Over the course of its 35-year history, MTV has gone through nearly as many makeovers as Madonna. In its latest incarnation, the network formerly known as Music Television is betting that the future is female with two bawdy comedies, "Mary + Jane" and "Loosely Exactly Nicole," about young women chasing their dreams in the big city.
The more successful of the two, "Mary + Jane," follows two twentysomething best friends selling pot— excuse me, operating a "mostly legal prescription delivery service" — out of the Eastside Los Angeles apartment they share with a pet chihuahua named Daniel Day-Lewis.
Contrary to what you might expect, their names are not Mary and Jane, but rather Jordan (Scout Durwood) and Paige (Jessica Rothe). The former is a polyamorous, libertine brunette who believes that random sex cures everything — "headaches, period cramps, Lyme disease."
The latter is a sensitive blonde who gave up her lifestyle blog to become a "ganja-preneur" and is heartbroken by her recent break-up with a graffiti artist/celebrity DJ known as Softserve.
In between deliveries of bud with punny names like "Kylo Ren Faire" they partake of such time-honored hipster customs as queuing up for artisanal toast and $15 juice served in baby bottles.
Created by "Can't Hardly Wait" screenwriters Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan and executive produced by Snopp Dogg, "Mary + Jane" seems like a rather deliberate hybrid of "Broad City," Comedy Central's hit about two weed-loving best friends, and "High Maintenance," the Web series turned HBO comedy about a pot delivery service.
But what it lacks in conceptual originality, "Mary + Jane" just about makes up for in execution, with sharp satirical observations about stoner culture, celebrity, the Silver Lake lifestyle and female friendships. One particularly funny subplot finds Jordan making a delivery to the home of an unnamed, Brangelina-esque Hollywood A-list couple whose large, multi-ethnic brood of children, forbidden from watching television or movies, relies on an in-house improv troupe for entertainment.
The show is also populated with peripheral characters, including a creaky-voiced, humblebragging scenester named Jenny (but pronounced "Jen-nay"), who are vividly drawn and amusingly absurd.
Set in another pokey, post-collegiate apartment in greater Los Angeles — Van Nuys, to be exact — "Loosely Exactly Nicole" is the vaguely autobiographical tale of Nicole (Nicole Byer), a foul-mouthed and impulsive aspiring actress on the margins of showbiz.
The series, from executive producers Christine Zander and Christian Lander, was created as a star vehicle for Byer, an appealing comedian best known as one of the talking heads on the MTV show "Girl Code." Unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to the promise of its lead.
Nicole is frustrated by the limited opportunities that come her way as a plus-size African American woman in Hollywood — case in point: a casting call for a character named "Big Butt Bertha," "as wide as she is horny." But she brims with confidence, not self-loathing.
Nicole is regularly hooking up with (if not exactly dating) a hot, empty-headed bro named Derrick (Kevin Bigley) And while she gets excited about the prospect of "home sex" — that is, a sleepover at her place rather than his, for once — she's not the type to sit around longing for a commitment. (Both "Mary + Jane" and "Loosely Exactly Nicole" are full of jokes about sex and various bodily functions that make the work of Judd Apatow seem almost quaint by comparison.) In another refreshing twist, Nicole is content being larger than sample size in a city known for its obsession with physical perfection.
That's not to say she is without flaws — quite a few of them, in fact. Nicole is a reckless spendthrift, happy to blow the money she owes her roommate for the electric bill on box braids, a la Janet Jackson in "Poetic Justice," for a '90s-themed house party.
Particularly amid an ongoing conversation about inclusiveness in entertainment, Byer is an exciting, important talent. Unfortunately "Loosely Exactly Nicole" leans rather heavily on the very portrayals it's trying to undermine. The series celebrates Nicole for being quote-unquote outrageous, but some of her antics are more cringe-worthy than courageous. At the braiding salon, she affects a stereotypically downscale accent in order to get a discount — "I don't present as poor," she explains to a friend. Even more regrettable is the bit in which Nicole attempts to pass off an Asian boy as her son by painting him in blackface.
Less offensive but also problematic are the stock supporting characters, like the Uptight Best Friend, Veronica (Jen D'Angelo), and the Gay Roommate, Devin (Jacob Wysocki).
There's a smart show lurking inside of "Loosely Exactly Nicole." Let's hope it manages to escape.
'Mary and Jane'
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
'Loosely, Exactly Nicole'
When: 10:30 p.m. Monday