Judge Jason Panella was filmed in front of a live studio audience. Really.
Always a trophy. Never a wife.
Whitney gained a reputation, in some circles, as one of the worst debut comedies of the 2011 fall television season. Sure, the detractors were onto something, but the show managed to pull a few nice surprises.
Facts of the Case
Stand-up comic and show creator Whitney Cummings (co-creator of 2 Broke Girls) stars as a fictionalized version of herself. She loves her job as a photographer, and she's in committed (unmarried) relationship with Alex (fellow stand-up comedian Chris D'Elia, Workaholics).
Despite NBC's attractive packaging—a modern relationship from a new wave television created by strong women—Whitney isn't a very good show. Under its shiny exterior lie all the same old tired cliches, cardboard characterizations, and lingering gender stereotypes which have epitomized three-camera network sitcoms for decades.
The early episodes are formulaic: Whitney/Alex tries to prove Alex/Whitney wrong, and the couple learn some things about life and love. Whitney is caustic and has no qualms about using anyone around her as a verbal punching bag, which usually results in arguments. When Whitney and Alex aren't arguing, complaining, or making sex jokes, they're doing the same things with their one-note friends. Whitney's closest friends are recent divorcee Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn, Franklin and Bash), and bubbly romantic Lily (Zoe Lister-Jones, The Other Guys). Lily's fiance Neil (Maulik Pancholy, who left his role on 30 Rock for this) is there to give her someone to talk with. Mark (Dan O'Brien, How I Met Your Mother) is a police officer whose sole purpose is to sleaze his way into conversations and say the most offensive things possible. Each character is defined by a single trait—Roxanne is an alcoholic! Neal is Indian!—and that's pretty much it.
The ensemble is incredibly wooden, with Seehorn and D'Elia the only two who feel like they actually want to be a part of the show. Cummings is a good stand-up comic, but here she comes off the worst of the bunch. A handful of episodes feature guest turns from comedic heavyweights—John Cleese (Monty Python's Flying Circus), Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle), Ken Marino (Party Down)—and they're almost always the highlight of the episode. Regardless of what's happening on stage, the live studio audience hams it up just to remind us we should be laughing.
But here's the strange thing. By the halfway point of the season, Whitney does something surprising: it gets better. The episodes don't ever become great, mind you, but they stop recycling the same plot lines and actually try develop the cast beyond walking punchlines. The four friends feel less like a way to get extra jokes into an episode and more like real people. Alex and Whitney start to act like a couple, and some real playfulness seeps into their performance. It's as if Cummings and the writers realized the show was the epitome of sitcom mediocrity and wanted to do something about it. It helps that some longer story arcs get tossed into the mix. Though the show may not have completely reinvented itself, it does evolve into something moderately interesting. Bravo, Whitney.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby 5.1 Surround mix, the visuals perfectly serviceable, and the audio is just about the same, though there are a few instances where the music in scene transitions drowns out initial bits of dialogue. Bonus features are sparse: a handful of brief and decidedly lame deleted scenes, a gag reel, and commentary from Cummings and D'Elia on two episodes.
If you're looking for good television comedy, you might want to pass on Whitney: Season One. But if you're willing to stick with the show during the bad times, you might get some good laughs out of it.
Case dismissed, for a surprising last-minute bit of comedic evidence.
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