Everyone has an opinion, but this vitriolic critiques makes me think of some of the “New York Times” theatre critics: “Why NBC’s Whitney is the absolute worst TV show in years.” Really? “One of the worst” and “epitomizes everything wrong with the TV industry”? There is a lot of TV that critic has not watched (those borderline child abuse shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” or “Honey Boo Boo”)?. But more relevant is his “why.” One of the key things you learn in any critique course is how to navigate opinion with theses backed by relevant arguments. Humor is subjective, no doubt, but some of the arguments he presents I’ve heard before are disturbing since they have nothing to do with the story, whether the approach is original, joke structures, etc. It’s an attack, usually on Whitney Cummings.
One critique is of “Whitney”s use of laugh tracks. Critics say laugh tracks belongs in the 70’s, the 60’s whatever decade but this one. Yeah, so does arguing about birth control for a woman, homophobia, and creationism but here we are. Multicam shows often use laugh tracks, i.e.”Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother.” The above graph from blog “Why How I Met Your Mother Needs Its Laugh Tracks” talks about laugh tracks much better. My thing: I don’t even notice the tracks.
Another critique: the show isn’t groundbreaking. What on network TV is allowed to be? Once in a while “Will and Grace” or “Lost” or “Glee” will slip through the cracks. Those are rare hits. Why should humor not serve the sole purpose of its existence which is to entertain? Comedy about a woman and her inability to have a good relationship or struggling within a good one is older than “Sex and the City,” dating back to…ever since history began I’d venture. So is boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl yet that formula never gets old if written in a fresh light. To me, “Whitney” is actually fresher storyline than legal procedurals, medical procedurals, superheroes, shows about gay men (nope, not groundbreaking anymore).
Plus, groundbreaking is in the eye of the beholder. As a minority woman, I find “Scandal” and “The Mindy Project” groundbreaking. Key and Peele, which is one of the funniest comedy teams out there doing skits — and maybe the funniest outside the UK — is groundbreaking. I find “Community” and “Family Guy” pushing boundaries. Plus, outside of TV, women who are like Whitney — messed up, from broken backgrounds, who sleep around — are dismissed. It is easier to call a woman a slut or c— or bitch than it is to call a gay man or woman a derogatory term today. There were more suicides by girls for being bullied and labelled as sluts than of gay teenagers. So, to me, yes, “Whitney,” like “Girls” is relevant and necessary and entertaining to boot.
The most absurd critique is that the show focuses on her. Um, yes. Just like any star-driven vehicle. The A story is always the star and some episodes are heavily balanced in the star’s favor and some episodes are not. Some actors get development deals because of the very fact that they have an in-built audience and recognizable brand/voice. Just like Seinfeld was about…Seinfeld. He didn’t sexualize himself like Whitney sometimes does — though to me, it’s playing up her assets and brand rather than “sexualizing” (if I had her body, I’d run around half naked ALL the time). No one wants to see Seinfeld half naked and he knows it. That’s not his brand or appeal. Whitney is hot — or, at the least pretty and in great shape. Not everyone’s cup of tea — I personally like curvaceous women like Sofia Vergara more than tall, hipless, and skinny but pretty is pretty. I don’t know why there are haters about this. And thank God, she’s not quirky. I’d love to see her be bolder, more messed up, and play that up. No Quirky!
Same with the male lead, Chris D’Elia. He’s not my type but he’s charming in his way, and I enjoy the chemistry between the two leads. It makes the show. Personally, good for him that he’s not cut from the same cloth as clean-cut men touted to us as the only datable material. I’ve lived in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs, like D’Elia’s character, look like him. Hell, even Jon Hamm looks more like Whitney’s on-screen boyfriend than like Don Draper (from the pix I’ve seen; no real life proof but only pix courtesy TMZ).
To me the hardest thing to pull off is sincerity without earnestness or pedantry, especially in humor. That’s why Will Farrell is so damn sweet no matter how erratic his behavior. That’s why Apatow’s films work. That’s why “Modern Family” is a hit. To me, “Whitney” hits that balance. And when it doesn’t, because it’s still trying to find itself as a new show and it isn’t as consistently funny as “Parks and Rec” for sure, it sure as hell isn’t because of how she looks or the laugh tracks.