How Do You Solve a Problem Like Whitney?

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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?

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