Throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s, Mediolana’s CSO had to blag his way through a whole series of pop culture conversations, but none so often as the one about Friends; he still hasn’t got round to seeing a single complete episode of the 236 that were made over the ten years of the iconic NBC sitcom’s original run. However, such was the total penetration of that programme’s cultural impact that our CSO could more or less survive a Friends-themed interaction, winging it via references to the popular ladies’ haircut the series inspired, observations on the similarity between names of Lisa Kudrow and Barcelona striker Meho Kodro, and ironic musings about whether life in New York City was really that glamorous for most people, most of the time.
Fast forward to the 2010s and an epoch when Asad Yawar has finally carved out forty-four minutes in his weekly schedule to watch an American sitcom, and the scene could not be more different: indeed, the café-based situation comedy of the zeitgeist is not Friends or even the seemingly ageless Seinfeld, but Two Broke Girls, a bleak take on life in post-developed Brooklyn. The promising premise sees underclass waitress Max Black (Kat Dennings) joined in an Asian-owned establishment by Caroline Wesbox Channing (Beth Behrs), a dethroned socialite and alumnus of Pennsylvania business school Wharton whose fortune (along with those of much of the city’s wealthier denizens) has disappeared in her father’s ponzi-scheme.
But Two Broke Girls is about much more than two obviously-contrasting personalities and the rich opportunities for comedic material that this presents. Indeed, in its scripts there is more than a hint or two of a mirror to American society and the direction in which is has travelled:
1. From the Waited-on to the Waiting-on. Of course, Central Perk was a Starbucksesque environment where customers are at least encouraged to – using the technical term – bus their own trash, but there was no mistaking the awe with which the collective global audience was meant to behold the shiny-haired mob that constituted the ‘gang’ of Friends. Conversely, in the Williamsburg Diner, restaurant patrons have an at best ambivalent status, with the ‘stars’ of the show being the overworked, behind-schedule and regularly victimised entry-level staff.
2. Cynicism. Friends was not a series to which the ‘postmodern’ tag applied, at least until the main protagonists became so ludicrously famous that every episode ended up breaking the fourth wall whether it wanted to or not. The NYC of 2 Broke Girls, however, is a conurbation that has been chewed up and spat out by a decade more of dizzying and still-increasing inequality and societal breakdown – Max’s comment that sleeping with a knife in her hand is the best home security system she can afford is barely ironic.
3. Post-Dream. The intrepid pair of waitresses create meaning in their lives by dreaming of, and eventually working towards, opening their own cupcake shop, but well into season 2 it is apparent that if this is going to happen at all it will happen on credit. In the interim, the title characters are left to inhabit a world of predatory men, linguistic vulgarity and emotional distance – with the American Dream having exited stage left while no one, seemingly, was looking.