'Whitney' series premiere: The jokes feel not-so-fresh, but is there hope for this show?

WHITNEY

Image Credit: Jordin Althaus/NBC

My favorite part of tonight’s Whitney debut from title star Whitney Cummings came really early on when she says in voice over, “Whitney is taped in front of a live studio audience. You heard me.” It made me think of Reginald Veljohnson making a similar announcement over the sax-heavy end credits of Family Matters, only with a twist. That little wink gave me hope that this might be the type of savvy, self-aware sitcom that’s able to lightly mock the laugh-tracked, multi-camera format that NBC seems to have mostly abandoned.

But that wasn’t the only throwback. I’m sure this show wants to entertain while cleverly shining a light on the modern relationship and the evolving differences between men and women. The most important thing for Whitney is to feel current, relevant. Unfortunately, the humor here felt tired, very Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. The whole time, I kept expecting a joke about a toilet seat, and whether it had been left up. “Why do guys DO that???!??” I remember a few months ago, Cummings was on the panel of Chelsea Lately, and she made a predictable joke about lesbians being able to share clothes with each other. Chelsea Handler jumped on her right away, like, “Really? You made a lesbians-sharing-clothes joke?” If that’s the bar, I bet Handler would take issue with most of the jokes from the premiere. (Really? Jokes about Cosmo magazine? Kegel references? A trip to a sex shop that feels real Sex and the City, circa season two?)

The main problem here is that the series needs more of a concept. It doesn’t need a big one — the other show Cummings co-created this season, 2 Broke Girls, has a simple premise of an ex-billionaire heiress and a tough-talking waitress who end up living and working together, and it got off to a pretty promising start. In Whitney, Whitney and her scruffy, loveable lug of a boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia) are a long-time couple — they have the gross intimacy of marriage (Whitney shaves her ‘stache in front of her guy, he belches and scratches) — but despite loving each other, they don’t actually want to get married. Modern! Right now, the show feels like a hanger for all the observations Cummings wants to make about relationships, men, and women. It doesn’t seem as though she’s made a full transition from standup to sitcom.

For instance, Cummings clearly wanted to talk about weddings and having to go to a lot of them, so the premiere started with a bunch of used unmarried-girl-at-a-wedding tropes, like inadvertently wearing the same color as the bride and whether or not one should care about catching the bouquet. Sure, the scene introduced the supporting cast — Lily (Zoe Lister-Jones) as the demanding girly girl and her whipped boyfriend Neal (Maulik Pancholy); wannabe womanizer cop Mark (Dan O’Brien), who comes across as a penniless man’s Barney Stinson; and boozy, wise-cracking divorced girl Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn), who gets in some of the best lines — but the banter they have about how your sex life declines after marriage, again, felt tired.

Still, there are some glimmers of potential here. Some of the private moments between Whitney and Alex ring true, including a bedtime chat about intimacy and a sexual fantasy thwarted by their preoccupation with fantasy logistics. The rapport among the three female leads could grow into something better, although the Lily character needs some work. And even though she may not be a natural actress, I like Cummings. I’ve liked her from Chelsea Lately (yay for the Loni Love cameo!) and Money Shot, her comedy special. Her mannerisms — a tendency to point at people a lot and gesticulate at her own pelvic region — are familiar and instantly recognizable; her slouchy, frank style is kind of charming, and she manages to look lovely even in a cheap stripper-nurse outfit. The start of Whitney wasn’t good — but I believe in Cummings’ smarts enough to watch one more week.

Will you be giving Whitney another chance?


Comments (155 total) Add your comment
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  • apolloallyn

    i kinda liked the first episode and i’m sure that if NBC gives it time they will work out the kinks.

    • LOL

      The actors were good and characters were fun, but the live audience has got to go. After the 3 shows that precede “Whitney,” the laughter is too distracting.

      • Voodoo

        Aaaanndd… here we go again.

      • Mark Zucherberg

        Betcha Whitney will be in Playboy by 2013.

      • ^

        That’s the only chance I’ll ever watch her again.

