September 29, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.

Previously… on WHITNEY: Whitney (show creator Whitney Cummings) and Alex (Chris D’Elia) have been a committed unmarried couple for 3 years, and the show is about them dealing with the challenges of long-term togetherness even without a wedding ring.  Each has 2 designated friends:  Roxanne and Lily for her (Rhea Seehorn and Zoe-Lister Jones), and Mark and Neal for him (Dan O’Brien and Maulik Pancholy); just to make things even more symmetrical, Roxanne and Mark are single, while Lily and Neal are married to each other.

Episode 2:  Although Whitney did just fine in its premiere after last week’s The Office, it remains a very uncomfortable creative fit with the 3 NBC comedies that precede it on Thursdays.  It’s an old-fashioned multi-camera sitcom filmed before a live studio audience, very much in the classically brassy set-up/punchline set-up/punchline style.

Oddly, the network has chosen back-to-back episodes about roleplaying to introduce the show:  the pilot had Whitney donning a sexy nurse’s outfit to bring heat back to the relationship, and the second episode, written by Cummings, is entirely concerned with Whitney insisting that since she and Alex never had a “first date” (they met at a bar and drunkenly slept together the same night), the two of them have to pretend to be starting their romance anew.  This leads to her not letting him in their apartment after the date goes badly, and then both of them acting like hackneyed potential new couples, alternately pretending not to care about the other and managing to stay in view.

None of this is particularly funny:  when Whitney is waiting for Alex to put on her coat as a gentleman would, he tells her to bend her arm because it’s like putting a jacket on a Christmas tree; later, when she’s trying to look sexy, she catches her heel in a floor grating and hobbles away on one shoe, pretending the stuck one isn’t hers. The big gag at the end has Lily kissing Whitney in a bar (“I went to Vassar,” she explains) so as to attract Alex.  Much more fundamental, though, is the fact that Cummings and D’Elia have no real chemistry together, comedic or romantic–if the pair really were dating for the first time, there’d be no reason to think they’d stay together, which presumably isn’t the point the show is trying to make.  Unlike most modern sitcoms, Whitney so far isn’t an ensemble show with multiple plotlines, either–the friend characters have no lives of their own, and in the second episode they exist only to service the Whitney/Alex story, which makes the show’s pace feel comparatively slow. 

Whitney seems to be aimed at a completely different audience than the one that enjoys Community, Parks & Recreation and The Office, and one with considerably more downscale taste.    Perhaps the show will continue thriving among them anyway–although it’ll be very interesting to see what happens on October 6, when FOX will air X-Factor for only 90 minutes and stunt a (rerun) episode of New Girl at 9:30–but even if it does, that will just go to show that logic (and sometimes quality) mean little in the world of TV.

Original Verdict:  If Nothing Else Is On…
Pilot + 1:  Even Less Promising Than It Seemed Before

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."