My New Capitalist Exemplar

Occasionally of an underscheduled evening, The Free Agent turns the dial on her television set to catch a broadcast.  This season, nestled amongst the police procedurals, superstitious dramas, and unreality shows, she found the chupacabra of popular entertainment—a capitalist hero.

She wasn’t expecting it.  “Two Broke Girls” was created by Michael Patrick King of “Sex and the City” and Whitney Cummings, who also stars in her own self-titled sitcom.  (Skip that one.)  Set in a Brooklyn diner, the show has been attacked from the start for racial and sexual humor.  Perhaps all the politically correct hand-wringing has obscured the real provocation of the show—the exaltation of capitalism.

The diner is peopled by admittedly stock characters.  Max, the cynical, tough-talking, licentious waitress; Oleg, the relentlessly amorous cook; Earl, a jaded, jazz-loving cashier; and the target of most of the show’s media criticism, Han Lee, the Korean immigrant owner.  Into this familiar landscape, however, wandered the catalyst of the show, a Dagny Taggart for the Twenty-First Century, Caroline Channing.  The daughter of a convicted Bernie Madoff-like con artist, Channing (Beth Baers) has fled her former life with only her Manhattan heels, one piece of statement jewelry, and her horse.  When she washes ashore in Williamsburg, Max takes her in and gets her a job at the diner.

And there they might have had a nice long run à la Laverne and Shirley, who (until the disastrous move to Los Angeles) were content to work the bottle-capping line at Shotz’s brewery while vision-boarding husbands and Scooter Pies.  But Caroline Channing brings one more asset with her—a Wharton MBA.  When she discovers Max bakes the diner’s exceptional cupcakes,  she engages her in a partnership to sell them.

And far from being incidental or an underpinning to romantic misadventures, the heavy lifting of entrepreneurship is the backbone of the series.  Despite their constant need for funds, Caroline insists they have to pass up maid work offered by another go-getter, Sophie, a Polish immigrant played by Jennifer Coolidge, who single-handedly makes the show worth watching.  (The Free Agent must devote some time to pondering why immigrants can be positively portrayed as capitalists while Americans must constantly try to overcome it.)  She hires a web designer to market the business, comes up with catchy names—The FA predicts someday soon, you’ll be able to buy a Beer-Batter Maple-Bacon Spring Break cupcake from a real life entrepreneur—and continuously pushes jaded Max into risking her money, time, and dignity to further the business.  A tote board at the end of each episode updates their assets.

Most importantly, King and Cummings depict Caroline as an utterly lovely person.  She is hard-working, cheerful, kind, and honest.  (Even in the episode where Earl has a heart attack and the girls  want him to have a private room, Caroline asks a friend of hers who’s a doctor at the hospital for a favor.  Universal standards and practices seem to forbid the depiction of anyone spending money for health care, but The Free Agent can name a dozen shows that solve the problem by the characters committing insurance fraud without reproach.)  She’s even pretty.  She would never connive, backstab, and double-cross like J. R. Ewing, TV’s ur-capitalist.

Caroline sells capitalism as the way to a better life.  She isn’t trying to prosper at someone else’s expense.  She loves the products and believes others will too.  She wants to be independent and have some of the choices she had when she was wealthy.  She wants her horse back from his foster stable.  She wants her friend Max to want more in life than to die slinging hash in the diner and comforting herself of an evening smoking weed.  She displays not a millisecond of guilt or shame or doubt that what she’s working for is good or that her work will be rewarded.

The Free Agent raises a sherry in toast of Mister King and Miss Cummings.  Were she to somehow get a few uninterrupted moments with their computers, she would nevertheless write a macro that would prevent the words “give back to the community” from ever appearing in a script, just to be safe.