Is It Really That Bad? Watching ‘Whitney’

Every now and again, I’ll pull up the guide on my DVR, see a show listed and think to myself, “Does anybody actually watch that? I don’t know anybody who watches that. Why the hell is that still on?” Most of these shows look so painfully mediocre that I’m barely even aware of their existence. And yet, somehow they remain popular enough to stay on the airwaves. With that in mind, I thought that it might be fun to actually check out random episodes of some of these seemingly second-rate shows, to find out if they’re really as terrible as I’ve assumed. I’ll ask all the tough questions most are too afraid to ask. Namely: “What is it?” and “Is it really that bad?” Then I’ll give you my final verdict, to let you know if the series is actually worth watching. Of course, a show can’t be totally judged on a single episode alone, but it’s enough to give a rough idea. For this first installment, I’ll take a look at the NBC sitcom ‘Whitney’.

What Is It?

‘Whitney’ is a traditional multi-camera sitcom that airs on NBC and stars comedienne Whitney Cummings (playing a fictionalized version of herself, a real stretch). Focused on her character’s relationship with her boyfriend, the show supposedly follows her exploits to keep their romance fresh, which is odd because the show couldn’t be more stale. A supporting cast of friends is also thrown into the mix to liven things up. In the episode I watched, titled ‘Homeland Security’, Whitney and her boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia) are confronted by a mugger, and Whitney decides to… run away. Meanwhile, Whitney’s friends Lily and Neal (Zoe Lister Jones and Maulik Pancholy) call off their wedding and cope with their newly single status. Hilarity ensues. Or does it?

Is It Really That Bad?

Well… “bad” might not exactly be the right word, but ‘Whitney’ is an extremely lazy, hollow and uninspired sitcom that totally fails to distance itself from all that’s come before. Actually, you know what? “Bad” might actually be the right word.

Though I’ve grown to hate most contemporary examples, in the right hands, multi-camera sitcoms can still be funny. Unfortunately, here the constant vacuous, perfectly on-cue laugh track applause and chuckling are just annoying. In fact, annoying might not even be an appropriate description; it’s downright disquieting. I kept wondering what I was missing, and soon began to think that the poor studio audience was under some kind of spell, or worse, being held against their wills. What was NBC doing to them to elicit such laughter? Secretly playing reruns of ‘Seinfeld’ on the studio monitors? No, the guffaws were too soulless to be genuine. These were the half-hearted, faintly terrified snickers of a group being held hostage, desperately trying to signal for their rescue. If only they could give us some sort of sign. If only we could see their eyes. You can always see the pain in their eyes. Let them go, I say! Let them go!

Suffice it to say, the show’s attempts at jokes are recycled, obvious and often groan-inducing. Examples of material we’re supposed to be smitten with include: references to Spanx, one character’s pitiful attempts to roar, one character running from a mugger, a squirrel sneaking into an apartment, and one character saying things like “I’m sending you to pound town.” Sure, all of these scenarios could potentially be funny in the right circumstances (except for that last one, which is funny under no circumstances), but the execution lacks any semblance of originality or wit.

All of the plot points are standard sitcom fare (a canceled wedding, characters dealing with abandonment issues, etc.), and though perfectly fine, the performances lack personality and distinction. Cummings and D’Elia have decent chemistry, but the latter’s perpetual, loud disbelief at everything Whitney does throughout the episode is redundant and one-note. I kept waiting for him to exclaim, “Whitney, you got some ‘splainin to do!” Everything the characters spit out is so bland and obvious that by the time Whitney started talking to a squirrel, saying things like, “I’ve been in the same situation, stuck in a strange guy’s bedroom, just looking for some nuts,” I was simply relieved that the show was almost over, and thankful that I had nothing nearby to throw at the television.

Why Is It Still on TV?

