There’s a great divide in televised comedy right now. On one side are the single-camera shows loved by critics — “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office” — that are marked by rapid-fire jokes, cutaways to reaction shots, and (with the notable exception of “Modern Family”) low ratings. On the more traditional side are the multi-camera sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience that generally perform better in the ratings (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”).
“Whitney” is NBC’s attempt to make a comedy that pulls in a broader audience. It has been almost universally panned by critics — because it isn’t meant to please critics. It has been teleported to the present from the 1990s — stand-up comedian plugged into sitcom life — and it will continue to use the “set-up, one-liner, audience laugh” format that draws millions more viewers for CBS sitcoms than NBC’s Thursday night fare.
Within those parameters, “Whitney” isn’t bad. It’s not for me, but it isn’t terrible. I admittedly laughed a couple times during the pilot episode, which is more than I can say for CBS’s “2 Broke Girls” (19 million viewers on Monday). Really, the problem is the network and established audience, not the show. If “Whitney” were on CBS, it would be a huge hit and I could ignore it like “Mike & Molly;” on NBC, I’m forced to accept its existence alongside my favorite shows.
At the very least, we owe a fair appraisal of “Whitney”: it’s better than “Outsourced.”