Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hollywood Racism: "2 Broke Girls"


When the networks were hyping their shows in July at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, CBS brass approached a number of critics (this one included) and made a point of talking up the disappointing sexism in NBC’s The Playboy Club and ABC’s Pan Am. You know, what a shame it was and how regrettable, in this day and age, both shows were. Despite being done in a mostly casual manner, the point was pretty clear: Are you guys going to hammer them over that or what?

Since I agreed about the sexism (and the fact both shows were bad), driving home the point wasn’t going to be an issue. However, I did mention that CBS might want to fix that, ahem, disappointing racism in 2 Broke Girls.
In life, there’s so much letdown for all of us. While The Playboy Club is dead, the vapid Pan Am flies on (a little lower each week, but still), 2 Broke Girls continues to trot out the character of Han Lee (Matthew Moy), the Korean immigrant who runs the dive diner where the two broke girls in question, Max (Kat Dennings) and Caroline (Beth Behrs) work.

Never mind that there’s already been a joke about him being Chinese, or that one joke had him changing his name to Bryce Lee so that the writers could get that Bruce Lee joke in – the writers being no strangers to lame and obvious punch lines – but each week Han’s broken English gets played like some sorry minstrel show (oh, yeah, there was that whole karaoke thing, which seemed like yet another reason to mock Han’s language and point out how funny the letter “r” sounds when you’re fresh off the boat).
In one episode, when Han got a new iPad, he said “Spread the words.” To which Max said, “Word.” And guess what Han did – step aside from the neon freight train of obviousness – he said “Word!” like it was a rap thing.
Every time Han gets to say something on 2 Broke Girls, the undercurrent is that it’s funny because it’s broken English. Plus he’s really short and geeky and non-sexual (there may have been other stereotypes to plop on top of him, but maybe creators Whitney Cummings and Michael Patrick King thought too much was enough, which would certainly stick with the general theme of the show). In any case, what CBS is doing every Monday night is trotting out one of the most regressive and stunning racist devices a network has produced in five or more seasons.

So, congratulations CBS. (Don’t worry, a follow up column on the sexism of Pan Am is on the way, in case you were worried).
Han’s head-shaking caricature almost let’s you forget that there’s also Oleg (Jonathan Kite) the Eastern European cook whose only role is to be lecherous and onerous.
In a TV world where the Irish and the Italians have all but given up getting pissed off about stereotypes, you have to wonder if people of Russian descent also figure to be heavy-accented thugs and goons for all of eternity. Certainly Asians aren’t making much progress getting the TV industry to move beyond stereotypes (much less cast them in roles).
There was also a scene in 2 Broke Girls where ex-society princess Caroline tries to haggle with a woman at Goodwill over the cost of a pair of shoes. “I can’t believe you tried to shoe her down.”
Oh, clever. A Jew joke. Wink-wink.

In the same episode, a Latina woman who was also at the Goodwill – and therefore must swear in Spansh when she gets angry, right? – says flippantly to Max: “You snooze, you lose, puta.
Oh, CBS, you’re so cute with all of this stuff.
Of course, to quarrel over race jokes on 2 Broke Girls is to miss a larger point – that its go-to jokes are mostly sexual. This is a show that has to have at least one vagina joke an episode. It’s not above turning "a wad of cash" in someone’s face into a joke about a wad of something else in someone’s face (again, if you didn’t see that coming five miles away, you’ve never watched 2 Broke Girls).
One episode focused on the stifling heat of New York and Max says, “Stop fighting it. Just give in to it. I don’t know why I’m quoting a rapist.” And the laugh track roars its approval.
Have there been rape jokes on Pan Am? Sexist what?

Every joke Oleg says is about sex, even if it’s about salami at first (see that train coming yet?) or his eyes widening when Christine puts finger in her mouth and closes her lips around it. “You just made it into Oleg’s spank bank,” Max tells her.
Man, 12-year-old boys must be eating this up, if 12-year-old boys know about CBS.
Lots of shows run on sex jokes and bodily functions. The trouble with 2 Broke Girls is that they’re all so incredibly obvious and juvenile that you wish Dennings and Behrs had better material to work with. The duo are the only reason to tune into 2 Broke Girls and even their comic timing and improved character development are making that a harder decision because the writing on the show is so woefully bad.
It’s probably too late to get CBS to do anything about the unfortunate racism in 2 Broke Girls – the time to send notes was during the pilot process, when the Han character should have been nixed without hesitation. And forget the show cutting back on its “that’s what she said” sexual joke simplicity. After all, CBS loves series where one theme gets hammered home relentlessly (fat jokes on Mike & Molly, nerd jokes on The Big Bang Theory, etc.).
There’s chemistry – and maybe even a whole show (preferably one without that stupid horse) that can be pulled from the considerable talents of Dennings and Behrs. But until that happens, 2 Broke Girls remains the most disappointing new sitcom of the fall, because unlike so many others it actually had potential but has squandered it away every week on cheap, predictable and unfunny jokes.
Consider that if you watch tonight. Or better yet, don’t watch.

Critics claim '2 Broke Girls' uses racial stereotypes

New CBS comedy series “2 Broke Girls” is attracting criticism for their portrayal of a Korean character and their alleged use of racial stereotypes.
The character of Korean immigrant Bryce (Han) Lee, as played by Matthew Moy, runs the diner where the “2 Broke Girls” (played by Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs) are employed. As we mentioned in our recap back in September, the only drawback to the series premiere was that Moy's character certainly "walked the line of turning into a stereotype."
CNN's Henry Hanks called it "truly disappointing to see this on an otherwise smart show," and other critics have since chimed in.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that “each week Han’s broken English gets played like some sorry minstrel show.” Questionable jokes include emphasizing Lee’s problems with pronunciation.
Blog Racebending observes that “Lee can’t wear his pants correctly, can’t speak English properly, and doesn’t understand the concept of holidays.”
And it’s not just Bryce Lee. “[T]he ensemble of stock ethnics gave me a migraine,” commented New York Magazine writer Emily Nussbaum of the show’s population.
HitFix reports that the show’s creators, Whitney Cummings (who also stars in “Whitney”), and “Sex and the City” writer Michael Patrick King, claim the diner is representative of the multi-ethnic neighborhood (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) it serves.
"By ethnic characters, I'd say the hipsters,” King said when the question of stereotypes came up during the Television Critics Association press tour. “And Max is sort of the lord and ruler of that diner, so she's going to take everybody down, the hipsters, the immigrants, the girls, and most importantly, herself."
As for the accusation that Bryce Lee is a stereotype, King and Cummings don’t see it. "There's a comic sweetness to him that's an innocence, and the fact he's an immigrant from Korea is part of his character," writer/producer/director King said, noting that the character will be rounded out as the season goes on.
“The character is not dumb,” Cummings added. “He just moved to the country six months ago. He literally doesn't know the language. That doesn't mean he's dumb. In the subsequent episodes, we're going to see how smart he truly is.”
King may be an equal opportunity offender. When asked if a joke about Stephen Hawking (who suffers from the motor neuron disease ALS) would stay in the show, King replied in the affirmative. "Yeah. I think it's funny," he said. “I'm sorry."
“2 Broke Girls” airs Mondays at 8:30 ET/PT on CBS.

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