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Whitney: Series Premiere

By Zack Gutin · September 23, 2011

Raunchy + Sweet = Funny           

Surprised?  I’ll bet many are, but not me, not really.  NBC’s new Thursday night comedy, Whitney, suffers from heavy-handed exposition upfront, and perhaps an acting coach was needed on set for a few scenes, but two funny comedians in Whitney Cummings and Chris Delia execute a lot of jokes, a clear story and signs of series promise for Cummings’ second show of the Fall.

Whitney, implanted as the anchor in the epic NBC Thursday night comedy line-up – the historical lineage of which goes a little something like this:  30 Rock, The Office, Friends, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show, Cheers and many more – suffices to bring raunchy interactions (and costumes) to the later-in-the-evening/younger-skewing crowd.  Cummings, who Comedy Central helped launch by giving her an hour-long stand-up special, brings just the type of humor.  The story in the pilot introduces her relationship with “Alex,” played by another no-filter comic Chris Delia.  The two aren’t married, but after living together for 3 years, “it’s pretty much the same thing,” Cummings’ character claims. 

This particular episode surely struggled with some piping the philosophies of the characters, and ultimately the premise for the series, into certain early scenes.  A conversation between Cummings and Delia about the reasons to NOT get married served to introduce these important character traits, but jumped off the screen as expository.  “Half of marriages end in divorce.  If half of flights ended in a crash, would you fly?” asks Cummings’ character, to which Delia replies, “It’s just so much faster than driving.”  They get the funny in with the exposition, but sometimes – especially with a pilot – that clunky “here is what the show is about” dialogue is unavoidable.

The real potential for the series shines through in the second half of the episode when Cummings’ character decides to try and spice up her relationship by buying a sexy nurse outfit.  She hilariously goes too far in her role playing – actually forcing her guy to fill out medical paperwork and show proof of insurance – leading to a painful accident where he is rendered unconscious.  Suddenly, we’re faced with a really funny moment where he is passed out on the floor and she – thinking he’s still just playing along – tries to revive him.  Before long, we’re at the hospital where she faces a painful reality:  “Either you’re married, or you’re not,” says a nurse, denying Cummings access to see her wounded soldier.

The relationship between Cummings and her friends is solidified in this hospital scene as well, along with an introduction to her mother.  Their dynamic is particularly funny and one hopes that we’ll see more of the character in future episodes.  We also see the softer side of the Cummings character as she shows some genuine concern for her guy and then a really sweet moment together in his hospital bed.

The lifeline of the show will be situations in which – for all intents and purposes – the couple is married; they share a home, bed, friends and life – though the red-tape of the world keeps them from certain privileges that are only afforded to those with rings on their fingers.  Timely, especially in an age where online dating is more reliable than a blind date set-up by friends, marriages almost more frequently than not end in divorce and finally gay marriages are starting to be allowed.  Many will relate to the struggles of this hip, young couple with hip, young problems.

Again, the raunchy nature of the show guarantees a hefty load of laughs, but the show will need to find a way to keep the stories going.  Scenes within several of the previews that were not in this episode provide promise of big laughs and equally compromising scenarios for the characters.  Sustainability in that regard may be a question, but a series can also evolve.  Perhaps these characters eventually drift towards the possibility of marriage, presenting a new set of problems as many of the predicted downfalls of matrimony become a reality for this slacker couple.

These two talented stand-ups will need to hone their acting skills to deliver the more momentous scenes and ideally that was addressed after this pilot taping, once the show was picked up to series.  The same is true for certain blips of odd dialogue that drag the narrative – hopefully the hiring of her writing staff will support improved character interactions going forward.  So hang tight.  Whitney has something to offer that diversifies, yet fits perfectly with, the legendary NBC Thursday night line-up.  It’s sexual, it’s new and the charisma between Cummings and Delia demonstrates that this crazy chemistry experiment may just work after-all.