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

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 19th 2011 11:35AM
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.

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.

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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whitney is the best new show on tv just because the humor is a little to adult for you maureen does not make it a bad show just grow up.

January 15 2012 at 6:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I absolutely love 2 Broke Girls. It's hilarious but can't stand Whitney. She is on a constant whining rant. If I were her boyfriend I think I would jump out of window. It's amazing to know that it's produced by the same person. Maybe Whitney ought to stick to producing. When I heard Whitney was picked up and The Playboy Club was canceled I lost faith in TV programming. LOL

Both ladies in 2 Broke Girls have fantastic timing and are truly funny. Maybe re-work the peeps in the diner a bit. They have the potential to be funny but aren't quite there yet. The twins Mom is hysterical.

November 08 2011 at 9:19 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The Hindenberg disaster, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, The JFK, Martin Luther King and RFK assassinations, the Jonestown massacre, the John Lennon murder and 9/11. These are just a few things that are light years funnier than that smelly stinky turd of a shitcom called "Whitney". The writing sucks big time, the characters are one dimensional and there's barely anything resembling a good joke in it. Whoever wrote a positive review of this horrible train wreck of a show is either working for the network or heavily drugged with laughing gas. My God, "Mondo Cane" is funnier than this complete waste of a half hour! Whitney must've given a really good ******** to some clueless executive at NBC (Nothing But Crap). Avoid this show like the plague! It stinks on ice! Yecch!

October 28 2011 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BiggErat's comment

i guess the humor is just to adult for you.

January 15 2012 at 6:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Watched the first two episodes of both New Girl and 2 Broke Girls. I initially wasn't impressed with either one but I thought New Girl might be the more promising of the group even though it is an obvious, inferior ripoff of Happy Endings. The Zooey Deschanel character is so annoying and cloying but I tried it twice and won't be returning. 2 Broke Girls is by far the most vulgar and mean spirited show on broadcast television and the 2nd episode was simply unbearable with its shrill tone, plus it wasn't the slightest bit funny. This is 2 Broken Girls who should disappear sooner rather than later.

September 27 2011 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to USA J's comment

must be to adult for you

January 15 2012 at 6:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was looking forward to '2 Broke Girls' and was even more excited after reading your review.

I was so disappointed. I thought it was beyond AWFUL!

The entire time I was watching I kept saying to myself: What was Mo thinking?

September 20 2011 at 7:36 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree with your assessment of the shows. The "Whitney" pilot is also available on Comcast On Demand - I don't know if it's available on other On Demand services for other cable companies - so I've caught all three shows now. When I watched Whitney it made me think I really hated laughtracks - but then I watched Two Broke Girls and realized you can actually have a laughtrack that's not horribly obnoxious. It seems like the laughtrack on Whitney is way too loud and probably over-sweetened. I guess since it's been a while since NBC had a sitcom with a laughtrack it doesn't know how to handle them. The show was basically dozens of one-liners with over the top laughtracks in-between.

New Girl was OK - but didn't really catch my attention. It's probably just the result of networks thinking that every pilot has to have a standalone arc to draw in the audience, but it was just so contrived having her go from roommate to bestest friends with the guys over the course of a single episode. That's a relationship that should be earned over the course of a season. It'd be like having Monica and Chandler fall in love over the course of the first episode of Friends.

I definitely liked Two Broke Girls best. The humor was much more edgy (and generally better than Whitney) and the main characters more flushed out then the New Girl characters. Still had some cheesy stuff with the peripheral characters being very cartoonish - but definitely has a lot of potential.

September 20 2011 at 1:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Shannon Smith

Two Brike Girls was cruel with thier mean spirited comments toward diabled people. As the mother of an autistic hild who has to work 30 hours a week just to be able to talk I Say SCREW YOU CBS! Temple is a brilliant woman and to degrade her to the leve of someone who only lines up objects is awful. To think that a woman was the creater only goes to show she is insecure in a mans world and is willing to go way beyond the line of what is acceptable.

September 20 2011 at 12:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shannon Smith's comment

shannon i think you are diabled also you need to get thicker skin and grow up.

January 15 2012 at 6:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

2 Broke Girls was awful. Not your garden-variety dumb and contrived, but AWFUL. And with some "jokes" that I'm shocked made it past the network censors. Seriously, you consider this a "solid" comedy? Ugh.

September 20 2011 at 8:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rickwrite's comment

grow up rick i see you still watch cartoons

January 15 2012 at 6:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just saw the first show of Two Broke Girls and I was appalled. The terrible humor against Autistic people (Temple Grandin reference) and other disabilities ( Stephen Hawking reference) is inexcusable. The writers owe the public an apology for such bad tatse.

September 19 2011 at 10:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jim's comment

jim they are just jokes get over it, they did not make a jim joke.

January 15 2012 at 6:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched the 5 minute preview for Whitney on YouTube. Oh man, "musty" doesn't begin to describe the jokes. Wedding awkwardness? Couple doesn't have enough sex? Guy complains that being in a couple prevents fun? Those are winning plots. And the whole nurse making you fill out forms thing may have been a funny one-liner in a standup routine but it plays painfully bad in the preview. Outstandingly bad. Jaw-droppingly bad.

As for 2 Legit 2 Broke Girls, this is my response:
Even if it's a good show this has ruined it for me.

September 19 2011 at 5:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to junkyard9's comment

I don't get the youtube clip.

September 19 2011 at 5:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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