Comedy Night Done Wrong

I watched NBC Wednesday night so you wouldn’t have to.

By Bryan Berlin

After NBC decided to pair Whitney and Are You There, Chelsea? together on Wednesday nights, I felt compelled to watch the first night of the two shows playing together. Here are my thoughts:

Whitney

It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of Whitney. It’s also not a secret that most critics are not a fan of Whitney as well. That being said, I tried watching Whitney Wednesday night as if it was a new show. I was just going to let it happen and see how I felt.

The truth is, I felt bad. I tried. I really tried Whitney. It’s hard though when your A-story is Whitney catching her longtime, live-in boyfriend masturbating and is completely traumatized. So traumatized that it becomes the main storyline for the entire episode. To put this in perspective, Seinfeld had a similar storyline a few years ago, but it was George’s mom catching him in the act…as an adult. In comparison this is a much more traumatizing act. In today’s world, most couples will do that act together when away from each other for a long period of time. It’s really not that taboo. But being caught by your mom is still every bit demoralizing as it was. And instead of making that storyline the crux of the entire episode, Seinfeld took that story to create a new story – who could go the longest abstaining from that act. What started as a small plot point becomes a totally different and much more entertaining story.

Whitney beats a dead horse with their storyline. When the issue seems just about over, Whitney decides to share this story with her female friends, which then upends the relationship and restarts the argument. They try to make jokes off of everyone knowing a piece of information, but it’s way too over the top. Arrested Development had a running gag of characters knowing information in a plot point, and bringing it up over the course of the show (George Michael getting an A-, Michael not giving GOB a frozen banana), but it’s so small in the plot of the episode.

At the end of the day, Whitney is good at writing B and C story lines. However, those B and C stories cannot become the A story of the episode. To be fair, the actual story they used as the B story played well and had the right impact of a B story (a couple moves in and the girl is afraid to do anything in the bathroom because the guy will hear). Overall though, one decent B story doesn’t make a good show.

Are You There, Chelsea?

It’s quite fitting Are You There, Chelsea? is paired with Whitney. No, not because it’s two female leads in a show (although that seems to be the reason behind the NBC doing it with they way it was promoted), but because each TV show takes the same idea but puts a different spin on it. Each show tries to go for a raunchy, edgy feel, but in a different way. Since Whitney revolves around a couple, their edgy humor revolves around couple-y things. Chelsea takes the opposite direction, taking full advantage of the fact that Chelsea is single. This allows her to say overly sexual things, whether it’s how she likes being on top or how she makes fun of a redhead for his clown-like pubic hair.

Chelsea also tackles the character’s (slash actual celebrity’s) alcoholism head on. After getting a DUI in the opening scene, Chelsea decides to move into an apartment closer to the bar so she won’t have to drive there anymore. She makes the choice to move in with an asexual, cat-loving roommate in the process. While Chelsea Handler may have actually done this in real life (I’ve only read My Horizontal Life so I can’t speak for content in Are You There Vodka), this plot line comes off as incredibly unbelievable. Sure, maybe it’s a way of saying how crazy this character is, but by giving her moments of redemption later in the show, it makes it less believable that she could be totally crazy.

The other main aspect that doesn’t sell with Chelsea is the chemistry between actors Laura Prepon and Ali Wong, who play best friends on the show. Yes, it’s presented via voice over that they’re best friends, but if that wasn’t said you’d think these two were co-workers who tolerated each other at best. With Two Broke Girls, the two girls in that show start out as strangers and play better off each other after one episode than these apparent ‘best friends.’ If the two main actors can’t even sell their relationship, how can any other relationship work well?

Now before I say these two shows may be the worst two shows on network TV right now, it’s safe to say there are a few dramas and serialized cop shows that would land below these two shows on a list of stuff I’d want to watch. However, as far as comedies go, I would probably watch any other network comedy before watching these shows (okay, maybe I’d watch these shows before Rob, but I still have to watch and episode of that and see). The most depressing part of all this, and the reason I fear for the future of America, is that both of these shows got higher ratings (6.1 and 6.4) than 30 Rock (4.6) and Parks and Recreation (4.1) (and even Up All Night (4.3) and The Office (5.9) if we’re keeping score).

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