Network: NBC; Genre: Sitcom; Content Rating: TV-14; Classification: Contemporary (Star range: 1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (1 season)
Episodic TV had 3 reactions to September 11th and it's many aftereffect: 1) Ignore it, which is certainly viable, reasonable and understandable (I wouldn't fault any show for it) 2) use it to cheaply give some pseudo-resonance to their soap box speeches or 3) grab everything by the collar and take it head on. I'll leave it to you to decide which shows did which. But 'Whoopi' is the first (of many, I'm sure) raced out of the gate to be solely conceived with this target, "post 9/11 world", in mind. The show aims it's farce at terrorists, the color coded alert system, the anti-smoking Gestapo and even President George W. Bush himself. All of this is daring, sharp-edged stuff in concept. Had the show lasted it would have been interesting to see what other things it could take on.
But Whoopi Goldberg (the show is also just as much an attempt to desperately hoist her among the ranks of one-named celebrities) isn't the person to do it. Not because of her unabashed outspoken liberalism, as her fire-breathing hatred of the president is kept on a fairly even-handed muzzle in the series, but because Whoopi just isn't that funny and this show doesn't fair much better. Maybe that's just me, but I never thought she was. From her Comic Relief charity showcases to her overrated 'Sister Act' movies to her stint as the center square in Hollywood Squares to her disastrous performance as host of the 2001 Academy Awards she's never made me laugh. Producers & Writers Bonnie & Terry Turner ('Third Rock from the Sun', 'That 70s Show') don't appear up to the task either. When juggling this type of material you can't just be edgy for the sake of it and 'Whoopi' doesn't quite have the strength of it's convictions to go dancing through this minefield with positive results. Instead, it does plenty of lazy name-dropping and hopes the recognition will get laughs. The show isn't pointed satire. It isn't a show of ideas or solutions. It is a effectively constructed soap box for Whoopi to rail about whatever bugs her. The fact that this show marginally overcomes the shortcomings of it's star and is actually better than Whoopi's act is an achievement in and of itself. But make no mistake, 'South Park' it ain't.
Everything about this show - from the characters to the setting to the topics - is made of stuff that looks like it seemed funny and original on paper. To often 'Whoopi' is narrowcast to things that only amuse it's star (/writer/producer) and, as you might imagine, that weighs the show down in racial jokes. The characters that populate Whoopi's hotel are outlines at best: her properly mannered lawyer brother who "acts white", his white girlfriend who "acts black", and a high-strung Persian man who is constantly being confused for an Arab (ok, that is a cute one). With little to no realization in the characters and the actor's inability to pull it off everything comes out feeling phony. They are all one-joke wonders. Once you've seen their act in one episode you've seen it all. Even Whoopi's Mavis, a lounge singer turned hotel manager, seems like a textbook sitcom construction. A lounge singer turned hotel manager? Is it me or does that sound more like a show you might see inside another show or, maybe, one in a string of goofy premises pitched in a network boardroom minutes before a midnight deadline? It's a callback to just a few years ago when the likes of Bette Midler, Joan Cusack and Geena Davis where gracing us with their own hum-drum, by-the-book self-titled sitcoms. In that class, I at least respect Whoopi for creating a rare series that challenges us. Even though she isn't funny.
What's really sad is to think that this was picked up instead of Phil Hendrie's "post-9/11 world" pilot 'Gated World'. We can only imagine how much better that show would have been.