Whitney Cummings: funny friend or foul foe?
A.C. “Mac” MacKenzie, Opinion Editor
October 19, 2011
Filed under Arts & Leisure
Whitney Cummings: a name none of us would have recognized a few weeks ago and that few of us likely know now or will remember in the coming weeks. She has hardly skimmed the surface of cultural relevancy and there’s no telling how long she’ll remain there. However, comedienne and actress Whitney Cummings, the executive producer and creator of both the new CBS series “2 Broke Girls” and the new self-titled NBC sitcom “Whitney,” has earned herself a place in my crosshairs.
Wikipedia informs me that Cummings is known for her appearances on Comedy Central’s yearly “Roasts” of B-list celebrities, as a member of fellow comedienne Chelsea Handler’s round table on the E! Network’s “Chelsea Lately” and for her work on the modern classic “Punk’d.” This resume lends credibility to the idea of two different major broadcast networks picking up her work.
Whitney Cummings is a strong comedy writer, but this doesn’t translate well to entire television scripts. Due to her inability to write outside of a restricted realm of characters, her shows ultimately suffer. The titular character of the show “Whitney” (portrayed by Whitney Cummings herself) is a smart-but-cold city girl with a snarky attitude. “2 Broke Girls” stars Kat Dennings as Max, a smart-but-cold waitress living in New York City who swaps snarky one-liners with her privileged (read: “flighty”) roommate, Caroline (Beth Behrs), who is capable of snapping back with her own one-liners.
This means that across two shows, three different characters showcase nearly identical personality traits. On “2 Broke Girls,” the streetwise-vs.-flighty dynamic actually works well and complements Max and Caroline’s stories. However, in “Whitney,” this style of humor comes off as abrasive and repetitive.
It doesn’t help that in the two episodes to air so far, the entire supporting cast has shared a mutual proclivity for these same snappy one-liners. Indeed, the only standout character is Whitney’s aloof boyfriend, Alex, portrayed by co-star Chris D’Elia. So far, both episodes have centered on Alex suffering from the fallout of Whitney’s schemes to improve their relationship. The chemistry between Alex and Whitney, while offbeat, is believable and actually had me thinking the two performers were an item off-camera (they’re not).
“2 Broke Girls” isn’t afraid to push boundaries and features some vulgar material, with dialogue that feels more at home on the edgy FX Network than on CBS. Unfortunately, NBC’s “Whitney” forgoes the challenging dialogue and instead attempts to place its characters in uncomfortable, inappropriate situations, a move that has seen zero payoff so far.
I was able to watch one of Cumming’s stand-up specials; in it, she addresses various complaints about a “Cosmopolitan” article on sexy role-playing. Much of this material eventually manifested itself in the pilot episode of “Whitney,” and worked far better as three one-liners than as an 18-minute plot. Likewise, she self-deprecatingly alludes to the belief that she has the body of a “European boy.” However, in the very first episode of her TV show, her character parades around onscreen in a “sexy nurse” costume.
Therefore, I must level the same complaint against “Whitney” that I did a few weeks ago for Zooey Deschanel’s “New Girl”: they both rely too heavily on drawing in male viewers with their lead actress’ sexuality. To make the situation even stranger, Cummings herself admits that she doesn’t showcase moviestar good looks, so it’s a far more effective strategy when “New Girl’s” movie star lead conducts herself in such ways. The stars of “2 Broke Girls” have exercised surprising restraint in this regard.
Long story short, don’t expect to see much more of Whitney Cummings onscreen any time soon as I would not be at all surprised if her NBC show falls through any day now. However, with “2 Broke Girls,” she may be penning one of the biggest hits of the season.