It’s a TV tradition for successful stand-up comics to make the transition from stage to sitcom, but this leap is usually not an easy one. For every Seinfeld there are dozens of failures littering the television graveyard, with comedy icons such as Jackie Mason and George Carlin awkwardly spewing half-baked punchlines in ill-fitting sitcoms that both dulled down and dumbed down their material for the lowest-common-denominator demands of mainstream network television.
This was certainly the case with Whitney, which struggled to cram Whitney Cummings’ hilariously edgy stand-up act into a rom-com sitcom that fizzled on arrival. Although it got better as the season progressed, Whitney never came close to approaching the vicious hilarity that made Cummings TV’s comedy “It Girl” (she’s also co-creator and exec producer of the CBS hit 2 Broke Girls) after her breakout performances on several Comedy Central celebrity roasts.
Despite massive promotion, Whitney was far from the breakout hit that NBC had hoped for. Although cancellation seemed inevitable, a second season was surprisingly ordered, with a new showrunner (Wil Calhoun, a former Friends writer/producer was brought in at the end of last season to replace Betsy Thomas) and a new 8 p.m. timeslot.
As in season one, Whitney continues to centre on the romantic relationship between a photographer named Whitney (Cummings) and her live-in boyfriend Alex (Chris D’Elia), who became husband and wife in the season finale.
Cummings thinks that playing the marriage card relieves a certain amount of pressure that will allow for more streamlined sitcom storytelling this season. “Last year, every episode was kind of like, how much closer is Whitney to marriage, and now it’s kind of like, we did it and now what?” she says. “So we get to move on and tell relatable stories, just sort of what it’s like to be in a relationship without the marriage thing sort of always creeping up in the third act.”
In fact, viewers who watched the first season all the way through would have noticed Whitney’s improvement with each week as the show found its footing and fleshed out characters that seemed, especially in its early episodes, more like human punchline dispensers than actual people.
Unforutnately, there weren’t many of those viewers. The harsh reality of network television is that once we sample a show and decide to move on, it’s next to impossible to get us to come back for another look, regardless of how much a show has changed or improved.
This is a big hurdle to leap, but this rejigged, revamped sitcom — call it Whitney 2.0 — is worth checking out. Compared with last season, the actors seem more relaxed in their roles, the pace is less in-your-face frenetic and the jokes hit more often than they miss. Will this be enough to deliver more viewers and potentially a third season? I doubt it.
But whatever happens, Cummings’ star is continuing to rise. In addition to Whitney and 2 Broke Girls, later this month she’ll be debuting a new weekly talk show on E!, produced by Chelsea Handler and airing after Joel McHale’s The Soup. In Love You, Mean It With Whitney Cummings, she’ll return to doing what she does best: hilariously eviscerating pop culture.
This new show seems like it will play to Cummings’ strengths far more than Whitney ever did. Not only will the show feature celebrity guests, Love You, Mean It will also include field pieces, comedy correspondents and stand-up Julian McCullough as her second-banana sidekick. Most importantly, though, Cummings will get to sharpen up her edge without the restrictive shackles of primetime network television. “This show gives me a chance to get back to my stand-up roots,” said Cummings in the Love You, Mean It press release. “This show gives me a chance to say (almost) whatever I’d like on TV again.”
The second season of WHITNEY premieres Wednesday, November 14 on NBC
LOVE YOU, MEAN IT WITH WHITNEY CUMMINGS premieres Wednesday, November 28 on E!