Welcome to Pilot Light, a periodic preview/analysis of new fall TV shows. These are not full-fledged reviews (those will come later), but rather pieces that will explore common themes popping up this year, as well as noting the strengths and weaknesses of various show concepts, performances, and time-period scheduling. First up: girls, girls, girls!
2 Broke Girls, co-conceived by the season’s new It Girl, Whitney Cummings, and the Zooey Deschanel-starring New Girl are among the first new shows that will premiere (Sept. 19 and 20). In the first, Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and Beth Behrs star as waitresses in a diner. The gimmick: Behrs’ Caroline is a wealthy young woman recently brought low. Her father, who sounds not-suspiciously like Bernie Madoff, has been arrested due to illegal financial doings, and so Caroline has no cash to withdraw from him. Dennings’ Max is just a working-class girl, but with Dennings, there’s no such thing as “just”: This is an actress who puts a wicked spin on every line.
Broke Girls, which Cummings developed with Sex and the City‘s Michael Patrick King, will probably benefit by feeling familiar (it is, after all, just a variation on The Odd Couple and a thousand other odd-couple sitcoms) while making a lot of racy jokes that sound pretty funny coming from the mouths of Dennings and Behrs. It also helps the show’s survival chances enormously that it’s scheduled on Monday nights between How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men.
Similarly, when it comes to programming strategy, New Girl will get some immediate viewership from the right demographic when it’s slotted into Tuesday nights after Glee. Why, Deschanel’s character, Jess, even breaks into spontaneous song! But, thank goodness, that’s not the premise of the show. Not that it’s more original than Glee: New Girl offers Deschanel’s Jess as a young woman who’s broken up with her boyfriend and, the economy and sitcoms being what they are, moves into an apartment shared by three guys, strangers to her.
Deschanel plays up Jess’ adorability to such an extent that at the Television Critics Association gathering in August, one member of my profession actually asked the actress, “When did you first know you were adorable?” (TV critics: We’re nothing if not hard-hitting.)
These two shows aren’t so much about girl power as they are about girl strategy: All three protagonists are young women who use their stereotypical “girl” qualities — flirtiness, mock-innocence, adroit manipulation of dumb males — to achieve some of their goals. In both shows, for example, a simple goal is achieved: By the end of the premiere episode, Jess, Max, and Caroline all have new places to live. Both shows, as you may have extrapolated from that goal, are also examples of whimsical looks at a very real problem — i.e., the economy sucks. It’s hard out there for a girl with no large amount of money.
Neither New Girl (which looks as though it will soon settle in as an ongoing tale of Jess and her new roomies helping her with her romantic, not financial, life) nor 2 Broke Girls (which can find it in its pleasantly hard heart to make jokes about Caroline’s displaced polo pony by the end of the first half hour) is going to be a downer about scrimping. But both shows work as comfort-viewing for an audience that cannot take security for granted — a far cry/laugh from the casually posh lifestyle enjoyed by, say, the supposedly not-wealthy chums on Friends.
I’d be curious to know whether you are intrigued by New Girl and/or 2 Broke Girls.