Whitney Season 2 Review “Lost in Transition”

And she’s back! On the latest “Whitney,” the streak continues, in terms of decent shows, with “Lost in Transition.” This one had a decidedly unique slant to it, as it dealt with Whitney’s sister Danielle (fellow stand-up comedian and “Chelsea Lately”-regular Natasha Leggero) and her life-altering decision to have a sex change. Not exactly typical sitcom fodder and I braced myself for the inevitable he/she jokes, but astonishingly enough, they never really came. Go figure.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were jokes about it, but they felt real, earned. Given Cummings’ other sitcom, “2 Broke Girls” and its penchant for off-color jokes and bawdy humor, I thought for sure that this would be filled to the brim with groan-inducing jokes. But I sometimes forget that the feel of Cummings’ two different shows is like night and day.

“2 Broke Girls” is more obvious in its sense of humor, often taking aim at easy targets and firing off jokes in a rapid-fire style. “Whitney” is much more of a traditional sitcom, sometimes to its debit. By interjecting a topic such as this, I thought for sure the show would take the low road, but it actually handled the subject matter with a quiet sort of dignity.

After complaining about the lack of funny in a lot of episodes, I think I’m finally getting the idea of what they’re going for on “Whitney.” I think that what they want is to be more in keeping with something like “Girls,” only less of a downer. Basically, what some would call a “dramedy,” but I won’t because that word is so annoying. Time and again, the show has interjected so pretty heavy drama into the proceedings, not always to its favor. But I get it now: “Whitney” is desperately, much like the character of Danielle, trying to be different, but still fit in.

I mean, let’s face it: it’s hard out there for a sitcom. What few traditional ones there are tend to be critically lambasted, including the aforementioned “2 Broke Girls.” Yet those are precisely the ones succeeding, because they offer up the TV equivalent of comfort food. It takes guts to try something new, and it’s not always rewarded. Look at such critically adored-but-ratings-challenged shows like “Arrested Development” or “The Larry Sanders Show.” “Whitney” is nowhere near as good as those shows, but it’s not a total train wreck either.

I like these characters; they feel real and have that easy everyman/woman quality that every show needs to make you feel like spending time with said characters every week. I get the genuine sense that they are funny people in real life, and that is backed up by some of the actors’ appearances I’ve seen elsewhere on talk shows, where they were just being themselves.

I almost feel like if they took more of a “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-type approach, where there was a general plot that the actors knew about and just riffed on until they had something that worked (not unlike Christopher guest’s heavy improv-type movies), that the show would work infinitely better. I get the sense that this cast could handle that sort of approach and be able to roll with the punches.

For now, though, the show is a bit too scattershot for its own good, and with only one episode left this season, the clock may be ticking on them figuring it out. Given the middling ratings, “Whitney” was lucky to get a second season at all. If they manage a third, it will likely be because NBC needs something to fill a slot and I suspect the show isn’t that expensive to produce.

The impulse to shoot the show live was a good one. It does feel realistic at times, as if the story were actually unfolding as it happens. That’s the good news. Now, it they could just make the funny parts funnier and have a clearer definition of what the show is, we might have something.

That remains to be seen, but time may be up for the show soon enough. Hopefully, “Whitney” will get one last chance, but it had better figure out what it is and fast, because its days may well be numbered, leaving the show, to quote one character: “the saddest toddler in the casino.” Or, better yet, to paraphrase Whitney: there’s a heart in there, they just have to find it.