The next couple weeks are going to be insane. There are so many new series debuting and unfortunately, there is only so much time in the day for me to write about television while balancing my “real” life. You know, the one I spend on Twitter. ANYWAY, I’m going to try to touch on each new series once it airs a pilot, but these posts probably won’t be too long or too in-depth unless they really need to be. And if certain things debut together, I’ll probably talk about them together.
Look at that image above. LOOK AT IT. If I were a cheap, lazy bastard I would just follow those two short sentences up with “Case closed.” Thankfully for you, I’m better than that. I’m willing to spend a few minutes of my time telling you how dreadful Whitney is.*
*Bright-siding it for a second: This is still probably better than Ringer. Sorry, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
I don’t have anything against the laugh-track-enabled multi-camera sitcom as a format. CBS’ multi-camera series lack a certain subtlety and maturity that I like in my comedies, but it’s the content that turns me off of the Two and a Half Mens and the Big Bang Theorys of the world, not the format. I love How I Met Your Mother, I really loved Friends and I definitely enjoyed my time with the first season of Cheers this summer. In fact, I think we need a big, popular and great multi-camera comedy like Friends or Cheers. Two and a Half Men might be popular, but it’s terrible. You know this.
Unfortunately, Whitney is not that series. Instead of providing a modern, 21st-century sheen of paint on a trusted format, Whitney seems to be too interested in accidentally paying homage to any multi-camera series that was made between 1988 and 1997. If Whitney debuted on NBC in the Friends era, it wouldn’t have to change a thing about this pilot outside of a few cultural references. If Whitney debuted on NBC in the Cheers era, it wouldn’t have to change a thing about this pilot outside of a few cultural references. The series is using a format we look upon as “old” or “out of date,” but the things most old or out of date in these opening 22 minutes are the jokes and the stereotypical conversations about marriage, gender roles and sex.
I vaguely recall seeing some tweets or a review of the pilot which mentioned that Whitney is basically powered by a traditional sitcom relationship, only with the gender roles inverted where the female is the one making a fool of herself while the male lovingly shakes his head. First of all, this isn’t really that new of a concept (see: I Love Lucy). Second of all, that inversion of the gender roles still makes this fictionalized version of Whitney Cummings look like an idiot. She doesn’t want to get married and she’s loud. Oh, I get it! She’s just like a dude! Excuse me while I LLOL.* And even if we’re going to pretend that Whitney’s aversion to marriage makes her a modern, empowered woman, I think the fact that she’s quickly searching for skimpy gimmick sex outfits to please her man tells a slightly different story. You can tell me that she’s a self-actualized idiot, but an idiot is still well, an idiot.
*Yes, I meant to put that. I was literally laughing out loud, y’all.
For better or for worse, stereotypical gender roles and clichés wouldn’t be that big of an issue in a pilot if Whitney were remotely funny. I can’t really tell if Cummings has any real comedic timing because the script, which she wrote by the way, doesn’t give her much to do, so she just mugs a lot for the studio audience to compensate. Chris D’Elia is trapped in the thankless straight-man role and while he delivered a few zingers that were OK, he seems generally miserable, humorless and cold. The two don’t have a lot of chemistry here. That can and probably will change over time, but if the scripts aren’t there to back them up, then Whitney will never work. And as problematic as the two leads are together, their work pales in comparison to the overly broad, loud and stupid supporting characters. All of them are horribly unfunny, unlikable and completely sitcom-y. I would rather hang out with E from Entourage than any of these people. I’m guessing Maulik Pancholy is hoping this gets canceled so he can go back to being a bit player on 30 Rock and Jane Kaczmarek deserves a heck of a lot better as well.
Maybe there’s a funny series to come for Whitney. Maybe there’s a real and compelling story to tell about long-term adult relationships in the era of the 50 percent divorce rate. And maybe every episode of this won’t involve the lead character putting on stupid outfits or making outrageously bad decisions that Lucy wouldn’t blink at. After all, you know how I feel about the first half-dozen episodes of a new comedy. But I will be absolutely shocked if Whitney finds its funny bone or its story engine — seriously, all the pilot gave us was “they’re not getting married!” Um, now what? — or if it stops objectifying its lead while trying to pretend she’s a modern woman. We really need that great multi-camera comedy and it’s because of terrible attempts like this that the format has such a bad name.