There is a high bar for shows named after their leading lady. Any new comedienne steps into the shadow of Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore and Roseanne. Now Whitney Cummings seeks to join that rarified air with those sitcom queens. Unfortunately, “Whitney” will not be the show to elevate her to those heights.
For those unfamiliar with Whitney, she’s a frequent guest on “The Chelsea Handler Show” (another woman who seeks to enter the fray with scripted comedy later this year) and she sold a second show to CBS, “2 Broke Girls,” which also airs this fall. On “Whitney” she plays a fictionalized version of herself; she’s a single girl in a committed relationship with her boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia, “Glory Daze”) who starts to question whether they should get married. Whitney and Alex attend the wedding of a friend, and their own relationship is called into question. Worried that perhaps she and Alex are drifting apart, Whitney plans a sexy anniversary surprise, which doesn’t go exactly as planned.
The supporting cast is good, and in the case of Jane Kaczmarek who plays Whitney’s mom Candy, even great, but the jokes fall flat and it feels like everyone is just going through the motions in the pilot episode. You can’t blame the blandness on the multi-camera format, which certainly has fallen out of favor with the rise of great single camera half-hour shows like “The Office” and “Modern Family.” Still, multi-camera has proved to still be a viable comedy format; most of the CBS comedy lineup are multi-camera shows with “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike & Molly” being the most recent successes in the format. The problem with “Whitney” is that the few jokes which do seem to work are all front loaded and after about four or five minutes the remainder of the episode seems to run on fumes.
In an attempt to pick up the pace in the second act, Whitney dons a sexy nurse costume for the anniversary evening and there is no doubt that she wears it well – Whitney is about 5’11” and she is an eyeful in the getup, but even that loses its effect as the jokes continue to wear thin and border on non-existent. I also can’t help that I felt somewhat predisposed to dislike the show; the marketing campaign which I’m sure someone somewhere thought was hilarious was more often annoying or cliché – in one ad for the show Whitney talks to the camera (in a bit I’m sure has been a part of her stand-up comedy in the past) urging women that if they really want to punish a man, the silent treatment is the wrong way to do it; instead, they should just keep talking. It’s those kind of relationship “insights” which feel not only dated but mildly insulting.
I really tried to like “Whitney,” as I think Whitney herself and the cast surrounding her all seem capable of better than was seen in the pilot. Perhaps as the show moves into the season it will focus less on the stale relationship humor and more on the potential Whitney has to embarrass herself often in the great tradition of slapstick. This seems to be where the real comedy potential is hiding. I’m just not sure the audience is going to find enough to interest them to stick around to see if that potential develops. In my opinion, “Whitney” will be an early casualty of this season, albeit a really pretty one.
“Whitney” premieres Thursday September 22nd on NBC at 9:30 Eastern/Pacific.