January 12, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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NBC’s WHITNEY hasn’t really had much of a midseason break, but tonight marked its move from a cushy home on Thursday night, where it aired behind the network’s only hit, The Office, to the much more challenging job of opening Wednesday nights and clearing the way for new sitcom Are You There, Chelsea?  So it seems like a good time to revisit the series and see how it’s been faring.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF:  Whitney (Whitney Cummings) and Alex (Chris D’Elia) have been together for 3 years as a couple and live together, but they’re not planning to get married anytime soon.  They hang out with their various friends:  fiances Lily and Neal (Zoe Lister-Jones and Maulik Pancholy), divorcee Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn) and single cop Mark (Dan O’Brien).

WHERE WE ARE:  Whitney walks in on Alex masturbating; meanwhile, Lily, who’s moving in with Neal, worries that since they’re sharing the same apartment, he’ll hear her going to the bathroom.
Whitney is like the set-up to a joke without a punchline:  6 superficial, uninteresting people walk into a room, and… that’s it.  The show isn’t as aggressively unpleasant as it was when the series started, and the hand on the laugh-track button (live studio audiences get “sweetened,” folks) has lightened up.  But there’s not much more than that to be said for it.  Unlike 2 Broke Girls, which was also created by Cummings (she had to bow out of day-to-day production when NBC picked up this show too), let alone a really good sitcom like Happy Endings, Whitney hasn’t found a core of affection between the protagonists to focus on–Whitney and Alex can swap memories of the times they’ve spent together all they want, but the characters still feel like actors who just met at a cold reading.  (It doesn’t help that Cummings remains a stiff, uneasy actress who runs for bam-bam punchlines like cover from machine-gun fire.)  There continues to be little romantic chemistry between Cummings and D’Elia, and that’s something the show can’t overcome–every episode of the series seems to have a scene where Whitney or Alex has to prove to the other how well they know each other, as though the producers are trying to convince themselves there’s a real relationship here.
As for Whitney‘s substance, this week’s episode sums it up pretty well.  Here we are, incredibly almost 20 years since Seinfeld aired its classic, ingeniously hilarious episode “The Contest” in November 1992, and Whitney’s glimpse of Alex jerking off is the occasion for a whole episode’s worth of banal, sniggery jokes and mild scandal.  There’s nothing imaginative, surprising or, you know… funny, about the episode’s storyline–it’s presented as though the very idea of masturbation is so inherently mind-blowing that 6 people in their late 20s will instantly become the audience for Porky’s II:  The Revenge at the thought of it.  And the same goes for the B plot, which is right out of a Joan Rivers nightclub bit from the 1970s or 80s. 
Whitney doesn’t work on any level, and after half a season, it seems unlikely to start.  The attempt to make a retro sit-com work with modern sensibilities founders on its lack of wit, sketchy characters and no point of view.  It’s a hollow misfire.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."