March 29, 2012


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , ,


And so we come to the age-old query:  after 6 months and 22 half-hours of television, has WHITNEY gotten any better?
Well, it’s changed.  A revisit to the show on the occasion of its season finale, written by creator/star Whitney Cummings and directed by Betsy Thomas, presents a series that–whether because of network notes or creative decisions or both–is significantly toned down from its early episodes.  The in-your-face sex jokes are now reduced even below the level of 2 Broke Girls, the other show Cummings created this fall.  The Whitney character herself is far less defiantly grating than she was in the early going–she may toss off jokes about needing her middle finger to communicate with strangers, but she doesn’t seem much more hostile than any other sitcom lead.

Therein lies the rub.  Whitney didn’t work when it debuted–in fact, it was pretty spectacularly bad–but it had a point of view, an attempt to combine a retro production style (multicamera, proudly filmed in front of a live studio audience) with an of-the-moment sexual frankness and a bawdy, unusually aggressive heroine.  The show never figured out how to combine those elements, especially within the confines of network standards and practices, and now having been tamed it’s just another mediocre network comedy.
The differences in Whitney can be charted by the self-conscious symmetry of its pilot and season finale storylines.  In the pilot, Whitney and her longtime boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia) played naughty sex games and vowed that they weren’t ever going to get married.  In the finale, Alex has proposed and Whitney has accepted, and the bulk of the episode is about their efforts to get hitched immediately, only to decide when complications get in their way (she breaks a finger and doesn’t have a valid ID when they try to apply for their marriage license, they’re given the wrong forms to fill out) that marriage just isn’t “us,” and get cute matching tattoos instead.  It’s a plot that has no distinctiveness at all.
The other problems with the show remain.  The supposed bond between Cummings and D’Elia remains strictly theoretical, as the two have little chemistry on screen.  The supporting characters are a mess, even more so than in the early episodes:  Neal (Maulik Pancholy), who when last seen was engaged to Lily (Zoe Lister Jones), has apparently come out as something other than exclusively heterosexual, although in the finale he didn’t seem to be anything else, either.  Meanwhile Alex’s dopey womanizer friend Mark (Dan O’Brien) has found himself in love with Whitney’s acerbic buddy Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn), who doesn’t reciprocate–but the finale left open the possibility that Lily may be falling for Mark.  None of these characters seem to belong with any of the others–nor do any of them seem to fit as friends with Whitney or Alex–so it’s all so much bland filler.  
The show’s writing is no better than it ever was.  Sample joke:  “I knew our group was going to get weird–this is what it was like to be in No Doubt,” a gag that manages to be both too dated to be funny and too recent to be retro-funny.
If Whitney were on any network besides NBC, it would be certain of cancellation.  Since its move to Wednesdays (which was made to help out Up All Night, not because anyone thought Whitney had enough promise to open an evening), the ratings have been mired in the 1.4-1.7 neighborhood, and Cummings herself, despite being the “It Girl” of last year’s upfronts, hasn’t become any kind of star.  But this is NBC, which–as you’ll be hearing throughout any discussion of next season’s schedule–Can’t Cancel Everything.  So the show isn’t necessarily dead.  If it returns, though, it won’t be due to any particular spark of potential, just that the network couldn’t come up with anything better.

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."