      • Jeff

        I did not like the pilot but LOL, you were really that distracted by the laughter? There’s nothing wrong with the traditional sitcom set-up. What was wrong with this show was everything seemed delivered with a clear set-up to the next persons punchline. Nothing seemed subtle and the jokes weren’t strong enough to make those set-ups forgivable.

      • Lauren

        I was distracted by the laughter only because they laughed at everything. I did not need to hear three laughs in the first minute of the telecast. Especially because it called more attention to the weaker jokes. I would hear the laughter and think – that wasn’t actually very funny.

      • DTO

        The show wasn’t that funny–at all–but you wouldn’t know it from that laugh track. I like shows that allow the jokes to speak for themselves and for the audience to find the humor on their own. It’s just a little jarring that, after almost a decade of stuff like Arrested Development, The Office, and Parks & Rec, this sitcom is stuck in Friends mode. Yes, I know CBS comedies have the traditional laugh track in their comedies but, with the possible exception of How I Met Your Mother, their sitcoms generally suck. Whitney needs to lose the laugh track and get better writing.

      • Kevin

        I was distracted by the laughter too. Partly because it’s out of place with the Thursday line-up (maybe if it was the 8:00 show, it wouldn’t be so bad) but mostly because the jokes were lame and tired but the audience was Def-Comedy-Jam laughing at every predictable turn.

      • Sara

        Were they pumping nitrous into the studio? If not, how did they convince those people to stop licking windows and watch the show?

      • murley

        the laugh track is a distraction! it messes with the pacing of the show because the jokes are designed to set up laughter and then continue past it. it also gives it this “see? isn’t this funny?” kind of vibe. the only laugh tracked show i watch is himym and the laugh track on that is pretty subtle. there isn’t a bunch of “oooh, ahhhh, nooo!” going on, the laughs are spread out to only the big gags and the volume of the laughter is lower than the dialogue. they get away with the laugh track but, in my opinion, they are pretty much the only one that does.

    • freddy

      Yep. It was funny.

  • Keagan

    Pass. I’d rather watch an episode of Seinfeld for the 12th time.

    • Craig

      it was horrible!!!…I only made it half way through, The laugh track was so distracting, it was very corny, and the lead couple had zero chemistry!!…seemed like more of a fit for CBS, they should remove this and put “Up All Night” in it’s place!

    • this was krap!

      It was HORRIBLE!! The only thing worse was the laugh track that constantly played. The jokes…omg were so bad!

      • Mandy

        If the show is anything like the promos – it’s going to fail. The “Whitney” character, I feel, is annoying as hell.

      • Serpico

        It was a live audience genius!!

      • Still Waiting

        Does it really matter whether it was a laugh track or a live studio audience? As if one has a better pedigree than the other. It may have had a live studio audience, but they were certainly prompted to laugh (I’m imagining one of those “laughter” signs the late night talk shows have). The audience laughed the couple of funny lines, but also laughed at the slightly amusing lines and even the unfunny ones. So, it’s enhanced, even if it isn’t a laugh track. There’s a spark to this show, but it needs some major work and to dump the audience. You shouldn’t feel bewildered as to why others are laughing when you’re watching a comedy.

    • kate middleton

      SO BAD. Why on earth did NBC pick this up?

  • MJ

    I watched it because it was right after The Office, but I hardly laughed. Like you pointed out, just really tired and simply unfunny for most of the episode.

    • Lorie

      I agree. I’ll now pass on this show.

    • JB

      Agreed. Boring, blah, nothing fresh or interesting about it at all.

  • AntonioSaucedo

    I love Whittney and the show has great potential. I’ll be watching.

    • Julie

      I agree, Antonio! I love her and I love how the boyfriend is so “real” with the facial hair. She’s a breath of fresh air on TV today.

      • DTO

        DISAGREE!

  • zimmerman

    It was a boring hour on nbc.

  • ck

    It has potential but needs to get much better. And NBC, please lose the awful laugh track.

  • Blerg

    Oh man the laugh track…after every line…did we jump back to 1998?

