“Whitney,”a much-promoted Thursday sitcom on NBC — created by and starring 29-year-old Whitney Cummings, who grew up in the Washington area and made her reputation with vicious comedy roast appearances — struggles to present us with a likable loudmouth and mostly fails to endear us to the character. Like comedian Sarah Silverman before her, Cummings tantalizes us with the notion of fearless and bawdy humor, free of the usual rhetoric of gender. It seeks to make obnoxiousness part of the cliche. Dragged to a wedding in the first episode (where she eventually consoles herself with that modern girl’s best friend, the gourmet cupcake), Whitney gains a fuller awareness that she and her long-term boyfriend remain proudly unmarried but nevertheless bored with one another in the bedroom, and so on.
On today’s sitcoms, the undercurrent of an imaginary gender war has broken banks and become a flood, dismantling social norms only to reconstruct them more rigidly in the last few moments of an episode. To further blur the role reversals, one of Whitney’s equally brash friends must mount a defense for wearing pants to the wedding, which goes like this: “Get off my [testicles],” she says, which is ironic/funny because she has none.
One show, apparently, cannot quite contain all of the vagina-related humor Cummings has to offer, which is why she co-created “2 Broke Girls,”which will air on CBS. Here, a disgraced debutante and an angry hipster become unlikely friends while working at a Brooklyn diner. Both shows act as a sort of epilogue to the mid-century women suffered in the era of “The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am”: Whitney and the two broke girls could be the granddaughters of the bunnies and stewardesses, but I doubt the older generation would be all that impressed with what they call progress.
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But I’ll take all of them over Zooey Deschanel. Mere days after Steinem sat alone on that Beverly Hills hotel stage and assured confused scribes that she is fine with any young woman who is fine with herself and looks forward instead of looking back, Deschanel and the co-stars and creators of her migraine-making new Fox sitcom “New Girl” sat in the same spot and took softball questions. “When did you first realize you were adorable?” one reporter asked.
Adorkable is actually the word being proffered by Fox publicists. Deschanel plays the same character that has endeared her to a specific kind of mainstream/alternative market. She capitalizes on a lot of tee-hee and emotional fragility, with eyes as big as a kitsch painting of wildlife. It’s that whole flowery sundress, nerdy horn-rims, bicycle basket, put-a-bird-on-it tweeness of the forever child. Also, she records indie rock albums and makes a point of singing a lot in the new show — tra-la-la-la — which only makes it more awful.
When her character, Jess, answers an ad seeking a roommate in a houseful of bachelors, I started looking up the ages of the actors playing the characters: Although they are bestowed with lives and situations resembling 23-year-olds, their average age tops 30.
Zooey Deschanel is 31. She’s too old to act like this, in a show that calls her a girl. Once again, I scribble in my notes a variation on a theme: Whatever happened to women?