How Do You Solve a Problem Like Whitney?

I like Whitney Cummings. She's got good comic timing and a fragility that undercuts her brassiness to give her an accessible vulnerability. But I hate her new show. I think it's the format that kills it for me, followed closely by the writing.

The old-school, multi-camera sitcom feel is hard to get past; it's unsettling when commercials are more skillfully shot and pleasing to the eye than the show you're watching. I know that national ads often have bigger budgets, but shows like Parks and Rec and Up All Night manage to light their scenes inexpensively while still creating a 360-degree world that's intriguing to look at. The realm of "let's sit next to each other, stare forward, and leave long pauses for laughter" thing just feels stale in 2011. Apparently a couple cheaply decorated sets strung together in a studio with a set of daily-grind line producers cranking out intellectual Velveeta is the best NBC thinks it owes us, and that's insulting. Network TV isn't quite free; it involves having ten minutes of your time hijacked by advertisers who are doing their best to brainwash you (that, or the effort of fast-forwarding through commercials). If you're going to shake shiny beads in my face to keep my attention, they better be some damn shiny beads. I know Whitney is just starting, so its budget is smaller, but compared to the other brand-new shows I've reviewed for this very site, it falls short. Look at Revenge, which is stretching a small budget to recreate the Hamptons. Even where it fails, it's kind of captivating to watch the show try. Or take Suburgatory, which features funny writing in addition to being gorgeously filmed and directed. By comparison, Whitney looks as mechanical and cheap as a piece of artwork from Ikea.

Regarding the writing: I like Whitney Cummings' stand up. I like a lot of her jokes on the show. I like her character a lot more than the other-worldly Jess of New Girl. But there is an awful lot of yelling a joke over a co-star's head in every scene, and it's impossible to stay invested in the reality of the show where the main character spends most of her time basically talking directly to the camera while her redhead friend and her blonde friend (a trio with three distinct colors of hair! Diversity!) wait for the discreetly edited laughter to stop. This is especially tedious if you're not laughing along. Seinfield had the same kind of format, but it kept the conversation reasonably natural and charged ahead with enough absurdity and physical humor that I often drowned out the studio-audience laughter with my own. There is physical humor in Whitney, but it falls almost completely fall in camp of "awkwardly sexual":

As for Episode 2, which aired last night, and the women-making-out-with-women for the benefit of men... do I have to rehash how demeaning to the concept of women's sexuality that is? Or that it's kind of dismissive of the reality of lesbian relationships and also super objectifying to hetero ladies? Just checking.

All told, last night's episode actually featured a very engaging premise. Who among us has not tried to go out on a formal date with a partner we were already very comfortable with? Seriously, good premise. Except that Whitney used the idea of a formal first date to essentially disassociate from reality and throw a tantrum because because her long-term boyfriend didn't understand the web of lies she was trying to weave. She ended up throwing him out of the house and then later "stalking" him in the lobby. And eventually it all payed off because her boyfriend of five years, after being kicked out of his own apartment, put a coat on her? Thirty minutes well spent! There's nothing I love more than seeing another show reinforce a stereotype about women being fundamentally irrational before rewarding its characters for their horrible behavior. We all learned something! Bully and abuse your loyal partner, then make out with a girl to peak his interest, and he might just do something thoughtful for you.

Whitney isn't the worst show in the world; there are plenty of people who can come home from a long day of work, turn it on, and listen to it in the background as they check their email, heat up their enchiladas, and wait for the morning to come so they can return to their cubicles. Whitney is the kind of comedy that does not ask you to think about how it looks or how its characters feel or how real people act or actual problems. It doesn't ask you to think at all, really—it's just a nice little "opiate" for the "masses." And it may be successful for exactly that reason. But I won't be watching.


Did you watch Whitney's first two episodes? What's your opinion of the show?

Comments (29)
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Well Lily, problem solved??? I don't think 24 episodes would really help but we'll see.
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This episode is worst than the pilot and the pilot wasnt that good i will give this show one last chance because of Whitney Cummings
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I don't think you quite 'got' the last episode. The whole "abuse your boutfirnd, kick him out, make out with another woman and all is good because he gave you his coat" this wasn't what they were saying. It was making fun of al that, taking to the extreme and letting us laugh at how absurd it really is. At least that's how I saw it and I enjoyed it.



I didn't like the first episode much, I ended up checking my email and heating up my dinner during most of it, but episode 2 was much better and I hope that they continue to improve the show as it goes on.



