With the success in recent years of such consistently smart situation comedies as ABC’s “Modern Family” and “The Middle,” CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and NBC’s “The Office” and “Community,” I started to think that broadcast sitcoms might finally be getting beyond the frat humor and all-around crudeness that seeped into the genre in the ‘90s and all but overtook it during the last decade.
But the early weeks of the 2011-12 television season have me thinking otherwise. Naughtiness is everywhere, especially in the form of talk about naughty bits. It’s particularly potent in some of the season’s best new sitcoms. I’m all for more grown-up entertainment, especially in a medium that no longer cares if kids are watching, but to call what’s happening this fall an uptick is to understate the obvious.
Consider CBS’ “2 Broke Girls,” the new season’s most cheerfully charming offender, but also one of its finest freshman offerings. “Girls” stars delightful newcomers Kat Dennings as Max, a tough-talking Brooklyn waitress, and Beth Behrs as Caroline, a Manhattan debutante now working and living with Max after her family loses its fortune.
It was clear in the pilot which way this show was going to go when Max looked at a wet mess on the uniform of an over-sexed waitress and said she hoped it was “clam chowder.” Since then, the dialogue has become increasingly salty and noticeably genital dependent. In fact, a recent episode must have set a record for the most mentions of the word “vagina” in a network half-hour. It began when Caroline adorned her new bed in pink and Max declared, “You’ve turned your bed into a vagina!"
Eyeing the pink drapes at the head of the bed, Caroline asked, “Do you think my vagina has curtains?”
“I don’t know how long it’s been,” Max replied, referring to the state of Caroline’s sex life.
From that moment forward, Caroline’s bed was repeatedly referred to as her “vagina.”
An earlier episode virtually bombarded viewers with talk of penises, vaginas and testes. After a customer stiffed Max on a tip, to the disgust of his date, Max sneered, “Sorry, dude, looks like this little tip just cost you the chance to give her your little tip.”
Later, the newly resilient Caroline said to Max, “Yes, I’ve been knocked down, but now it’s time to fight back and grab life by the balls.”
“I don’t know if life likes having its balls grabbed,” Max replied, adding, “some guys do, but those are usually the ones who want you to spoon them.”
When Caroline complained about having to sleep on Max’s uncomfortable sofa, she said, “I never get a restful night’s sleep. I need a good nine hours.”
“What you need is a good nine inches,” Max advised.
(Imagine, if you will, Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern having that same conversation on the classic “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” perhaps the best-written situation comedy of all time, with Mary complaining that she didn’t get enough rest on the sofa bed in her apartment and Rhoda telling her that what she really needed was a man with a big penis.)
Also in that episode, Max was embarrassed after an incident involving her mouth and a celery stalk that Johnny was holding. She later tried to discuss it with him while the two were sitting on Caroline’s horse, but their conversation quickly turned to testicles.
“You’d think after all these years of riding a horse, man would have evolved to have his balls on top instead of underneath,” Johnny groaned.
“Yeah, but I don’t see a lot of old-timey ladies wanting to get with the top balls,” Max surmised.
“2 Broke Girls” isn’t the only freshman comedy that plays around with private parts, though it may do so more often than the rest. On this week’s episode of Fox’s “New Girl,” Jess (Zooey Deschanel) walked in on Nick, one of her three male roommates, when he was naked. Nick’s member played a key role in the rest of the story, as we learned that Nick didn’t like the way Jess laughed when she saw it; that Schmidt, one of their other roommates, felt left out because he was the only one in the apartment who had never seen it, and that Jess bizarrely couldn’t say the word “penis” without contorting in embarrassment. I wouldn’t exactly call this episode crude, but it certainly spoke to television’s ongoing interest in the male organ.
Meanwhile, over on ABC, the steadily improving new sitcom “Last Man Standing” also came out of the gate with a heaping helping of crude exchanges, such as that moment in the pilot when sporting goods store marketing director Mike Baxter (Tim Allen) entered a room filled with his male colleagues and declared, “Smells like balls in here!”
There is hardly a broadcast sitcom today that doesn’t push verbal boundaries once in a while, sometimes in admittedly clever ways and often with very funny results. But I wonder if certain writing teams are capable of turning out funny scripts that don’t rely on such easy laugh-getting. Maybe I’m too old fashioned, but timeless comedies like “I Love Lucy,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier,” to name just a few, had me LMFAO without ever becoming crude or vulgar.