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Is It Now Illegal to Criticize Betty White?

Tonight, Hot in Cleveland, a.k.a. Betty White’s new sitcom, premieres on TV Land. The premise of the show, inspired, as the New York Times points out, by a 30 Rock observation, is that it is much easier for women of a certain age to get laid in Cleveland than in other major metropolitan areas. When three friends, played by Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick, get stuck in the city on a layover, they find it so lady-parts-affirming that they lease a house there. Betty White comes with the house. The show has received solid reviews, all of the "it’s not revolutionary, but it’s not bad" type: “This is not perhaps the most daring or avant-garde comedy on television, but there is nothing shameful about Hot in Cleveland. It’s actually kind of fun”; “Like the women in it, the show is solid and professional and holds together well.”; “Hot in Cleveland is a sitcom that has a distinctly warmed-over feel to it. That's not necessarily a bad thing.” This is disappointing. Not because we wanted Hot in Cleveland to be bad, but because we are really curious about what’s going to happen when Betty White appears in something terrible.

In the court of public opinion, it is currently illegal to make fun of Betty White. She is a lovable national treasure, possessed with a wondrous attitude, work ethic, and sense of comic timing. Her presence, even more than her performance, likely helped Hot in Cleveland get the reviews it did. The show is a standard laugh-track sitcom about three cougars, and, yet, no critics could muster the energy to eviscerate it, because it has, as the Chicago Sun-Times puts it, “tremendous good will on its side,” thanks largely to White.

If Hot in Cleveland was not quite bad enough to force people to say uncomplimentary things about one of White’s projects, will anything be? We’re not sure, but not because Betty White is only in quality productions: She mainly works in romantic comedies, after all, and her next movie is You Again. If that film is not enough to elicit even a few disparaging remarks then we’ll know White is officially a protected category of person: too awesome, too funny, too old, and too condescended to to be respectfully (or not so respectfully) criticized. That seems like exactly the kind of status White is exactly excellent enough to find extremely lame; so maybe, soon, we can all consider starting in with some tasteful teasing. Alternately, if it's decided she can never do any wrong, someone should seriously consider getting her to star in the next Ghost Rider.