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?