Archive | 4:30 pm

Fall 2011 Review: Whitney

7 Oct

Whitney Cummings has two television shows on the air, both of them awful, and both of them naturally inviting comparison to one another.  It can often be difficult to compare two things that are both very bad, but I’ll make an attempt but describing them as thus; 2 Broke Girls is more offensive, but Whitney is worse.

What galls me more than anything else is that Whitney is given a spot on the NBC Thursday line up, the home of the most progressive and best comedies on network tv in the last decade.  Whitney, like Outsourced, shares absolutely nothing in common with what works about these other shows (The Office, Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation) and I’m honestly not sure how the network could think for a second that it’s a fit.

Before I actually go into the substance of the show, which is terrible, the style itself immediately separates it from these other shows.  First of all, it has a laugh track.  I didn’t spend as much time on this with 2 Broke Girls because, well, as much as a laugh track is awful, every single show on CBS has a laugh track (CSI: Miami even I think) and that’s just the way things operate around there.  But Whitney is put in a context next to shows that have no laugh tracks; in fact I’m fairly certain no other comedy on NBC does.  Frankly, there’s absolutely no excuse for having a laugh track in this day and age.  It’s insulting to the viewer, who clearly can’t figure out when to laugh on his or her own, and it slows down the show, placing strange awkward gaps between lines.  It’s even more noticeable because of the contrast with the shows airing before Whitney.

Second, there’s the multi-camera format, while all the other NBC comedies are single camera.  Unlike with a laugh track, this isn’t bad by nature; there’s no reason a multi-camera comedy has to be bad, but it tends to be by practice – it just doesn’t feel modern, and on top of that it leads to, combined with the pauses due to the laugh track, posing, and staring right at the camera after a joke, which feels painful, especially when the joke is awful.  It feels like a canned comedy from the 1950s or ‘60s.

Wow, that was all on style.  Substance, well, Whitney just isn’t funny at all.  Whitney is supposed to be this woman who doesn’t fit in the box we put woman in or something; she’s crude and having fun and the leader in her relationship.  Honestly, I don’t really care one way or the other who her character is.  It fails the first rule of comedy – being funny (yes, there are exceptions for shows that are not really funny but technically comedies like Entourage, but let’s move past that for now) The laugh lines are corny, stale and predictable and the side characters seem like they were purchased from the bargain bin at the Sitcom Store (it’s like a Home Depot for Sitcom characters).  They include a man-hungry single woman who can’t stand men with emotions, and a sexist single guy.  Whitney herself has no charisma, whatever scraps of enjoyment can be taken from a sea(ocean?) of terrible are from her long-time boyfriend Alex.

Will I watch it again?  Nope.  I don’t know why anyone would ever watch this show ever again if they’ve seen three minutes of it.

Show of the Day: Pawn Stars

7 Oct

I readily admit that this blog focuses by and large on scripted shows and I’m more than happy with that; scripted shows are far and away what I like better and care more about.  That said, I wouldn’t be human if there weren’t a couple of reality chinks in my armor, and Pawn Stars is one of them.  I’m not the only one captivated either, as Pawn Stars was the second highest rated reality show on cable behind Jersey Shore this year and the highest rated show on the History Channel ever (though I suppose that’s not necessarily saying that much).

Here’s how it works.  A man or woman walks into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas with something to sell, often something unusual, sometimes a collection, sometimes a firearm or a historical object.  One of the employees will talk to the man or woman, and ask him or her a bunch of questions about the object, such as what it is, and where he or she got it from.  Most often the employee will be Rick, the owner of the shop, but sometimes it will be his father, his son, or his son’s slightly dim-witted friend, Chumlee.  If it’s a particularly unusual object, Rick will call on an expert that he knows in the particular area of the item (a handwriting expert for autographs, an antique firearms expert for guns and so forth) and Rick will talk to the camera about how cool the item is and how much he’d like to have it in the store.  After he gets some information from the expert, the employee will ask whether the object holder would like to sell or pawn it, and what he or she would like for it.  They will then bargain, and more often than not strike a deal, but not always.  This will happen four or five times in any episode.  Occasionally, a pawn shop employee will go off premises to check out an item, find out how much it costs to get an item restored, or to try out a new purchase, like a gun, but that’s the general gist of it.

What makes the show so compelling is the combination of the diversity and randomness of the items plus the money angle involved.  It seems simplistic to say putting prices on items just makes them more interesting, but it really does.  Like some other shows I watch, there’s a joy in seeing the familiar but distinct aspects of the show.  I’ve often discussed making a drink game out of them.  Drink whenever Rick calls in an expert.  Drink whenever the seller is angry and thinks his item was worth a lot more than the pawn shop did.  Drink whenever a deal is struck.  Drink whenever they get an item restored.

Most of the items brought to the pawn shop are jewelry, but they rarely feature on the show because that’s less interesting.  Some would cite this as being misleading, but I really couldn’t care less.  I probably wouldn’t want to watch the actual everyday business of a more normal pawn shop (there’s Hardcore Pawn to get a little closer to that if I really want).

What is even better is that as the show has become more popular, the shop has become more popular, and the show then gets more and more interesting items; the longer the show goes on, strangely enough, the better it gets.

Pawn Stars has become a big enough sensation that it’s spawned a plethora of imitators and similar shows.  These include an actual spin-off American Restorations, about the shop of one of the restorers they use, similar History Channel programs American Pickers, TruTV pawn copycat Hardcore Pawn (you can’t make a series with a porn pun) and Discovery Channel’s Auction Kings.  They’re all watchable, and some are better than others, but none of them, unsurprisingly, top the original.