In its latest attempt to program for people under the age of 50, CBS has brought us “2 Broke Girls,” the story of an earthy and jaded waitress and a billionaire’s daughter fallen on hard times trying to make it in Brooklyn. CBS executives have touted “2 Broke Girls” as the highest-testing CBS show ever, and it merits exactly the judgment you would expect for a high-testing CBS comedy: It’s not terrible.

2 Broke Girls

Pilot
Mondays at 8:30 p.m.
CBS


Whitney Cummings is the hottest thing in television this fall. Not only does she run and star in “Whitney” over on NBC, but she’s also the co-creator of this show. Maybe that’s why “2 Broke Girls” is so messy — and boy, is it ever. Kat Dennings (“Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) is self-described “dead inside” waitress Max, and Beth Behrs (“Serial Buddies”) plays Caroline, the daughter of a convicted Ponzi artist. The stale archetypes don’t stop there. There’s a douchebag boyfriend, a gang of stoner buddies and even an Asian restaurant owner with comically bad English, all played about as broadly as possible. The Madoff reference sets the bar for cutting-edge topicality. There are hipsters! Arcade Fire is name-dropped! This is what your uncle in Saint Cloud thinks hipsters talk about, except your uncle in Saint Cloud doesn’t know what hipsters are.

Vaguely racist gags and old-person’s-view of Williamsburg bohemia aside, though, there are other issues with the pilot. When they flop, the overwrought clunkers really flop, viz. “I wear knit hats when it’s cold out — you wear knit hats because of Coldplay.” (They couldn’t have stretched a little for “I wear knit hats in December, you wear knit hats because of The Decemberists?”) Some of the jokes are terrible and strained, and the writers have very little ear for dialogue. It’s not all bad though. The socialite for whom Max babysits becomes emotional and says, “I need to hold one of the babies now. Bring me one. No, not that one, that’s not the good one.” It’s not as if the writers are incapable of being funny, and they have the capacity to improve.

There’s some evidence of what this show can be by the end of the episode. Though Beth Behrs is given terrible material at the beginning, a different dynamic emerges by the end of the episode. Caroline is no longer the Upper East Sider lost in the wilderness that is Brooklyn — she’s shrewd, competent and making plans for the future. Max lets down the world-weary mask and comes off as slightly damaged, vulnerable and kind of clueless. It’s a nice reversal from the way this kind of relationship is traditionally written.

The writing ranges in quality from “not bad” to “I’d rather listen to the eldritch murmurs of Cthulhu itself.” What really keeps the pilot from being a total flop, though, are the actresses. The jaded waitress schtick can get stale fast, but to Dennings’s credit, she plays the character without being grating. Behrs has even less to work with, but her delivery and timing mask a lot of deficiencies in the writing. Their chemistry is great. Look to the scene where Max awkwardly says goodbye to Caroline, who clearly needs a place to stay. That the scene is charming and entertaining instead of cringe-worthy is an endorsement of the abilities of the actresses to elevate mediocre writing.

Just like “New Girl,” its rival “cute girl adapts to different surroundings” show, “2 Broke Girls” is selling personalities. There are two here instead of one, and in the end, Dennings and Behrs are given compelling characters to play and have the chops to do a lot with them. It’s OK for pilots to suck. There’s enough here to come back for, and for a network sitcom, that’s plenty.

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