“Clarence!” S1 / E8
- D+ Community Grade
(What follows is an imaginary conversation between A.V. Club assistant TV editor Erik Adams and the television series Whitney. For the purposes of this hypothetical situation, Whitney will be portrayed by series creator and star Whitney Cummings. Erik Adams will play himself, writing slowly as ever.)
EXT. CHICAGO - DAY.
A neighborhood on the north side of the city. The tree-lined street is home to several bars, coffee shops, and boutiques.
INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY.
It could also be a bar. It’s kind of unclear. Either way, it doesn’t look like it belongs on the street we just saw. ERIK and WHITNEY share a table near the window.
EA: Look, Whitney, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come out with it. I can’t watch you anymore.
WHITNEY: I knew this was going to happen! I mean, can we all agree that you writing about me on a week-by-week basis was a ridiculous idea from the start?
EA: Yes, even though there are only two people in this conversation, I think we can all reach an agreement on that. But, seeing as you’re taking this pretty well, I wanted to let you know that it’s just as much about you as it is about me.
W: What does that even mean?
EA: I guess I’m trying to say this isn’t a good match. Particularly because I’ve run out of things to write about you.
W: Yeah, but you haven’t run out of ways of writing them the same way seven times over. Oh yeah, up top.
WHITNEY pretends to go for a high five, but instead gives ERIK the “how you like me now” gesture its titular character gives Lisa Lampenelli in “Clarence!” The studio audience, or INVISIBLE STRANGERS, loves it.
EA: See, there just aren’t enough ways to describe why I don’t find that type of thing funny. It’s like you’ve always got this point to prove, Whitney, and it’s become increasingly difficult to watch you continue to make that point and derive any sort of insight from it.
Take your most recent episode, “Clarence!” Once more, you based an episode around how Whitney and Alex are totally committed to one another, even if they’re not married. That’s great. Marriage just doesn’t work for some people, and given the characters’ backstories and Whitney’s apparent trust/commitment issues, she’s definitely one of those people.
W: Always a trophy, never a wife.
EA: Ugh. Thanks for reminding me, Whit. But anyway, the thing that bugs me most about “Clarence!” is that its main plot is one that you’ve already gone at from a few different angles—in “Silent Treatment,” in “A Decent Proposal,” even in your pilot. I understand that you’re still at the point where you need to repeat yourself every once in a while, but it’s getting stale for those of us who have been there from the beginning. And it’s a plot structure I can’t see you giving up on any time in the future. Especially if Whitney is the only character you ever allow to feel wronged and therefore feel the need right that wrong for 20-some minutes.
W: Well, why were you even there in the beginning? You TV critics don’t even have a box for my situation—you have your single-camera sitcoms and your serialized dramas, but there’s nowhere to check “Taped before a live, studio audience—you heard me.”
EA: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I’ve completely given up on studio-audience shows, multi-camera comedies, or a combination of the two. Look, the other day, I watched a very enjoyable episode of How I Met Your Mother at the gym—
WHITNEY checks the time on its phone. Makes that scrunched-up, disinterested face Whitney Cummings makes all the time. The studio audience explodes with laughter.
E: Okay, sorry, I’m getting off-track. So here’s the thing: Your type of show isn’t completely dead. It’s dying off, but there’s always going to be a place for the laughter of invisible strangers in America’s living rooms. But I want to believe those invisible strangers are laughing for a good reason. And I’ve just never gotten that from you, Whitney. Maybe it’s just because so much of your humor is from an angry place. Even in “Clarence!,” an episode that featured Chris D’Elia lying in a pile of puppies, you managed to stir a bunch of angry into humor. And I understand that that’s probably what the invisible strangers would like to see from a scene where Whitney Cummings and Lisa Lampanelli get into an argument, but then that argument was drawn out for the bulk of the episode. Until you felt it necessary to bring Lily in as Whitney’s “hype man” in the situation. And I didn’t like that one bit.
W: Is it because you don’t find assertive women funny, Erik? Is this a thing against vaginas?
