Let’s get something out of the way. Work It has been the worst new sitcom to debut in 2012, so far. It is a dreadfully tried and horrendous show about buff dudes who dress like women to get a job and how everyone around them DO NOT NOTICE. The show is tremendously sexist, tremendously dumb, and tremendously cliched. By no means should anyone watch this piece of dreck. Are You There, Chelsea? is, by no means, down in the same league as Work It but it is no classic. It’s not even decent. Based on the first two episodes that was sent out to critics, it is a disappointment, diplomatically-speaking.
For those who are not fans of comedian and late night talk show host Chelsea Handler, Are You There, Chelsea? is based on her autobiography “Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea”, which centers around her aimless and reckless young adulthood. In the sitcom version, Handler is played by Laura Prepon (That 70’s Show). In an interesting twist, the role of Sloane, the older, more responsible sister, is played by Handler. “Chelsea” the character works at a sports bar, is surrounded by horny men and women (Jake McDorman, Ali Wong), lives with a wide-eyed virgin (Lauren Lapkus), and deals with a wacky father (a very skinny Lenny Clarke). And when she’s not living it up, she butts heads with Sloane.
And that’s the premise in a nutshell. It’s not a bad one. 2 Broke Girls is cut from the same cloth (including an abundance of vagina jokes), and though by no means perfect or even good, it seems to be working — on fumes. Are You There, Chelsea? fails to reach even that level.
Take for example, the first scene in the pilot episode. “Chelsea” gets her first ever DUI, hangs out in a jail cell for a couple of hours before Sloane bails her out. During that time, she picks the meanest looking lady in the cell and instead of trying to fight her, she makes out with her. Get it? The joke is, the mean looking lady is a Lesbian and “Chelsea” is too scared to NOT kiss her. Cue the laugh track.
There’s nothing original in that bit. It’s a tired bit that’s been done to death in other, lesser sitcoms. It’s even borderline offensive. But hey, 2 Broke Girls have been getting away with presenting an Asian stereotype every week. There are some folks that don’t really mind that at all. But what happens after the jail scene sets the tone for the rest of the show: character say things — VERY LOUDLY — that are sort of offensive and brash in a manner that says “we are offensive and brash but compared to network TV standards”.
I have nothing against offensive and brash. It’s been FX’s bread and butter when it comes to their comedic offerings — and they work for the most part. But there is a stifling of that style on network TV. And surprisingly, not just because of content and what can actually be said on regular television. The biggest obstacle to Are You There, Chelsea? is that the actors are delivering unfunny lines that would have been throwaways in a one-camera setup in a three-camera setting. They all desperately want to be in a show like Happy Endings or Modern Family and have failed to reconcile that. The old school three-camera show is an art form that’s been done very well over the last 60-plus years. It’s also been abused to the inch of its life (see Work It, Whitney).
The only performer who actually seems to get what’s going on is the real Chelsea Handler herself. Her performance is the best suited for a three-camera sitcom. On one hand, of course she should be good. It’s a show about her. But here is the second problem Are You There, Chelsea? faces: The core relationship in the first couple of episodes is the one between “Chelsea” and Sloane, even though Chelsea Handler is only a special guest star who has signed up for SEVEN EPISODES.
Again, I repeat, Chelsea Handler is only scheduled to be in SEVEN EPISODES. And the first episode centers around Sloane trying to get “Chelsea” to change her life while the second centers around “Chelsea” lust for Sloane’s high school sweetheart. But end with them having a heart-to-heart and patching things up. To anyone watching, that means that these two characters are THE MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTERS on the show. So, the writers and producers are setting a relationship up in the very beginning of the first season that won’t necessarily be explored for most of it or its entire run.
And why? To please fans of Handler? Do the powers that be think that they won’t watch the show unless they get a sprinkling of their favorite comedian? In my opinion, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.
Going back to the rest of the cast: they are very talented, funny people in their own right. Prepon has been great in her previous shows while Wong is an incredible stand up comedian (you all should try to catch her whenever she tours). But the material lets them down, and the directing lets them down. No wonder the clash between 1- and 3-camera acting.
In a nutshell, pass on Are You There, Chelsea? even if you’re a fan of Handler. And if you insist on watching it, then hey, at least it’s not Work It.
Are You There, Chelsea? tonight at 8:30pm Eastern/7:30pm Central on NBC and will continue to air in that timeslot Wednesdays until the late Spring.