November 14, 2012



WHITNEY:  Wednesday 8PM on NBC

WHERE WE WERE:  Mostly in the apartment shared by Whitney (series creator Whitney Cummings) and her boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia), a longterm but unmarried couple who tend to hurl zingers at each other between embraces.  Her sitcom buddies are college chum Lily (Zoe Lister-Jones), who was engaged last year until her fiancee realized he was gay (put another way, actor Maulik Pancholy went back to 30 Rock for its final season), and more recent pal Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn), a divorcee.  Alex’s friend is neighbor Mark (Dan O’Brien).  At the end of last season, Whitney and Alex decided to get married, but after a series of misadventures, they had their own version of a ceremony instead, getting matching “I Do” tattoos to signify their commitment.

WHERE WE ARE:  The next morning, as the couple grapple with what, aside from tattoos, makes this day any different from the “unmarried” days that preceded it.  Whitney’s mother (Jane Kacmarek) shows up briefly to dismiss what they have as being any kind of marriage, which prompts a show of emotion from Whitney, which prompts a physical reaction from Alex that leads the episode (written by Co-Executive Producer Eric Zicklin and directed by house director Andy Ackerman) to many boner jokes, a domestic spat, and inevitable reconciliation.

Whitney has gone through some changes since its debut last season.  Behind the scenes, Betsy Thomas, who served as showrunner (although presumably Cummings, as star and creator, is at least co-equal) was replaced by Friends veteran Will Calhoun, and as noted, one of the regulars departed.  The tone of the show has also altered, with the character of Whitney somewhat toned down from her almost shock-jockish beginnings–as evidenced by tonight’s episode, with not one but two displays of tears by the character.  Now that Whitney and Alex are married (whether legally binding or not), the series seems to be patterning itself after Mad About You, albeit with more vagina jokes.

With all that, the show’s glaring flaws largely remain.  After a full season together, Cummings and D’Elia still have no particular screen chemistry–their coupledom makes more sense now that their characters aren’t incessantly sniping at each other, but if Whitney and Alex broke up a couple of episodes from now, there wouldn’t be any great emotional impact or shock.  The supporting characters are exceptionally weak (this episode decided in the third act to throw in an afterthought storyline for Lily and Roxanne).  The go-to mode of the writing is to reach for sex gags that can’t be especially daring, this being network TV, and usually aren’t all that funny.  The show has the feel of a crummy sitcom from 15 years ago that’s been juiced up with body references.  And the season premiere suggests a new issue, which is that if the show’s new tone is going to require Cummings to do real acting, that’s not really her forte.  (Kat Dennings, who plays the equivalent loudmouth role in the Cummings-created 2 Broke Girls, is the model for how to do this kind of thing with charm and likability.)

Whitney was a bubble show that was renewed only because NBC’s comedies are in the shape they’re in; although it got off to a decent start with a launch behind The Office, it soon squandered that lead-in, and fell to the mid-1s in the ratings, where it stayed after a move to Wednesdays.  Paired with the low-rated Guys With Kids, it’s hard to see the show doing much better this season (although it will score higher than its originally scheduled Friday slot would have allowed), and is likely to find itself in the same place as it was a few months ago:  hoping NBC doesn’t have anything better to replace it.

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."