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be kind

2 Broke Girls Has a Mean Streak — and It’s a Problem

"You're literally a five-dollar whore right now," Max told Caroline on last night's 2 Broke Girls. She'd previously advised her newly impoverished roommate on how to be a "clever bitch" while shopping at Goodwill, and later in the episode laughed as Caroline got her hair pulled in a low-level girl fight at a bar. Last week, Max delighted in Caroline getting covered in horse diarrhea. The economic-odd-couple setup is one thing, but Max seems to zoom past Schadenfreude to sadism, and while there's plenty of room for all the fish-out-of-water jokes at poor-little-rich-girl Caroline's expense, 2 Broke Girls is running into one major problem: Does it have to be so mean?

Sure, meanness has its place. Just imagine Golden Girls without Bea Arthur's disdainful eye rolls and slow turns. But then try to imagine it without the cheesecake chitchats and underlying human compassion. Not everything has to be as merry as Jimmy Fallon or Parks and Recreation, but there are reasons both of these things are connecting with people, and it's that they're silly and hopeful, not just cruel and ironic.

Sure, meanness has its place. Just imagine Golden Girls without Bea Arthur's disdainful eye rolls and slow turns. But then try to imagine it without the cheesecake chitchats and underlying human compassion. Not everything has to be as merry as Jimmy Fallon or Parks and Recreation, but there are reasons both of these things are connecting with people, and it's that they're silly and hopeful, not just cruel and ironic.

If UCB-trained writers and performers are taking over comedy culture, and they are, then so are some improv maxims, like saying yes, avoiding fight scenes, and supporting your scene partner. Kinder comedy is in, UCB-based or not: The first pickup this year was for New Girl, easily the lovey-doveyest of all the new shows. Its central character declared her love for her new roommates right on the second episode, and while the guys might be a little befuddled by Jess's childlike demeanor, they're charmed by it, too.

Broke is a much more traditional show than New Girl, and it's not as if it can suddenly become a Parks-level mutual admiration society. But while Kat Dennings can surl with the surliest of all surlsters, she and Beth Behrs play off each other extremely well — which is why it would be nice to see them work as a team, or at least drop the constant sniping. Maybe Girls can take a page from The Big Bang Theory playbook. Both shows are about character clashes, about people who reluctantly begin to rely on each other; both fit comfortably in CBS's ultratraditional comedy lineup; and both got off to weird, mean-spirited starts. Big Bang turned it around, though, by finding moments of shared passion, of kindness between the characters. Conflict doesn't have to come solely from characters hating or not understanding each other. There's humor in the unexpected, not just in the unfiltered.

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS