During last night’s pilot episode of “Two Broke Girls,” Kat Dennings’s character made a Temple Grandin joke that I thought was funny for about half a second before the laugh tracked kicked in. In my mind, a simple laugh track transformed an amusing joke into an offensive one, though I can’t explain why, exactly. Without the laugh track, it felt like a smart reference. With the laugh track, it felt like 500 people were laughing at an autistic woman.
And that, folks, is the problem with laugh tracks: They transform meanings. But they also make you question whether a line was even funny to begin with. How funny can a show really be if canned laughter is necessary to it? I don’t want to be prompted to laugh. I want to make my own decisions. Otherwise, I don’t know if I’m eating Salisbury steak or prime rib; all I know is that it’s being force fed down my throat.
Neither can I explain why canned laughter doesn’t bother me on “How I Met Your Mother,” or why it didn’t bother me in nearly every situational comedy preceding the second season of “Sports Night.” There’s just something about the boisterousness of the laugh track on most of these shows that makes me feel like I’m being asked to feel something against my will.
Michael Patrick King (“Sex and the City”) and Whitney Cummings combined to bring us “2 Broke Girls,” a comedy that relies on a particularly dumb premise: After her father is indicted for a ponzi scheme, Caroline (Beth Behr) is forced to take up employ at a greasy spoon with Max (Kat Dennings), a sassmouth waitress with a surly attitude. The broke princess and the lifelong Brooklynite become friends, move in together, play tiddlywinks and, hopefully, one day make out. Oh, and because there’s apparently not enough going on, Max also babysits for a airhead Manhattan socialite diva (Brooke Lyons).
But for the casting of Kat Dennings, “2 Broke Girls” is a generic fish-out-of water sitcom, and even without the laugh track, it wouldn’t provoke much laughter. But, and especially for CBS, the show is brazen with its innuendos and double entendres. That, I respect. What I don’t respect is the use of innuendos and double entendres in the first place. It’s typical CBS sitcom bullshit, and it makes for some painful one-liners. Indeed, the occasional smart reference only makes “2 Broke Girls” feel more like smart writers dumbing down a show in an effort to appeal to a broader LCD demographic. In fact, there’s quite a bit of potential with the show if only you could mute the laugh tracks, erase the setting, dispose of the character stereotypes, get rid of everyone else on the show and basically isolate Kat Dennings.
So, basically: “The Kat Dennings One Woman Show.” That, I’d watch. “2 Broke Girls” I can’t see spending much time with.