By Stephan Lee
Updated October 28, 2011 at 08:15 PM EDT
Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC; Sonja Flemming/CBS

Before this year’s fall TV season began, pretty much every critic and member of the TV-watching public assumed that 2 Broke Girls would be the better of the two Whitney Cummings-created shows. 2 Broke Girls boasted an enviable spot on CBS’ Monday comedy lineup, Kat Dennings’ indie star power, and Michael Patrick King’s Sex and the City sheen; the eponymous Whitney had a comedian with unproven acting chops and questionable likability as its lead, an annoying (and ubiquitous) ad campaign, and terrible early buzz.

Then when the pilots aired, things happened as predicted: 2 Broke Girls instantly broke out as the new season’s network golden child both in terms of ratings and reviews, whereas Whitney was quickly dubbed one of the most laughable, least funny sitcoms of the year. The series debut was pretty terrible — the jokes would have seemed tired in the ’90s, and the live studio laughter was especially jarring after years of absence on NBC. After that poor initial showing, I vowed to give the show one more episode. I did… and the second episode, which centered on Whitney and her long-time beau Alex’s (Chris D’Elia) attempt to re-create a romantic first date (their real first date ended unromantically with sex), crashed and burned in an even worse way. After those two episodes, I gave up.

Then, one weekend when I was bedridden and nauseous, I needed to distract myself from my misery with something bright and noisy that I didn’t need or want to pay too much attention to. So what did I choose? The third episode of Whitney on Hulu! Maybe it was delirium from food poisoning, but I actually found it pretty enjoyable. The storyline once again brought nothing new to the table (guys LOVE it when women give them the silent treatment!), but it was funny enough to bring me back for a fourth and fifth episode. Now, I actually think Whitney is starting to find its footing. Whitney is sort of reminding me of Cougar Town two years ago — that show seemed utterly indefensible before it premiered, got off to a rough start, but somehow struck a weirdly likable tone.

Cummings, with her flailing limbs and blaring alto voice isn’t the strongest actor, but she has plenty of support from the supporting cast to pick up the slack. The ensemble isn’t as bright and sparkly as that of Friends, How I Met Your Mother, or Happy Endings. They’re a somewhat slouchier, less hip bunch who are a little world-weary and no doubt do some sad drinking every now and then; they’re starting to feel more like real rather than idealized people, at least on sitcom standards. D’Elia and Rhea Seehorn, playing divorcee Roxy, are the funniest contributors to the show. And even though the situations are predictable, the jokes are getting better (“We’re fighting about the way we’re fighting and then we get stuck in fighting infinity … it’s like Inception“). It’s worth noting that the first two episodes were penned by Cummings, whereas the episodes since have been written by other writing staff.

While Whitney seems to be getting better, 2 Broke Girls has been totally stagnant. Some of the annoying bits that were forgivable in the first few episodes still haven’t been fixed. This show is still tone-deaf in some of the same ways that the Sex and the City movies were: The writers of Broke Girls seem to treat Brooklyn like some crime and crack fantasia, much in the way that avowed Manhattanite Samantha Jones did, even though this show’s supposed to be hipper than that; and although the cultural insensitivity was more flagrant in Sex and the City 2, the portrayal of Han “Bryce” Lee is getting a bit too Long Duk Dong. I was cool with the Han jokes at first, but it’s gotten out of hand.

Perhaps the biggest problem: Unlike Whitney, 2 Broke Girls has no supporting cast to speak of. I had high hopes for Earl (Garrett Morris), the wisecracking diner maitre d’, but his one-liners — or should I say three-liners — are so forced and over-written. Oleg, Peach, and Han “Bryce” Lee should pretty much get killed off by this point. Nick Zano can stay — but Jennifer Coolidge, this show needs you badly!

Now, I love Kat Dennings, and I so wanted to like her as Max, but she comes across less like a waitress who hates her job than an actress who’s bored by her show. Her line delivery often lands flat, and does Max really need to be quite as sarcastic as she is? After 30 minutes with her, I need a break — we get it, she’s a bitch and proud of it. I never would have expected Beth Behrs as Caroline to steal so many scenes from Dennings.

So, fellow contrarians, do you think Whitney has surpassed 2 Broke Girls, or has Whitney always been beyond salvation?

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