    • Tim Possible

      ironically 3 of the highest rated sitcoms on television right now in 2011 have laugh tracks “Two and a Half Men”. “Big Bang Theory” and “Mike and Molly”. plus the highest rated new show “2 Broke Girls”, I hate the laugh track too but it seems like the rest of America loves it!

      • Voodoo

        For the gazillionth time. IT’S NOT A LAUGH TRACK! People are so stupid….

      • Mandy

        2.5 Men is filmed in front of a live audience.

      • Buffy Freak

        Voodoo…yes some of it is a live audience…but it’s really naive to think they don’t bolster it with a laugh track. Even great sitcoms of the past like I Love Lucy, All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show used laugh tracks to supplement the live audience.

      • JLC

        Tomato, tomahto. The live laughter, however it’s created, is annoying and past its prime. I don’t care if there are popular sitcoms that use it. A lot of people watch Jersey Shore, too. The best sitcoms TODAY do not use it.

        As to Whitney, The “using the same mirror” bit was cute, and then the laughter started. I turned it off immediately.

      • Josh

        Then they should have a laugh track, because people laughed at EVERY FRIGGIN’ LINE. Funny or not, and almost uniformly not, the idiots they wheeled in from the 2.5 Men taping laughed at every single line, at every set up for a joke and every punchline. It took away the zing from the many well worn punchlines. Voodoo, or can I call you Whitney, the point people are making when they improperly address the live audience as a laugh track is that the reactions to the dialogue destroyed what could have been a barely watchable sitcom, a palette cleanser from the humor of the Office before It’s Always Sunny. Instead of bland and unfunny the laughter made it intolerable.

      • ^

        Yeah, but they have to add the laugh track in because the real audience won’t laugh unless you pay them.

      • murley

        laugh track is just easier to write than “live studio audience who is prompted to laugh or clap or react at the correct times”. i have been the live studio audience for a sitcom before. i can promise you that there is a sign that says laugh. in fact there is a production assistant who talks to the audience and tells them to all shout no at a certain point or cheer or clap or laugh or whatever. they will reshoot a scene to get the proper response. human laugh track.

  • kyle

    did not work laughed once and it was from one of the costars of the show.

  • Gary

    I’ve seen the (unfunny) trailers for this show all summer. I can’t stand WHITNEY. I really don’t need an arrogant,snotty women in my house every week. Life is too short. I hated this show and am now done with it.

    • jules

      Indeed. It’s one big “AREN’T I CUTE?” cry for help.

  • Dustin Ingle

    Lucky me !

    I almost watched it but opted for Downton Abbey instead – season 2 fresh from the UK.

    Now that’s Television !!!!!!!

    • maggie

      Lucky you! I can’t wait for season 2 of Downton Abbey.

    • DTO

      That was great. There’s a sitcom that knows how to be funny.

  • Jane

    It was pretty good. Usually pilots are weak because the writers and actors are still trying to figure out the characters, but the two leads were likable, have pretty good chemistry and with time this show could be very funny. I might stick around for this.

  • Pawnee

    Epic, EPIC failure. Easily the worst sitcom pilot i’ve seen this year.

    • HORRIBLE

      I agree!

    • KLM

      Didn’t watch it—-don’t plan to.

  • Anth

    It was the best new show of 1995.

    • Josh

      Should have been called ‘Kinda Horny Rich Complacent Hipsters’.

      • jules

        Josh, may I add, “…Who Think They’re Terribly Cute.”

  • Adriano

    My brother and I did an over/under on how many jokes would fall flat before we gave up. We set it at 3.5 and my brother took under.

    He won.

    • RMW

      But wouldn’t that mean that three or fewer jokes fell flat?

      • RMW

        Oh, it only took that many before you gave up. Now I get it. Never mind. It’s still early here.

    • Getachew

      Haha that’s awesome, I love it! Almost the exact thing haeppned to me, except I was in grade six and I ended up kissing my crush, like eight times, and it was the best. lol

  • Jiji Moran

    Watched five minutes… didn’t like it.

    The jokes are worn-out jokes seen in countless other shows before.

    • Noushad

      Thanks so much for featuring my rceent post on your blog. I’m glad you seemed to enjoy it and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the subject. All the best!

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