Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Network TV's Double Score: '2 Broke Girls' & 'Playboy Club' Good Fun

Network tele scored a double whammy Monday evening with new fall pilots: CBS' 2 Broke Girls and NBC's The Playboy Club. Both were fun, entertaining, offered plot lines with plenty of gas for the future and had me grinning more than grimacing.

Network TV is still a bitter pill to swallow, with its typical appeal to the lowest common denominator (read: Hot In Cleveland, upcoming Whitney). I'm not looking for the tube to change the world or vastly improve my life, but if I can sit still from opening to end credits, I'm always pleasantly surprised.

2 Broke Girls offers smart writing with punch lines galore in a simple enough scenario: In a Brooklyn diner, tough broad waitress Max meets broke but entitled Caroline, a Bernie Madoff-like daughter and new hire, and while the mismatches seemingly have nothing in common, they bond.

Max, played by Kat Dennings (Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, Thor) is ideal as the sarcastic but approachable tough girl; while Beth Behrs (who appeared in an American Pie flick) as Caroline excels in a part that would be easy enough to loathe, if not for an inner sweetness that fosters likeable empathy. She's an airhead, but plenty smart, too, with a Wharton business degree and the ability to read people and situations with acumen.

Set in Williamsburg Brooklyn, Broke offered a dead-on opening scene where Max takes down two typical Willyburg nabe hipsters... but its portrayal of the New York subway as graffiti-filled and menacing was an age-old cliche that simply is no longer close to reality.

The supporting characters—the BK Asian diner owner, a hip-cat old black dude at the cash register and a Ukranian cook—are pretty weak, while a sub-plot where Max has a second job caring for a spoiled rich wife's kids on the Upper East Side could be dumped. But that's all workable: Fortunately, the core characters carry this show with complete confidence.

Created by Sex & the City's Michael Patrick King and comedian Whitney Cummings (whose own sitcom Whitney is destined to arrive DOA), there's also plenty of talent at the top. Score!

The Playboy Club is going to have a much tougher time surviving, I suspect. First, before the debut episode was even screened, feminists and family groups were condemning it as sexist and racy, for god's sake. The show has to be so damn careful not to offend that it's already got the odds stacked against it.

But I enjoyed the launch episode's strong acting, a myriad of plot lines (murder! mob! music! closet gays!), breezy pacing and the stylish atmosphere of the 60s (smoking! drinking! women not apologizing for being sexy!).

The best part of Playboy is lead actress Laura Beneti, a Broadway veteran who plays an aging bunny who's a bitch to the men and her bunnies. Eddie Cibrian, as always, is a joy to watch with his smiling eyes and etched dimples—and yes, he appears shirtless in episode 1.

I have a feeling the critics are going to tear this show from limb to limb and America will gravitate toward network TV's other Mad Men tribute, Pan Am. That's a shame, because given time and opportunity, this Club could be good clean fun.