E: Nope, not in the slightest—though I would like to commend you for getting through the last few weeks without leaning too hard on the “vagina joke” crutch. I do feel, however, that your assertiveness is all one-note. Maybe not in terms of Lily—who’s the only one of your characters I enjoy—but certainly with regard to Whitney and Roxanne. If you’re trying to build an ensemble, maybe having two opinionated, hard-drinking, always-saying-what’s-on-their-mind-types isn’t the best way to do that. Whitney is just one character, Whitney—why make Rhea Seehorn play her as well?
Seehorn’s actually kind of decent in “Clarence!”—this in spite of how rote her subplot with Neal was. Her reactions to her increasingly awkward interactions with Neal played just as broad as the subplot called for. And while I respect you for playing the When Harry Met Sally card as soon as you did, even a self-aware “men and women can never really be friends” plot is still a “men and women can never really be friends” plot. Besides, New Girl just did one of those last week, and I wasn’t too hot on its version, either. Making the Harry and Sally accidentally kiss or touch one another’s junk doesn’t give it a new spin. Unless that spin is the spin of spinning wheels.
INVISIBLE STRANGERS are deadly silent.
W: Wow, that was like when a murderball player falls out of his murderball chair to grab the murderball—but he misses it.
INVISIBLE STRANGERS are sent into fits of rapturous laughter. One or two may actually be raptured in the process.
E: Of course, I feel like I’ve been dumping on you this whole time—which, admittedly, has been the majority of my writing about you. Which is unfair, because you’re obviously a competently made show produced by people who have experience in the field of competently made television, like Betsy Thomas and Adrian Wenner. And you’ve shown some progress—small though it may be—in recent weeks. I thought your third act tonight was pretty good, in fact. Once Whitney stopped complaining about being unable to get a dog and actually got one, things picked up. Not in any way that makes me feel like salvaging this relationship, but as I watched Whitney and Alex play with their decrepit new dog, I stopped feeling like there had to be something, anything more engaging to watch somewhere.
W: Yeah, like that show Enlightened, which you love so much because you love comedy and shows where things actually happen.
INVISIBLE STRANGERS eat that one up—they’ve heard Enlightened totally blows because nothing ever happens. Unlike Whitney, where things happen, and where the comedy is derived from the everyday situations Whitney creates, because that’s how people act.
E: Oh come on, Whitney—that’s low, even for you. And after I was actually saying something nice about you for a change. I even kind of liked Whitney’s puppet show with the dogs’ ashes during the epilogue.
But what does it matter now? I’ve made up my mind, and as soon as we make some crack about me knowing that it’s my place to pay the bill, I’m getting up from this table, buying our drinks, and leaving. You’ve dealt with this in a surprisingly reasonable manner—we all know how you hate dealing with relationship stuff with any trace of maturity.
WHITNEY shrugs. Scattered bursts of laughter from INVISIBLE STRANGERS.
WHITNEY stares ahead blankly. Checks phone again. INVISIBLE STRANGERS’ laughter increases.
E: Ah, I see—the silent treatment. Well, in that case, it’s been a, I don’t know—it hasn’t exactly been a pleasure…
W: Oh so here’s the thing I was thinking about how I really didn’t utilize the dog to its full potential. You know, there were so many more dog-fart jokes I could’ve made—especially if Mark had met the dog. Mark’s pretty annoying, huh? Can you believe he touched Whitney’s boobs at the end of the episode and kissed Alex on the mouth. That was great. Did we talk about Whitney’s commitment-phobia enough? We probably didn’t. I don’t think she and Alex will ever get married. Because half of all marriages end—in sweatpants. Remember when Jane Kaczmarek was Whitney’s mom? I feel like there’s an episode in Whitney and her mom bonding over talking about sex in really specific terms, because that’s always funny. I mean, can we all just agree how blow jobs are weird? I mean…
INVISIBLE STRANGERS are now drowning out Whitney’s lines. ERIK cocks his right eyebrow in a show of disbelief.