Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Let's Talk About the Whitney Pilot, Shall We?

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!

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  • Leila Cohan-Miccio

    To be honest, after New Girl, I'm just glad the character was an adult woman who knows what sex is.

  • fabulousrobots

    During the scene where she was photographing her friend, she did not look like a professional at all. Most good pro photogs would put her near good lights or something. Why couldn't they pick a better job for her? Please, tv shows, stop with the fake flash/shutter sound. It reminds me of America's Next Top Model.

    Also, this is a really right-on review! The laugh track has made me partially abandon HIMYM, it seems so dated.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Worcester/818292220 Ben Worcester

      @fabulousrobots Maybe it's just me, but you know who she does look like? Cillian Murphy… if he were taller and a woman.

  • raanve@twitter

    There was an old-school traditional "taped before a live studio audience" disclaimer at the beginning, but it sure sounded like a laugh-track to me. The semi-canned laughter sound was a red flag, and draws attention to the ways in which this show is a big departure from NBC's other Thursday night comedies.

    But, you know, if I am too lazy to turn the tv off after The Office, I'll probably watch it again. I didn't hate it, and it was marginally better than the last few NBC Thursday night attempts.

  • Ron Shapiro@facebook

    I heard Whitney on Stern the other day and it was a live studio audience. She swore it wasn't a track. I think the show as great, but I had almost zero exposure to the ad campaign except for what I heard on Stern.

    • SpyMagician

      @Ron Shapiro@facebook It’s not a laugh track. It’s a live studio audience. But am I like the only person who has actually been to a taping of a show that is taped in front of a “live studio audience?” Folks, the audience is coached on when to laugh and when to shut up. It’s not impulsive laughter.

      The fact anyone has to explain this in the case of a show like “Whitney” is beyond belief. Here’s the review: The show is a turd. End of review.

  • iamjustryingtolive

    Who's paying Halle to not rip this show a new butthole? Let me guess, Spunge-boob Sweatpants? Suddenly, all the wedding guests are in their seats and for no reason Whitney's phone falls into the path of the bridesmaid's walk down the aisle. She picks it up has 2 seconds of semi-awkwardness with said bridesmaid, returns to her seat and the Alex's biting whit (get it!): "should've worn the hoodie" The show is so far indefensible, but I agree with not judging shows by their pilots.

    • fnumbers

      @iamjustryingtolive I wanted the butthole ripping review so bad!

    • Halle Kiefer

      @fnumbers Guys, I'm going to be honest with you…I really didn't think it was as bad as I expected it to be. Maybe I'm having a stroke?

    • HerooftheBeach

      Guys, there's a butthole ripping review at the Onion AV Club if that's what you need. People are allowed to not be appalled by stuff!

  • fnumbers

    I can't believe it. I was so excited to read this review, but then I get "it wasn’t awful and I liked it okay"? I almost stopped watching halfway through, and I wanted to like it. I think between my friend and I, there were 3 mild chuckles throughout the whole show. I know it's just the pilot, and I may give it another shot because, like I said, I want to like it, but wow, what a dog turd that was. I guess it didn't help that it followed such a great episode of The Office.

  • Slapfight

    "Niles from Frasier married It's Always Sunny's Artemis. They can name it Slob Wife!"
    Please, please, please make this happen.

  • wadcity

    Ads were god-awful, show was pretty bad. Even getting past the pilot-slack, the main thing is that it just doesn't translate from standup to story. The line in the sex shop, something like "I'm not trying to be Daniel Day Lewis, I'm just trying to get laid," was the perfect example of this. I can see her saying this on stage (has she?) and it being a slam dunk, but here it's flat.

    Then, in the next scene, she's playing a sexy nurse to that same degree of absurdity she just mocked, that is, taking it way too seriously with all the paperwork, etc. So which is it? Is she the reasonable girl surrounded by the crazy world? Or is she the crazy one in a reasonable world?

    I don't care which, but shows with stories, like it or not, are about working within whatever reality the show is set in. Why use her real name if you are going to pretend she's a photographer? It's like the basic sitcom foundations aren't even there. But maybe episode 2 will be better? After all, my expectations can't be much lower.

  • Happy Red Beard@twitter

    I didn't watch Whitney or read (just skimmed) your review past the first paragraph… or any of the comments, but I'm compelled for some reason to say the the "girl butt = guy butt" ratio is why my girlfriend and I can watch True Blood without either one of us feeling let down.

  • Red Rocket

    I think the thing with Whitney Cummings is that she's talented and has a lot of potential, but this is all happening way too fast. I'd never heard of her till a year or so ago, and suddenly she had an hour-long Comedy Central special? How long did it take Louis CK to get a one hour special? Unsurprisingly, her hour was pretty mediocre.

    Now she has TWO network sitcoms on the air, one as a creator and one as the star? The whole thing is just a recipe for failure. You can't blame her for taking the opportunities that are laid before her, but it just seems like taking time to let her comedic voice and persona develop would be better for her career in the long run. Instead, what we've got is this huge push to make Whitney "happen" and be "the next big thing." And based on last night's show, it's not helping.

  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    Part of me wished it was a laugh track instead of a live studio audience, the audience was way too into the jokes, they were laughing at the setups, laughing at things I didn't think were jokes. I think if they had a laugh track the guy pushing the button would have held back more than the audience did (though it seemed to calm down towards the second half).

    I didn't think the show was that bad either, and maybe I'm getting old (I am), but I kept thinking "can they show that much skin on network tv?"

  • Commenter+

    I watched it last night and I'll watch it again mainly because I'm a pathetic loser who likes looking at Whitney Cummings. I was, however, incredibly embarrassed for the show and the people in it. This show would fit in perfectly at CBS – why would you put in on behind 3 of the best sitcoms on network television, and ones that are sans laugh-track/live audience/whatever?
    I see what NBC is doing. Despite being superior in every way to 2 and a Half Men, their Thursday night lineup is suffering in the ratings and will suffer even more without Steve Carell. (Robert California debut = Sadly letdown) So they are going for that last common denominator sitcom again. But please put it on somewhere else. It doesn't belong on Thursday nights.
    I'll also say that my biggest actual issue with the show was the setup-punchline, setup-punchline writing style and recycled jokes. Any show can get past a laugh track if its funny… this isn't funny. It doesn't matter how "dirty" she thinks the jokes are, the concepts are tired, the pace is tedious. Booooo. I most of all feel bad for myself because I'll continue to watch just to look at Whitney for 22 minutes.

  • Davidwatts

    Whitney (not Whitney, but Whitney) is not much of an actress. The show highlighted for me how good you have to be to deliver hacky sitcom lines standing around like you're in a community theater production on those crazy giant apartment sets and not end every line looking at the audience like "hiyo! see what i gotta deal with here, folks??" which is basically what Whitney was doing, the entire episode. Also, when she was doing that underwear-pulling-out gag, she was like wiggling her fingers in between underwears in a "whatta we got here, eh??" kind of way, like a 1930s cartoon, and, just, has a person ever done that?