By Michael Luo
BY MICHAEL LUO
A comparative look at 2 Broke Girls and Archer
Fridays for me usually consist of watching family-friendly Pixar films, alone, consuming microwavable SpaghettiOs, alone, and falling asleep to Nas’s Illmatic, during class. You might say this is not the ideal college experience, but I argue otherwise. The education attainable through such elegant practices has taught me much more than all the classes I’ve failed. One exercise in particular is the following of television series. For those who don’t know, a television is a magical box that functions much like the screen of your MacBook without the annoyance of the keyboard. So yes, it is a large iPad.
As the new semester crawls into February, those like me turn to the excitement of another season of great or awful television, reluctantly renewed post-winter break. While the holy trinity of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and CS50 lectures are either being re-watched or re-watched for the second time, I’d like to take this moment to point your attention to two others by the names of 2 Broke Girls and Archer. The reason I picked these two is due in part to their surprisingly similar sense of humor yet drastically different critical reception. To put this in perspective, Archer came to me highly recommended by friends and family; 2 Broke Girls came to me by way of a 12-hour flight. Archer is in its acclaimed fifth season while 2 Broke Girls still mystifies IMDB reviewers on how it got to its third. No matter, I for one have still chosen to loyally watch both for the betterment of my time whilst roommates recruit and rush.
The premises of both shows are rather unoriginal: Archer being a cartoony comical take on the archetypical suave spy and 2 Broke Girls being a sarcastic look at stereotypical struggling waitresses trying to make it in New York. So while Archer could be curtly summed up as an Adult Swim version of Get Smart, 2 Broke Girls’s logline probably consisted of an adaptation of the 1970s hit series Alice into 21st century malaise.
Archer’s titular hero, Sterling Archer, is stylized on his wiki page as the lovechild of Don Draper and James Bond raised by Charlie Sheen. Now I wish I could’ve come up with something better, but the wiki description is too close to the truth. Selfish, carefree, and outspoken, Sterling leads a cast of equal if not more flawed yet talented agents traversing the globe on secret missions from drag racing with the Yakuza to smuggling cocaine.
Likewise, Max and Caroline of 2 Broke Girls are portrayed as desperately egotistical individuals with conflicting outlooks on life: Caroline, the once well-endowed socialite turned welfare-seeking waitress, and Max, the perpetual waitress turned reluctant caretaker of her newfound, downtrodden Kardashian. Together they form a formidable team of — you guessed it — wisecracking waitresses with dreams of launching a cupcake business.
Now the humor for both shows hinges on two basic ingredients: insults and absurdity. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing explicitly sinful with this brand of comedy. From legends like Don Rickles and Bob Hope to sensations such as Sarah Silverman and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, this jovial abuse style of humor more often than not receives the roaring approval of an audience willing to laugh, at or with, whatever happens to be the target of abuse.
For Archer and 2 Broke Girls, the humor rests on the triumphs of one character over the expense of another. This is seen when Sterling bests his fellow agents, calling out his ex-lover Lana for her in-field oversights or ridiculing accountant Cyril for his social mishaps, be it sexual or fraternal. Meanwhile, Broke Girl #1 doles out acerbic one-liners at Broke Girl #2, alternating
between Max’s judgment of Caroline’s unfamiliarity with being poor and Caroline’s shock at Max’s acceptance of living poor.
All the while, jokes about race, sex, and drugs permeate every episode of both shows yet on IMDB, Archer has been labeled as “magically raunchy” but 2 Broke Girls is condemned to be “a total waste of time.” Of course, poking fun at a mafia boss amidst an assassination attempt in the Swiss Alps maybe merits more “intellectual humor” than pointing out the shortcomings of the socially inept, physically stunted Asian American diner boss, but this type of exploitation comedy is one and the same. Sure, Archer gets to address global politics and law in the “bro-est” way possible, but 2 Broke Girls provides a seemingly perfect counterpoint with its two silver-tongued female leads trotting over unfortunate guests at their shoddy Brooklyn establishment.
It is also necessary to point out the one striking difference: Archer is animated and 2 Broke Girls is live-action, begging the question of whether cartoon characters have a different set of Standards and Practices. On the other hand, there should also be an appreciation of real people willing not only to say but also to act out the crazy and ludicrous. Yet, probably the most significant difference here is still the premise. Sterling Archer is a lavish secret agent armed with the latest gadgets while Max and Caroline are hourly-wage workers barely making enough to pay the rent. From a different perspective, Archer is a show about narcissists who have money and power but make a mess of everything at an international criminal level, thereby creating hilarious situations that satirize extravagance. In parallel, 2 Broke Girls is a show about two polar opposite friends, who despite all the filth in their laundry and language, still manage to hold onto a dream of making it, hence forming an ironic look at conceited individuals pursuing noble ambitions.
So as the lonely TV junkie with absolutely no authority, I beseech the community to give both a chance. Maybe you have already seen Archer because you thought Harvard would lead you to the CIA and eventually “out-fame” Robert Gates, but it seems unjust to discredit one show over another simply because the profession and premise of one earns more than the other. Comedy that insults and offends somehow always gets a few laughs, and while most of us don’t dream to become the greatest waitress possible post-graduation, it does show that fun and laughter, no matter the brand, can be found in the highest and lowest of forms. As someone great once said, “Give everything a chance and maybe you’ll discover something worthwhile.” Those Hallmark cards really come in handy sometimes.
Michael Luo ’16 ([email protected]) was told to write at his own risk but he doesn’t own Risk.