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Reviews: '2 Broke Girls,' 'New Girl' 'Whitney' Put Ladies at the Comedy Forefront

Date September 19, 2011
Reviews: '2 Broke Girls,' 'New Girl' 'Whitney' Put Ladies at the Comedy Forefront A lot will be written this fall -- and a lot already has been said -- about the bumper crop of new shows that revolve around female characters. Three women-centered comedies premiere this week, and they certainly have their share of interesting gender issues.

But before getting into that topic, it might be worth saying whether these comedies are...

Reviews: '2 Broke Girls,' 'New Girl' 'Whitney' Put Ladies at the Comedy Forefront A lot will be written this fall -- and a lot already has been said -- about the bumper crop of new shows that revolve around female characters. Three women-centered comedies premiere this week, and they certainly have their share of interesting gender issues.

But before getting into that topic, it might be worth saying whether these comedies are funny or not, and whether they have the potential to be consistently amusing once they shake off the flop sweat that almost all comedy pilots display.

In order of both laughs and potential, I'd list the shows in the following order: The solid '2 Broke Girls' (9:30PM ET Monday, CBS) is at the head of the class, 'New Girl' (9PM ET Tuesday, Fox) is in the middle of the pack, and 'Whitney' (9:30PM ET Thursday, NBC) is the most problematic of the three.

That's kind of odd, given that both '2 Broke Girls' and 'Whitney' were created by the same woman, Whitney Cummings (who stars in the latter program), and both attempt to fit slightly edgier material into the traditional multi-camera comedy format. '2 Broke Girls,' which co-creator Michael Patrick King is running now that Cummings is devoting the majority of her time to her NBC show, flows much more smoothly, perhaps because it has a sprightly and viable double act at its core. The odd-couple pairing is one of the oldest ones in the TV playbook, and the two mismatched waitresses in '2 Broke' are good company, at least in the show's initial outing.

'Whitney' is pretty much solo vehicle for Cummings, but the whole enterprise feels much more forced and dated. How is it that '2 Broke Girls,' comedy set in the hipster mecca of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is airing on the most traditional network, CBS, and yet it actually works? And the network that won over hipsters everywhere with smart comedy like 'Community' and 'Parks and Recreation' is airing 'Whitney,' which feels as though it's squashing a comedic voice that would have fit right in on NBC, given the right environment in which to flourish. Such developments are mysterious and strange, but the fact is, CBS clearly came out ahead in the Whitney Cummings sweepstakes.

Reviews: '2 Broke Girls,' 'New Girl' 'Whitney' Put Ladies at the Comedy Forefront Not only are 'Whitney's jokes a little musty, the multi-camera format seems like the wrong choice for this comedy. Not that the format can't work on NBC ('Friends' did OK, if I recall correctly), but the execution of the vaguely conceived relationship comedy just feels off here. Whitney's friend Roxanne gets a few good lines, but a crass cop character seems to have been imported from a forgotten 1989 sitcom, and if the goal of the pilot is to get us invested in the relationship of Whitney and her boyfriend, they don't have enough chemistry for that to happen organically.

Chemistry isn't a problem on '2 Broke Girls,' one of the strongest pilots for fall. Kat Dennings is terrific as Max, a hard-edged, hard-working Brooklynite who schools formerly rich girl Caroline (Beth Behrs) on how to wait tables and how to function in the real world. Dennings (and the script) allow us to see the kindness that lurks underneath Max's cynical exterior, and Behrs holds her own with Dennings, who has presence to spare. The pairing has a lot of potential, as does the shared endeavor the waitresses decide to embark on at the end of the pilot.

But '2 Broke' has its own share of clunky mistakes: The diner where both girls work has an Asian manager who is a walking stereotype (the cook isn't much better), and if the show's going to employ 'Saturday Night Live' veteran Garrett Morris, it has to let him do more than occasionally dispense eccentric-old-man one-liners. Having said all that, at the end of '2 Broke,' I wanted to see more of Max and Caroline's adventures, which wasn't the case at the end of 'Whitney.'

Maybe it all comes down to likability, and I simply liked Max and Caroline more than the version of Whitney that aired on the NBC show. But I find it somewhat heartening the women in these sitcoms didn't necessarily fill the typical roles that female characters do on so many programs, year after year; they weren't confined the roles of scolds, helpers, bystanders or sex objects. Max and Whitney are a little salty and make no apologies for their impatient or clueless behavior, and Jess, the lead on 'New Girl' is, well, weird.

Reviews: '2 Broke Girls,' 'New Girl' 'Whitney' Put Ladies at the Comedy Forefront Of course, she's weird in a generally "adorkable" way, as Fox advertisements have loudly informed us in recent weeks (God forbid Jess be weird in a truly unsettling way, instead of weird in a way that indicates she may be part unicorn). She answers an ad from three guys who are looking for a roommate, and the sly subtext of the show is that the male trio, for all their would-be player ways, are every bit as dopey and uncool as Jess. They're just less prone to singing spontaneously created jingles at awkward moments or using "Hey sailor!" as a pickup line.

The rather sunny ending of 'New Girl' doesn't feel earned, and your enjoyment level may depend on how much you can tolerate Zooey Deschanel's doofy charisma. Personally, I think Deschanel has undeniable appeal as an actress, but the writers have to quickly make Jess a more real, three-dimensional person or she could become intolerable. Deschanel is the cilantro of actresses -- just the right amount is tasty, but too much is a disaster.

Perhaps the most notable thing about these three sitcoms is that they were created (or co-created) by women. This is network television, so all four stars of the new comedies are very attractive in conventional ways. And it's depressing to note that the overall number of women writing for the broadcast networks has declined; that is a serious problem that the television industry needs to address.

But, as is the case with MTV's 'Awkward.,' these women don't necessarily feel alien to my experience as a female person. They come off as flawed in relatively realistic ways, and the comedy that flows from those flaws -- well, quite often the women are in on the joke. Or they wrote it.

Note: The full 'New Girl' pilot is available on Hulu, Fox.com and iTunes Monday (but it'll be removed from those platforms on Tuesday, the day it premieres).

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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