In the US: Thursday, 9:30/8:30c, NBC
This year, we have something of a "battle of the sexes" going on between NBC and ABC. ABC has no fewer than three sitcoms in which men are officially dicks. More on those offences against humour when they air. NBC, which currently has a mandate of trying to attract as many female viewers as possible, has taken a slightly different route and has gone for "men are not all dicks".
Yesterday, we dealt with NBC’s Up All Night, which sees happy couple Christina Applegate and Will Arnett dealing with their new baby, Arnett opting to be a house-husband and not being a dick.
Today, we have Whitney, which sees single-girl-but-in-a-relationship-for-three-years Whitney Cummings (Chelsea Lately and her boyfriend, Alex, navigating the perils of modern relationships. Together. In a non-dickish, quite supportive way in Alex’s case.
While it’s not brilliantly funny and as I remarked during my review of Up All Night, observational comedy is one thing but it’s only funny if someone’s failed to point out the observation 10 or 20 times already, it does at least raise a few laughs and has the occasionally original thing to say. Here’s a trailer.
NBC’s new multi-camera comedy "Whitney" is a hilarious look at modern day love, which centers around Whitney (Whitney Cummings, "Chelsea Lately") and Alex (Chris D’Elia, "Glory Daze"), a happily unmarried couple. Together for three years, the duo is in no rush to get hitched, which seems to get a mixed response from their friends.
Whitney’s close circle of girlfriends includes, on one side, Lily (Zoe Lister-Jones, "The Other Guys"), a romantic idealist who loves being in love, and on the other, Roxanne (Rhea Seehorn, "The Starter Wife"), a recent divorcee who is practical, cynical and dreading being single again. Lily and Roxanne’s opposing points of view only exacerbate Whitney’s own complicated outlook on relationships.
Completing their close-knit group is Neal (Maulik Pancholy, NBC’s "30 Rock"), a real modern day Renaissance man – sensitive and cool, who knows a little bit about everything and happens to be dating Lily. On the other end of the spectrum is Whitney and Alex’s next-door neighbor Mark (Dan O’Brien, "How I Met Your Mother"), a police officer and total bachelor, who claims to be the ultimate player, but likes to talk a good game.
At the end of the day, Whitney and Alex try to have a relationship on their own terms – in a world that expects a more traditional approach.
Is it any good?
I’m not going to say I laughed a huge amount, but Whitney is an amiable show that does at least try to break out of the standard sitcom identikit. While the supporting characters are a little bit stock, the central characters are quirkily different from the ones you might have come to expect and the central premise – a couple who are happily unmarried but worry about keeping the spark in their relationship alive – is semi-original if you ignore ABC’s Better With You from last year.
There’s no outstanding acting, no zippy one-liners – this is a true situation comedy, where the situations in which Whitney and co end up are supposed to give you all the laughs you need. The first episode gives us "getting ready for a wedding" (and the fact if you’re of a certain age, everyone you know is getting married), "acceptable behaviour at a wedding", and "role play as a way of improving your love life". Don’t know about you, but I’ve seen these all before, unfortunately, so laughs were relatively few, but there were enough original thoughts and observations to ensure it wasn’t time totally wasted.
Whitney is fine, as is Chris D’Ella, although he has a tendency to smile at all the jokes. Rhea Seehorn is engaging if OTT as Whitney’s divorced friend, while the rest of the cast is acceptable enough. The multi-camera shoot and laughter track irritate, but NBC seems to love to the format and no one seems to be able to discourage it. At least the audience is less interesting than the Better With You audience was.
There’s enough promise here that I’ll stick around for another couple of episodes. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but at least it’s not an ABC hatefest.