First of all, let me just said that I am very pleased that the Whitney pilot reflected little of the “WOMEN ARE THE WORLD’S CURSE” pitch that has appeared on the sides of every bus for the last few months. I thought I was going to have to get laser eye removal after watching a show that could be accurately depicted by those ads, but as I suspected, no show could be that putrid and Whitney certainly was not. Well, maybe not certainly. Either way I’m 99% sure someone lost their job over that campaign, and I sleep like a chubby baby with that thought in mind.
Instead, the bone being picked by Whitney reviews I’ve peeped so far seems to be the combination of the multi-camera style and laugh track. This might in fact be a fundamental shift in what people (or at least, the people reading this review) are willing to tolerate on their sitcoms. However, it definitely isn’t Whitney’s fault if a certain section of the population is just fucking over it. Maybe it’s the result of a childhood filled with Seinfeld and Friends or the motherfucking comedy goddesses the Golden Girls, but to me, a laugh track is like having a fan when you sleep: white noise. Meanwhile, the use of multi-camera really just serves to highlight the tension between the show’s nominally racy subject matter (though, have the show’s creators seen an episode of HIMYM? Or Two And A Half Men? Or…) and the traditional sitcom themes it revolves around (monogamy, loyalty, pratfalls). It seems like NBC wants to have its share of Big Bang/Two And A Half Men cake and eat it too, and, hey, who doesn’t? Neither of these traditional elements bothered me personally, but it bothered the hell out of a lot of people, and I think that just might be A Divide That Now Exists within the television watching audience.
That being said, I do think these traditional elements might make it harder for an audience member in 2011 to get into the show, which is why Whitney desperately needs that strong protagonist up front, as an entry point for the viewer. So far, there’s not really a Whitney to Whitney. We know our lead character is a photographer and in a long term relationship and that is pretty much it. (Also, this might just be cynicism talking, aka the only voice I have, but doesn’t “photographer” seem like some vaguely artistic career picked out of a hat at a development meeting?) If we are attaching ourselves to a titlular character, then we need a full-fleshed-out human, ala a Roseanne Connor, or a lady Jerry Seinfeld. Most of all, we need to know the main character a little more before we give two tiny rat doots if her relationship has gone stale. There is just not enough here to care about, and as a result the jokes are by necessity generic and broad and just flat as a board. As Whitney’s boyfriend Andy, Chris D’Elia sure does a lot of looking exasperated with his arms akimbo. For a second, in the first scene, my hands started shaking with excitement because I thought that their dynamic might be Persnickety Husband and Slob Wife. God, how fucking sweet would that be? I imagine it as if Niles from Frasier married It’s Always Sunny’s Artemis. They can name it Slob Wife! It’s not too late! It’s never too late! Of course, there’s the larger question if Whitney Cummings’ stand-up persona or material is defined enough to build an entire world around, but you know what? It’s on TV already. So let’s see her at some fucking wacky photo shoots, with a cameo by an actual Kardashian. Let’s make us care. Alternately, the writers could just expand the show into an ensemble comedy like Friends. God, do I miss Friends right about now.
The most problematic thing about the show as it stands is that it doesn’t really have a hook. Seriously! Whitney and Andy love each other and want to spice up their sex life, but nothing is really at risk or must be achieved by overcoming obstacles. Jane Kaczmarek stops by as Whitney’s mom to deliver an almost incomprehensible speech either for or against marriage (I honestly have no idea), but arrives so late in the episode that she comes across like a deux ex machina. Or should I say…deux ex mom-ina? (Watch Halle on NBC this fall, about a young woman who struggles to write several overwrought TV recaps at 3:00 in the morning while the gun on her bedside table watches over her. It forever watches over her.)
I won’t even get into the fact that Whitney spends half of the episode in a sexy, butt-revealing nurse’s uniform, because it turns out that the tenets of feminism dictate that if I do, Madeleine Albright will show up in a leather bustier and punch me in the stomach. It’s true; I checked the charter. While historians will tell you that Hollywood is literally built on a foundation of sexy nurse uniforms worn by slender, attractive white women, at the end of the day I honestly do believe the thin, conventionally good-looking Caucasian women wearing these sexy medical uniforms have stories to tell too. And, sure, if one of those stories involves their long-term boyfriend tripping over his own unbuttoned pants and smashing his skull against the kitchen island in a sex-capade gone awry, forcing Whitney to haul him into the emergency room still in her garters, well who am I to say that story shouldn’t be told? It did lead to the funniest line of the night, as delivered by Whitney’s cranky divorcee friend Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn). “As your friend, I should tell you something that’s not easy for me to say,” she gently informs a distraught Cummings in the hospital waiting room. “You’re still wearing that tiny hat.” I didn’t need a laugh track for a great tiny hat joke. No. One. Fucking. Does.
So, yeah, at the end of the day, this is a pilot. It’s against the Constitution of the United States of Sexy Nurse-ilvania to judge a show based on the pilot, but even if it wasn’t, I’m have no problem cutting them a lot of slack. Whitney’s ad campaign chummed the water and had critics primed to rip this show apart (especially me! I’m a hammerhead, ya’ll!), so the fact that my carotid artery didn’t burst with a hot jet of rage and spray my laptop with blood makes me feel like Whitney is probably going to turn out to be okay, and will almost certainly pull in decent ratings. I guess what I’m saying is, it wasn’t awful and I liked it okay. I just needed 1,100 words to get to that, OKAY?!? I would have liked Whitney more, however, if they would have just gone ahead and shown Chris D’Elia’s butt too. He was already in a hospital gown, for chrissake! That’s Traditional Sitcoms 101, people!