Thursdays at 9:30pm on NBC
Whitney has inspired more wrath from the TV enthusiasts on my Twitter feed, than any other new show; possibly more than all of them combined. I read one glowing review from Toronto Star critic Rob Salem but most other feedback was overwhelmingly negative. I’ve watched the first 2 episodes of Whitney and it’s definitely not great. It isn’t even very good. But it’s far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen. So why the intense hatred for this freshmen comedy? Perhaps people resent that NBC has gone all out to promote the show, while cult favourites like Parks and Rec and Community languish on the sidelines. Maybe it’s because an old school, multi-camera comedy filmed in front of a live studio audience is decidedly un-hip and doesn’t belong anywhere other than CBS. Whatever the case, critics and TV fans seem to take offense at its existence and are praying for a swift demise.
Whitney stars writer/comedian Whitney Cummings, who also penned the new CBS Comedy 2 Broke Girls. Much like ‘olden day’ comedies of the early 90’s the show is based on her stand-up material. Whitney plays a loud-mouthed photographer who lives in non-wedded ‘bliss’ with her long-term boyfriend Alex. The show explores the not so glamorous reality of couple-hood. Showering together is a frustrating spatial challenge/drowning hazard...rather than a sexy romp. Forgoing sex because you’re tired, full or can’t find cute underwear is a common occurrence. Pants are unbuttoned after dinner, stomach gas is an acceptable conversation topic, and impressing each other is no longer a concern.
What Doesn’t Work
The subject matter isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Whitney and Alex’s relationship foibles are amusing but predictable. Tired clichés include pointing out who ‘wins’ in an argument, “But just so we’re clear. I won this.” and thinking of your partner as a fun sucker, “I have a girlfriend so I can’t engage in any type of merriment”.
The comedy is too ‘jokey’. That’s not always a bad thing when the punch lines compliment the scene. After Whitney makes two major social gaffes at a wedding Alex quips, “Wow you’re on fire tonight. What are you closing with? Blackface?” But far too often dialogue is written to set up stand-alone jokes rather than develop characters and advance the plot. Whitney’s friend is trying to figure out where an infamous actor/bartender will be serving drinks that night and Whitney cracks, “So he’s got two jobs his mom’s not proud of”. Nothing was worse than the horrible joke in the pilot about Whitney’s mother with the 7 parrots and 7 therapists having “14 things telling her she’s pretty.” Ridiculously implausible and pointless.
The supporting characters, Whitney and Alex’s whacky band of friends, are really, really awful stereotypes. There’s the lovely dovey couple who shove everyone’s face in their 5-times-a-week sex life; the bitter divorcee who hates men, curses the world and guzzles wine straight from the bottle; and the atrociously sleazy police man who thinks women are disposable and monogamy is a joke, “someone’s going for a ride-along tonight…on my face”
But there is a silver lining here folks. When Whitney gets real…something special happens. In the pilot episode Alex smacks his head on a table during a failed seduction attempt and ends up in the hospital. Whitney is distraught because her non-marital status leaves her exiled in the waiting room. She frets about Alex needing his special pillow and lashes out at her mom’s insensitivity. It was touching and endearing and actually mined interesting territory. Whitney’s mother bemoans marriage because it means you are stuck with someone forever and Whitney just stares at her and says “but I do want to be stuck with him forever.” Being in a long-term relationship (even when you don’t believe in marriage) is about more than bickering and ‘dry spells’. It’s about choosing someone. And THAT’S the dynamic that could give this show a real shot at success.
When they’re not slinging one-liners at each other Whitney and Alex have genuine chemistry. It shines through in the subtler moments.
Two other Whitney and Alex scenes that really worked for me were:
1) The role-play scene in the pilot where she dressed up like a sexy nurse and seduced him. The humour came from character Whitney’s character quirks (the fact that she wanted him to actually hand her his insurance card and fill out forms to add authenticity to the ‘seduction’) rather than lame punch lines.
2) The ‘first-date’ restaurant scene in the second episode. There was a lot of nonsense afterwards, but Alex’s genuine frustration at the bizarreness of the situation and Whitney’s real desire to ‘do it right’ was charming.
Whitney should continue to focus on the quirks that make its characters unique rather than the clichés that make them all too familiar.
Will I Continue To Watch This: I will for 2 reasons 1) It follows three NBC comedies I’m already watching and it’s easier just to PVR the whole block and 2) The fact that everyone hates it so much makes me want to root for it. I’m weird like that.
Ratings: Whitney benefited from its Office lead-in and snagged 6.71 million viewers in its first week. It fell to 5.37 million viewers in its second week, which is not a HUGE drop, but not great either. People have already been predicting a quick demise, but as of now it’s still outperforming Community and Parks and Rec. We’ll have to wait to see if it holds steady or falls further to really get a sense of its potential. I’d be shocked if Whitney got the axe before NBC’s Wednesday night comedy Free Agents.