Thursday Night 'Lights: Since We're Stuck With Whitney, Let's Improve the Show
For this installment of TNL, I've decided to focus on the most beloved new show of the fall season. That's right, Whitney. Since NBC has chosen to give it a full season pickup, I think its time to accept the show is here to stay until May. So before I get to the other recaps from last night, allow me to offer a few suggestions for how to make Whitney worthy of the laughter generated by its studio audience:
1. Let Alex and Whitney Be on the Same Side
This week's episode featured yet another disagreement initiated by Whitney's neuroses. She catches Alex checking another woman out, which he denies because he's dating a woman who likes to turn tiny conflicts into full-blown battles. She decides to punish him with the silent treatment (perhaps you remember this tactic from the show's ad campaign?) only to discover that he likes it. So then to punish him for enjoying the original punishment, she talks nonstop until he breaks down. Eventually, he apologizes to her just to keep the peace. And scene.
It's time for these two to be on the same side of a fight for a change. The characters are in the unique position of starting the show in a committed relationship, so why not show the unique pressures and expectations that crop up after several years of dating? It would be an ideal way of showing why these two are together. At the very least, it would be nice for another character to be the recipient of Whitney's wrath besides her boyfriend.
2. Make Whitney Likeable
So far, the way a Whitney episode unfolds is to have her overreact to something trivial, only to see the error of her ways at episode's end. This is no way for the series to endear us to its protagonist.
As I said in my first write-up, Chris D'Elia is the best and only redeeming aspect of Whitney. His Alex is likeable without being a doormat, which is difficult to pull of considering how much Whitney harangues him. In last week's episode, Alex and Whitney showed their first hint of chemistry at the tail end of their fake first date, and viewers could see why Whitney fell for Alex. But how about vice versa? The writers are implying that her sardonic sense of humor and insecurities stem from her parents' dysfunctional marriage as a way to make her sympathetic. It's not working.
So far the series has shown Whitney solely preoccupied with the goings-on in her relationship. If Whitney was shown helping one of her friends through a problem, rather than using them as a sounding board for her own grievances, it would make her seem less self-absorbed. Also, how about showing her at work—or getting laid off? (Ooh, topical humor!) If the show would open up her world, we might start warming up to her.
3. More Character-Based Humor
Whitney is like a Cosmo advice column come to life. Each plot is driven by wacky relationship angst provoked by Whitney, which the rest of the cast react to based on their broad characterizations. (For example, the female half of The Schmoopie Couple is obsessed with social media and her perfect relationship; Blond Single is skeptical of Whitney's shenanigans.)
One of the best ensemble shows on TV right now is Happy Endings, which on its surface is just another one of those "a bunch of attractive friends hang out together" sitcoms. But the show's humor is character-driven, which is an important distinction and a lesson that Whitney needs to learn pronto. Casey Wilson plays a Bridget Jones-type character, but she is quirky enough that even if she's given a plot very similar to the "Miranda thinks she'll die alone after buying her first place" from Sex and the City, it still plays as fresh and funny.
The show needs to stop using Whitney Cumming's stand-up comedy to inspire storylines, and deepen its characters instead. Having them gather for something as simple as a dinner party or standing on line at the movies could give us more insight into who the heck these people are, and why we should tune in each week. Because watching Whitney blather her "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" observations is not cutting it at all.
OK. On to the rest of last night's shows:
"Your love is weird and toxic and destroys everything it touches."
A very fun and very meta episode of Community that shows how now that the group has recognized they're family (cooing at each other's photos and lack of knowledge of Nick Nolte), they realize they are stuck with each other. I personally enjoy when the show pokes fun at its own dynamics, like how the study group paired off in the exact way you think they would and ranked the characters' popularity (which hewed pretty closely to this Nerve list.)
Poor, weird-headed Todd was understandably freaked out by how the group spent all night tearing into each other to establish new lab partners, and of course was the catalyst to bring the "mean clique" back together. No doubt he will continue to bear the brunt of the study group's eccentricities as the season goes on.
- Troy/Britta shippers received a few more seconds of footage for their YouTube videos, as the two both longed to be paired up but couldn't admit it to anyone else in the group.
- This might be the first time I enjoyed a Señor Chang subplot. I guess I'm a sucker for noir parodies. Speaking of Chang, this Bitch post about his portrayer Ken Jeong is a must-read, as is the entire "Isn't He Lovely" blog series.
PARKS AND RECREATION
"I love the town so much I literally wrote a book about it."
While watching this episode—which provided a hilarious skewering of NPR, TV personality-endorsed book clubs, and the birther controversy—I was struck by how rare it is for a series to have its setting be so central to its ethos. Leslie Knope might have been born in (ugh) Eagleton, but she is a proud citizen of Pawnee, and that pride is one of her most defining qualities.
In a TV landscape where so many shows are set in either nondescript towns akin to Springfield, U.S.A. or actual cities that that have no bearing on the characters or plot, Parks and Recreation stands out as a show that uses its setting to great effect. Pawnee is a fictional place, but feels real—due in no small part to Leslie's endearing affection for her admittedly "wack-a-doodle" hometown. So it doesn't come off as a cynical merchandising cash-grab to have Leslie write a book on the show that's available in real world bookstores.
- Joan is one of, if not the best, recurring character on Parks and Rec. Everything from her "Gotcha!" dancers to her disturbingly egocentric décor was beyond funny.
- Until this episode, it hadn't occurred to me that Ron and Ann rarely spoke. She'll have to amass a ton of gory medical stories before Ron decides not to address her as Jenny though.
- We've met Leslie's mother a few times, but how about her father? Has he ever been referenced before?
"I control my destiny. I do."
Poor Darryl. To have his former co-workers win the lottery by playing his birthdate as his numbers, to be all but dumped by his ex-wife once she realizes he didn't win the lottery, to develop a soy allergy at the age of 35… well, you can see why it's very easy for him to play the self-pity card.
So it was impressive that The Office didn't let the character off the hook, and in a slightly-meta moment, articulated why Andy received the job over Darryl. (I still don't believe Andy when he said he earned the job, but whatever.) For all of Darryl's hard work to get promoted out of the warehouse, he stopped applying himself once he got a desk job. That is a realistic explanation, and I like that Andy, as his closest friend in the office, does not sugarcoat the truth, but still offers to help him reach his potential. I really hope Darryl's newfound ambition and clarity plays out over the course of the season. Maybe after enough business classes, he could replace Andy after all.
- The warehouse crew's lottery win also led the office employees to give voice to their aspirations. It was very true to the Jim and Pam we've grown to know over several seasons that they had totally different dream lives: He sees himself as a sporty hipster, she an artsy New Yorker. Was this just a funny subplot, or perhaps meant to show tiny cracks in their otherwise solid relationship?
- I always enjoy whenever Dwight and Jim are on the same side on something, this time suffering through and then embracing Kevin and Erin's grease-slide loading system.
- We're three episodes in, and I don't miss Michael Scott at all. Anyone else feel differently?
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