I should say, I have never liked Whitney Cummings at all. Her stand up or anything else. I don't know why I would like this show but it's good. Perhaps because of the shows it follows I am already in a good, laughing mood.

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It looks awful. It's obviously going to get cancelled.
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Horrible cast, horrible show!
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My god, I just don't get it. Really, I don't get it, Lily. Whitney, in my opinion, is the funniest new comedy this season, whereas New Girl has no laughs whatsoever. I have to say I much prefer the comedy style of a few years back, such as Cheers and Frasier, which were hilarious. But today's comedies are just horrible. For example, watched the first 8 episodes of 30 Rock and quit. Terrible. Watched the first 5 episodes of Two and a Half Men, then quit. Watched 3 episodes of Community...no more. And last season, watched 7 episodes of Happy Endings. No laughs, boring. So far this season, only 2 Broke Girls and Whitney make me laugh. Great lines, and all the negatives you mention either I don't notice or they are what makes the show so good to watch. Alas, there is no accounting for taste, but I LOVE WHITNEY. This is the type of comedy that is smart, funny, and features great actors and writing. You can stick to the "when will this boring, dull, no laughs show end", meaning New Girl.
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Hey meee223, thanks for the thoughtful response. If you look at my New Girl review, I actually disliked it very much for all the reasons you mention. I prefer Whitney's main character to Jessie (As played by Z.Desch) and I think I make that point in this review as well . I love Whitney Cummings stand up, I think she's a promising talent, I think she's doing an awesome job with what they've given her, I just hate this format, and it deflates the humor for me.Maybe soon she will get a big fat budget to make a show that's as easy on the eyes as she is, but also it could be just a chocolate-strawberry-vanilla taste difference. The most successful comedian centered comedy on today in my opinion would be Louie.
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So, in essence, how do you solve a problem like Whitney? What problem? My question is, when are the networks going to stop putting out stale, unfunny shows that stay on air for years and years? Answer, probably never, because for some reason, people like them. Therefore, guess I'll have to hit the movies to find some laughs or just rewatch the great comedies of years gone by. Lily, I just don't understand what you find humorous and what you don't. I just do not understand it.
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Terrible show, just like Two Broke Girls - which would get no viewers if it weren't on CBS.
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The problem with this show is the same with 2 broke girls. It asks the crowd to sit around and wait for the Whitney character (or Kat Dennings) to say a joke. And it isn't funny because by the time they hit the punch line you can guess what they are already going to say. Whitney is going to say something about sex. Kat is going to make a joke about herself. Yay. woohooo how innovative. The problem isn't the jokes ( though kind of) or their timing (though kind of) It is the delivery and it is the repetition. It is only the second episode for both and I am already getting tired of it. Self depreciating women aren't funny and after a while you don't want to hang out with them. Women who keep cracking jokes about sex are kind of funny but it can get old real quick. And it is too bad because both shows, though honestly 2 broke girls over Whitney, have great premises and decent casts. They just need to change it up. They should look at Community, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. Community for innovation, and BBT and MF for doing similar jokes over and over again well. At this rate I barely see either of them getting a full season and if they do they will quickly fizzle out midway next year.
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Gong it!
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seriously this is the worst show i've seen in a loooong long time!!
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Is every episode of this show going to be Whitney going to extreme lengths to have sex with her boyfriend.
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The only palatable thing about this show is Chris D'Elia, and even he's not worth watching 22 minutes of "Whitney." This show is officially off my tv schedule.
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what is the show called????????????????????????????

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LOL WassanDawood.
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Oh cum on,lighten up man.Just for once enjoy the show and don't overthink.I mean i love reading your columns when they are about some serious shows but this is a comedy and its two episodes out of the ``work shop`` so just RELAX and enjoy it and you ll see you ll love it.
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Nope I've never seen a moment of the show because I find her completely annoying, I am much happier with New Girl Zooey- who is fun and like-able
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There are certainly problems with Whitney. I don't think they are insurmountable, and I hope that the show uses the next few episodes to define its characters better and get its lead performers to relax a little. As for the show being demeaning to women, I can see one way of viewing it as such, but it's hard to accept in a review that praises Seinfeld, surely the most jaw-droppingly sexist show in forty years.



