enjoys filling in some of Max's back story. In the pilot, Behr's Caroline gets more of the punch lines.

When Max realizes how loaded Caroline's family was, she asks: "Have you met the president?" "Yes," Caroline says. "He's hot," Max says. "He's the president." "Have you been to Switzerland?" "Yes." "Do you have a horse?" "Yes." "Do you know Paris Hilton?" "No! She's 100."

"When you and I make eye contact, it is hard not to laugh," Behrs says to Dennings. And they crack up. They only hope the audience does, too.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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