Philly Women Dominate New Fall TV
This fall’s TV season has been taken over by women with strong ties to Philly—Norristown’s Maria Bello in Prime Suspect, Bryn Mawr’s Kat Dennings in 2 Broke Girls, and tonight, University of Pennsylvania grad Whitney Cummings stars in Whitney, a sitcom loosely based on her stand-up comedy and her real-life relationship woes. Early reviews of the show have been mixed, but there also seems to be—surprise!—an air of jealousy wafting through the Internet, as if some are wondering why this chick who’s done a few Friars Club Roasts deserves her own show on NBC’s storied comedy night. The answer is simple: Cummings is damn funny and works her ass off.
I interviewed Cummings for Elle this summer, and we spent an afternoon in Los Angeles doing semi-awkward magazine profiley things, like walking through the Studio City farmers’ market and eating at a trendy burger joint. She knew where I was from and just a few minutes into our hang session, she blurted out, “Philly! We haven’t talked about Philadelphia!” Maybe she was eager to tell me how she graduated with a communications degree in just three years, but I doubt it. She had more fun reminiscing about her brief modeling career for QVC and a few “informal” local gigs; if Cummings looks vaguely familiar, perhaps you’ve seen her work at the City Line Saks Fifth Avenue or the King of Prussia Mall. “I literally had to stand on a block in the middle of the department store wearing pantyhose and like a men’s oxford shirt for like 4½ hours,” she said. “Does it get any more embarrassing than that?”
After graduation, Cummings headed west and eventually found her calling in stand-up comedy. Years in the clubs and high-profile appearances on Comedy Central and Chelsea Lately earned her respect from fellow comics, and that work ethic is paying off in a big way: Along with Whitney, she co-created 2 Broke Girls, which made an impressive debut for CBS on Monday night. If you’re judging them on their pilots alone, 2 Broke Girls is the hands-down winner. Dennings shines as a sassy waitress who befriends a down-on-her-luck heiress, the laughs are consistent, and it’s great to see women in prime time who can raunch it up smartly, without slipping into tired stereotypes.
Unfortunately, the debut episode of Whitney feels too much like a sitcom adaptation of her stand-up routines. (In fact, a couple gags on the show are taken directly from her act.) The network also isn’t doing her any favors by relentlessly promoting a scene where she’s dressed like a sexy nurse, which, taken out of its goofy context in the plot, seems like one of those groan-inducing stereotypes that her CBS show avoids so well. When we talked a few months ago, Cummings stressed how lucky she was that NBC gives its shows time to grow. It was as if she could sense her own learning curve as both a writer and actress, and was hoping the network wouldn’t be quick with a hook. Judging by the omnipresent ads and promos, it seems there’s too much invested in Whitney to send it into early retirement. That’s a good thing. TV comedies rarely hit their stride in their pilots, or even in their first seasons: 30 Rock felt like a Tracy Morgan vehicle at first, and Aziz Ansari dominated Parks & Recreation until both shows found their voices.
I hope Whitney gets a chance to do the same, because Cummings is genuinely funny. She’s also still a fan of our city. “I love this about Philly,” she told me. “Once you meet someone from Philly, you are family with anyone from there.” She’s not quite a hometown girl, but don’t believe the message-board haters—this network TV rookie is worth rooting for.