None of Whitney's flaws, though, would be solved by making it a single-camera show. If you make a list of the finest sitcoms in history, almost every one will have been filmed in front of a studio audience. Apart from inspiring the actors, the format allows for rehearsal and rewriting throughout the process, resulting in a generally better final product. A single-camera show may "look" more cinematic, but the result is almost always excessively edited (count the number of unnecessary cuts next time you watch 30 Rock).



That isn't to say all sitcoms should be multi-camera. The Office, for one, would make no sense without the single-camera setup, and they do a fine job with it. Arrested Development, Get Smart, and many other good shows needed their cinematic style to convey their satire. Most shows do not. The single-camera trend dominated in the 1960s, and then mostly died out for a long time. These things go through phases, but let's not buy into trends so completely. Leaving aside The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, The Odd Couple, Soap, Mary Tyler Moore, The Golden Girls, Cheers, and Frasier..."a couple of cheaply decorated sets" with relatively simple lighting and actors relating to a live audience has been responsible for some pretty fair entertainment over the last 2,500 years. I'm not at all sure that Modern Family has erased all that.
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Hey, some of the finest movies in history involved a train rushing full speed at the camera. But the Lumiere brothers no longer have the same impact for the same reason the Dick Van Dyke show is practically unwatchable these days. I know I grew up on Golden Girls and Cheers, but even now when they come on I feel an almost pavlovian boredom hit me with that first laugh track. Our social language changes and the same nuances and references fade. Curious about Seinfield as sexist...I always thought Elaine's presence and inclusion in the group mitigated Jerry's womanizing, but maybe I should go back and take another look. Thanks for taking the time to write a really thoughtful and convincing comment though, it was a pleasure to read.
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Hey, some of the finest movies in history involved a train rushing full speed at the camera. But the Lumiere brothers no longer have the same impact for the same reason the Dick Van Dyke show is practically unwatchable these days. I know I grew up on Golden Girls and Cheers, but even now when they come on I feel an almost pavlovian boredom hit me with that first laugh track. Our social language changes and the same nuances and references fade. Curious about Seinfield as sexist...I always thought Elaine's presence and inclusion in the group mitigated Jerry's womanizing, but maybe I should go back and take another look. Thanks for taking the time to write a really thoughtful and convincing comment though, it was a pleasure to read.
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Hopefully it gets cancelled. It will be a terrible lead-in for 30 Rock.
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First, the show has no flow. It plays like a comedian on stage where a bit didn't work and he/she moves on to the next bit. Disconnect. Second, no chemistry. These two leads should have been cast as cousins? Brother/sister? Not sure, but THIS is wrong. Third, I said it before....an actor is only as good as the direction given!! Clearly Whitney HAS no direction. Deadpan flat! This was my FIRST deadpool choice based on the promos only.



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My question is this show really filmed in front of a audience it sounds like a laugh track and its overpowering the comedic timing and give whitney a better chance to be less sitcom vanilla and more like her standup. Lately I can't stand any show with laugh tracks studios need live audience or nothing (no more canned laugh)
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The opening sequence mentions a live studio audience, but I'm not quite buying it. At the very least, the laughs sound "enhanced."
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Whitney as a comedian is gold, Whitney as a sitcom star and writer... AWFUL! The show is all around awkward. And not the good awkward like Adult Swim does... that awkward that makes you eventually want to punch someone. On my Dead Pool list!
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wow you reall put some thought into this. good job. also, your pretty much right the show just feels fake i watched the pilot and only really laughed at one thing. so sad
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Thank you Lily for this great piece. I think it's important that the problem with multi-camera sitcoms is highlighted. They are truly a thing of the past. There might be a few sitcoms which have managed to make something out of it during the last decade, but they are in the clear minority. Most of them simply suck. They feel so theatrical and wooden, like a play being filmed on a stage (which they of course essentially are). And I can't imagine a revival of the format in the future. They are, and should forever be, buried in the graveyard of TV entertainment.
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Completely disagree. Today's comedies stink, for the most part. Haven't liked one since Frasier ended, with the exception of the short-lived Traffic Light on Fox. ..... until now with Whitney, and 2 Broke Girls. If they keep cranking out these so-called "hilarious" comedy hits which stay on for season after season, I guess I'll just stick to some great drama on HBO, Showtime, etc. and yes, even a decent comedy thrown in on those networks, too. But, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox .... you can keep their crap comedies. Yeah, a lot of people like them, but to me, they are simply boring, boring, boring.
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