The series is probably relatively inexpensive to produce, and while not a ratings success (its season finale pulled a 1.6 in the 18-49 demo), for struggling NBC, that’s not terrible. While I didn’t personally find the comedy to be funny, it is fairly harmless, and the easy-to-digest nature of the program makes it a middling source of mindless, disposable “entertainment.” Unfortunately for fans, the series’ second season has been scheduled for the Friday death slot. Unless it can miraculously pull in new viewers in the fall, this one probably won’t last much longer.

Should you bother watching it? No. No you shouldn’t. I’ll admit to cracking a smile every now and then, but I only sort of laughed once (when Alex referred to squirrels as “sexy rats,” which we all know is an extremely accurate statement), but even then, it was more of a polite chuckle. Of course, comedy is very subjective, so I’m sure the show does have its fans. If you’re like me, however, and already assumed that the series was skippable based on commercials alone, then in that case, I’d say those assumptions are right on the money.

Verdict: Keep flipping the channel.


  1. Patrick

    I watched Whitney purely as a gag. The initial promos felt like a SNL skit making fun of the typical woman centric sitcom. It did turn out to be a joke, but not one made on purpose. With each episode I was amazed at how weak the writing was. It was like they went through every episode of friends and said to themselves “Let’s recycle the least funny bits of this show. No one will ever notice”. When NBC announced that it was being picked up for a second season while the genuinely funny ‘Community’ was still in limbo, I couldn’t believe it. Actually I could because NBC has all but destroyed themselves with bad programming choices for the last five years,

  2. Alex

    Whitney Cummings seems to subscribe to the modern delusion that pop-culture reference=funny. The same jokes that fall flat in “Whitney” also fall flat in “2 Broke Girls”, which Cummings also produced. CBS just has better marketing, so somehow people watch that one.

    It’s unfortunate, because Community and 30 Rock (particularly the early seasons) have both shown that you can do a show replete with pop-culture refs and have it be screamingly funny, but it has to be done with wit and skill.

    I love multi-camera comedies. I like the social aspect of television that they incorporated before social media was cool. But while TV Dramas of recent years have soared, it feels like sitcoms are in a bit of a lull.

  3. I think it’s still on the air because the majority of Americans come home from working 8 hours at their shitty job and are tired and do not want to use their brains. They watch Whitney and get a chuckle and are not at all challenged physically or mentally. Plus, America isn’t the most educated nation out there, unfortunately…

    • William Henley

      I will agree with this, but, come on, Whitney?

      There are some great, well written shows out there that don’t require much brain-power to enjoy. Like South Park or anything on Adult Swim, or half the shows on TV Land.

      Its sad, but like 20 years ago, a successful shows was on one of the major networks. Now a successful show has to be on HBO, Showtime, TNT, Comedy Central or Cartoon Network.

      It seems that the only network that has decent programing anymore is Fox on Sundays, yet they thought Napoleon Dynamite would make a great TV show some 8 years after the movie came out when it was no longer relevant.

      Someone I work with who is closely intertwined with the local news business has said that NBC in particular is talking about doing away with the local news, and just have everything aired from New York. The local news, America’s Got Talent and the Olympics seems to be all that NBC has left. Even a lot of major sports are no longer aired on OTA networks.

      Unless the major networks do something soon, I see them becoming extenct, with, in 20 years, the only channels you have left being broadcast over-the-air being Daystar, TBN. and PBS.

  4. I remember seeing this when it first premiered. There was a much better comedy on before it (I think), and I could not laugh once from the beginning to the first commercial break, at which point I did household chores for fun.

    It’s not always fair to judge a series by its pilot, but I’m fairly confident I made the right decision. It didn’t help that NBC planted it among a mostly stellar set of single-camera sitcoms where Whitney’s anachronistic format would draw attention to its stale writing and acting.

  5. HuskerGuy

    I thought Community was confirmed to be dead anyway after this season (sadly, as I love the show).

  6. HuskerGuy

    Fired the show creator and moved it to Friday night. The show couldn’t get ratings on Thursday night, it certainly isn’t going to on Friday with Whitney as its lead.

    While not confirmed, it is all but confirmed then. Such a shame.