I would say that this is a turn from the usual way of the things if I was as regular with the articles as I should but nevertheless here it is, the first negative review, and it’s over my favorite show to hate, Whitney. God must truly love me after all.
I first heard about this show when it was on Thursday nights, taking up space with better comedies deserving of attention. It was then that I realized there was nothing to gain and now on the waning episodes, I can tell you that having watched all the series to the 19 episode, this show is not worth your time.
But why, you ask? Whitney seems like a sensible and interesting enough of a persona on stage, maybe that’s why she has her own show. Oh you tiny fool! I have seen Ms. Cummings on stage and watched the other shows her name is attached to and nothing of value can be gained from any of it. You see, in three short moves, I will not only show how un-connected Kevin Bacon and Whitney are, but also why this should be the show’s first and last season.
Whitney’s character may be likable on stage (someone out there’s gotta like it), but this doesn’t always translate well into a weekly, on screen persona. Roseanne, Jerry Seinfeld, and Tim Allen are the three that come to mind when I think of successful translations and Whitney is far out classed when compared to these comedy juggernauts. However unfair the rubric seems, the fact is when considering to option off a persona to a studio for production, the faults of many, many dead sitcoms (mostly on Fox) that have come and failed before, like Common Law.
Her shrill voice, lack of acting experience, and absence of creditable comedy pedigree really work against the rookie performer and she often times brings the rest of the actors in the scene down because of it. Of course, this is not to say that she isn’t given a hand in the destruction of modern day sitcoms. A full cast of unbelievable, uninteresting characters assist Whitney in her demise.
Her boyfriend, Alex (Chris D’Elia) is one of the shining jewels in this desert of lost comedy dreams. D’Elia’s performance is worthwhile and funny despite the lines he has to work with but the character is flaccid, one dimensional, and unbelievable, especially with interactions with Whitney…his girlfriend. Their lack of on-screen chemistry and fights that look a little too real, drag the scenes they’re in down to grinding halt and honestly, I found myself asking “Why would he put up with that?” far too much.
Then there are the friends of varying age, importance, and stages in their life just crazy enough to be friends with someone as unlikable as Whitney. There is the standard opposite couple, made of Lily and Neal (Zoe Lister-Jones, Maulik Pancholy) whose problems are always the sub plot and could have been figured out by any reasonable person inside of five minutes. The drunk and quickly aging female on the side, Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn), who aside from her predictably poor choices with men, really give Whitney a run for the most uninteresting character in the show. And finally, the “Dude” of the show Mark (Dan O’Brien), possibly the most poorly written character on the show, which is understandable considering his typed should have died in the 90’s. It’s as if they torn him from the pages of Sexist Guy magazine and equipped him with forgetful one-liners, stock penis jokes, and an array of dude-isms so stereotypical, I half-expected Stiffler from American Pie to make an appearance. Though none of this could be possible without the poorly executed scripts they have to work with.
I will give it to the writers on the show, they know how to write a telescript but they seem to have forgotten how to write well. I’m thinking it fell somewhere between graduating a Liberal Arts school with an emphasis in feelings and getting a job at a network notorious for poor decisions, but that’s just a guess.
Occasionally there will a laugh produced, usually by physical comedy, but otherwise the character’s lines leave something to be desired. Routinely they will have a plot that mimics those of hundreds of other shows, such as: “The flashback to show how we all became friends”, “The explanation of personal idiosyncrasies that I’m not ready to move past” and, who could forget, “The failed attempt to escape our families this Christmas”.
Wholly and truly unoriginal written is part of the problem and I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren’t studio pressures and all sorts of minutia to getting a show on the air that I couldn’t possibly understand without being there. My point is that there are plenty of other shows, some on the same network on the same night, that have great character development and interesting plots that affect the entire season. Whereas, you can pop on any episode of Whitney, at any point in the season, and know exactly what’s going on.
That kind of pandering to an infrequent possible viewer is a terribly archaic way of writing scripts. And considering the movement toward personalized, purposeful watching like that done on the internet, the show might actually be doing damage to a potential audience largely ignored by network television. Not all of the blame can fall on Whitney, but contributing to the problem and assuming that we are too stupid to want something more is shameful and stifles growth.
Multicam sitcoms have been around since the 70’s, in the incarnation that we know at least, and I love them. From Happy Days to Roseanne to How I Met Your Mother, I have watched multi-cam sitcoms dominate and become the go to perspective for new shows. They’re cheaper and easier to produce than their single-cam brothers. They get tons of shots and angles that would take too long and too much time to figure out with just one camera but they are horribly outdated.
This is not to say that Whitney isn’t done well. The set designs and quality of the production are of the same caliber that similar shows have, i.e. Big Bang Theory, but a similar stagnation occurs for both shows. In a multi-cam show, only so much character development can happen because the demand is high to use punchy dialogue and witty one-liners to get the consistent (easy) laugh.
However, with a single camera, you can really craft the story into an engrossing storyline that people laugh and care about. When Jim and Pam finally got together from The Office, I was overjoyed. The tension had been building for two seasons and at the end of the third one, it happened. There is no tension in Whitney. I don’t think about Wednesday night being “Whitney Night” but Thursday is “Office Thursdays” and has been for years.
Now again, this is not impossible for a multi-cam sitcom to do, I have seen far too many seasons of the aforementioned shows to think that, but I am saying that times have changed. Multi-cam looks cheap and feels inauthentic, like I’m watching a play at home; everyone facing a certain way, making sure to project their voice. No one eats food with their friends sitting in a straight line!
Perhaps the Greg Daniels style of single-cam with intercut talking heads mimicking a faux documentary may not be right for this particular show but as it’s an example of lazy writing, Whitney also serves as an example of outmoded camera techniques.
Final Verdict, if you couldn’t tell: Skip it. Whitney is simply not worth your time. As bad as the episodes were when the show was new, they are nothing compared to what should be written now. Whitney’s writers seem either oblivious or apathetic to the plight of the show and refused to change, but now the show is ending and as of the printing of this article there has been no talk of renewal.
I for one am thankful but not in my usually snarky way, I’m thankful for the chance another show will get because of this one’s cancellation. People seem to forget that part, but there are only so many days and time slots available and when this one gets taken off, hopefully another -better- comedy will take its place.
But until that happens, you can spend your time watching shows of value like the fourth season of Parks and Recreation, the third season of Modern Family, the return of Community, or one of my favorite unknowns, Happy Endings, for your sitcom fix. Those shows are well deserved of your attention and viewership.
Also, if you think this rant style of criticism is unwarranted or too harsh, all you have to do is watch one episode and hopefully you’ll agree. Trust me, when shows come out like this it sets back all the work people are doing to move the television industry into the future and the sooner Whitney stops, the better off we’ll all be.