How high should our expectations be for television comedies? Are we satisfied with a show that makes us chuckle, that leaves us sitting on the couch 30 minutes later thinking, with a grinning half-shrug, “Well, that was pretty funny”?
Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.
“Whitney,” starring newcomer Whitney Cummings and Chris D’Elia (from the unjustly canceled “Glory Daze”), gives us some little laughs. The premise is simplistic: Cummings plays the independent woman not afraid to speak her mind, and D’Elia plays the supportive, and at times overwhelmed, boyfriend. Together with some cookie-cutter buddies, they move through contrived plots and talk about dull problems. In the pilot, Cummings finds herself at a friend’s wedding (which she interrupts with some manufactured rudeness), where she begins to wonder if her relationship with D’Elia is cooling. The long-term couple in a sitcom worrying about sex? Riveting!
Audiences have seen this before because it has been done before. And therein lies the fundamental problem with “Whitney.” We’ve all watched “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and all those formulaic sitcoms. They were great — 10 years ago. Today, though, there isn’t a market (or at least not a forward-thinking market that demands better things from television) for that kind of show. NBC is dragging concepts out of the attic with the hope of plucking a nostalgic string. But it isn’t nostalgic — it’s boring. And in today’s television landscape, tiredness is death.
Audiences want something that “Whitney” lacks: depth. Looking forward, it’s almost impossible to conceive where we can be taken that we haven’t been before. Cummings and D’Elia have their characters, and these characters have good and bad traits. The problem is, we can’t see any room for growth within these traits. It feels as though we have been given sheets of paper saying, “This is what Cummings is like. Here’s what D’Elia is like. This friend, she was dumped, so she’s grouchy. This friend, she’s happy. OK, now we are going to put them in situations and they will react as expected.”
It could be funny, but it certainly isn’t interesting. It won’t bring people back week after week. “Whitney” may be able to stir up enough sets and plots to keep these characters busy for a few episodes, but eventually audiences will catch on and it will run out of steam. If there’s one redeeming quality to “Whitney,” it allows us to recognize television is getting better: This type of show simply isn’t acceptable anymore.
D’Elia calls Cummings “Whit,” an attempt by the writers to manufacture some colloquial-ness between the lovers. He says it like a new friend who is using a nickname from an inside joke he was never a part of, so that you look at him and think, “You’re ruining it.”
“Whitney” as a whole operates in the same way. The jokes, the laugh-track, the characters — they leave us grimacing at the screen thinking, “You weren’t there when it was funny. Why are you bringing it up now?”