Last week, Erik wrote that Whitney is “just trying to be a sitcom to the best of its abilities,” and I really agree with that. I fall pretty squarely into the same camp he does on the show, with some very skeptical appreciation for the point of view, even as I find myself rolling my eyes at a lot of the jokes ripped directly from Cummings’ standup routine. Tonight is a good example of just how desperately Whitney is trying to do the same kind of sitcom plots that have worked for years. The problem is that the extremely overeager attitude toward using classic relationship sitcom plots to new ends gets too aggressive and cluttered.
I generally like Cummings’ standup despite the very tired “Men and Women are so different” setups, and on the few occasions that I’ve been stuck watching a Comedy Central roast, her jokes by and large have made me laugh. She’s confident and knows how to present her views directly, which doesn’t make her a progressive female comic, but at least a memorable one. Which is why it’s so strange to me that Cummings’ two sitcoms this season, Whitney and 2 Broke Girls, seem so regressive to me. Though they present a generically modern perspective, Whitney with a committed unmarried relationship, 2 Broke Girls with the economic situation of its leads, those premises strike me as two steps forward and one step back due to the generic multi-camera plots.
“Getting to Know You” overplays its hand by stuffing too many tried-and-true multi-camera sitcom plots into one episode. (I want to pause for one second and allay any fears that I'm just going to pile on criticisms of the multi-camera format. It can be used for great things, and I really don't have anything to pick on as far as visual style or laugh track goes, aside from the usual ones.) The first and last scene bookends have Roxanne worrying that Rob, the “nice guy” she’s seeing, might be hiding a secret. Neal’s mother gives Lily the impression that she is dissatisfied that Lily isn’t Indian, so she goes overboard in an attempt to immerse herself in Neal’s culture. Meanwhile, the central Whitney and Alex plot starts out well enough, with the idea that Whitney doesn’t know everything about Marc before their relationship started. He used to play racquetball and poker, and she at one time played competitive basketball on a team that traveled to Europe. Whitney walks us through the steps we already know have to be on the way, with Whitney getting upset that she and Alex don’t share any interests, and then taking it upon herself to try racquetball in order to bond in some way.
There’s a kernel that could lead to a pretty good episode in here somewhere. Alex’s lines about how he existed before he met Whitney and that he had to give up some old hobbies to take on some new ones like “regular sex” enter the same disarming territory that the show occasionally grazes before careening into broad slapstick, like the racquetball game. But that plot doesn’t get explored to any sort of depth, because halfway through the episode, Whitney pivots and the Alex/Whitney conflict becomes about Whitney beating Alex in basketball as payback for the racquetball game.
That basketball game leaves Alex as ultracompetitive and typically unable to deal with losing to his girlfriend in a physical contest. So four plots, all of which a sitcom could build an entire episode around, shoved into a single half hour. It gives very little time for any of them to develop. Maybe the point was that since we know the shorthand for all of these plots that we didn’t need the show to flesh them out, but there was nothing altogether that different about the ways they were presented, except for that first one with Whitney and Alex. Not knowing everything about a significant other before you started dating them could have led to a more specific place for that couple, but instead there wasn’t enough screen time for it to do anything other than hit the bullet points.
A number of the jokes on Whitney make me laugh, especially when watching it with friends, but it's never because of the show itself. I’d laugh at that material no matter what show presented it. Putting generally funny material out there only goes so far, because then the only things people will remember are those moments, but they won’t care about the characters. Cummings and D’Elia have pretty good chemistry, and underneath all the generic girl craziness and guy laziness, they do manage to give off the sense that their characters genuinely like each other. I believe those performances, even if they are wooden and stuck halfway between acting and pure standup. There is a foundation, however small, for this show to build on toward the future, which is something I could never say about Outsourced last year.
- Has this show completely stolen the thunder from Chelsea Handler’s midseason sitcom, or just 90 percent?
- The short title sequence with the “filmed in front of a live studio audience…yeah I said it…” line has never failed to piss me off.
- As a fellow Northwestern guy, I’m always happy to see Maulik Pancholy, but he’ll always be Jonathan to me.
- Of the three shows set in Chicago that I know of offhand (this one, The League, and Happy Endings), this one sure uses its location the worst. Blackhawks jerseys, offhand references to restaurants in Wicker Park, and a strange recreation of a supposed Grant Park rose garden don’t make the show very authentic.
- Every time I hear “Black and Yellow” I can’t help but think of Chet Haze. What an unfortunate situation.
- This week’s “Whitney talking through other people” moment: I see Roxanne as a second surrogate Whitney. Everything she says feels like it was taken from Whitney Cummings verbatim.
- This week’s laugh: A nice callback to Alex using his story of an albino guy on the train at the beginning of the episode, but in an equally inappropriate place during dinner with Lily and Neal.
- I’m pretty sure Erik will be back next week. He was very unsure when he told me to enjoy this, so I’ll be just as uncertain in thanking him for the chance to sit in on this.