Is Chelsea Handler too 'crude' for prime time?
With her new NBC sitcom Are You There, Chelsea?, Handler struggles to adapt her bawdy standup act to the constraints of network television
Chelsea Handler, host of the popular E! channel talk show Chelsea Lately, is now the executive producer and co-star of the new NBC sitcom Are You There, Chelsea? The sitcom is largely based on Handler's bestselling memoir Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea — about her boozy, promiscuous, pre-fame life. Here's where things get tricky: In the unapologetically crude show, which premieres Wednesday night, Handler actually portrays her sister, not herself. The title role will be played by That '70s Show vet Laura Prepon. Those critics who aren't confused are wary: Crass, caustic humor helped catapult Handler to fame, but does it translate to prime-time TV?
The sitcom is shameless — and dull: Are You There is "crude without being the least bit clever about it," says Alan Sepinwall at HitFix. The fictionalized version of Chelsea (Prepon's character) occupies an "irritating middle ground": She's not likable enough to enjoy watching, but she's "neutered enough that her bad behavior isn't actually" funny. The show's Handler-esque punchlines are blunt, but rarely witty. And considering Handler's media omnipresence, such jokes have become almost routine."Review: Laura Prepon channels Chelsea Handler in Are You There, Chelsea?"
And it needs less Chelsea: Routine is right. For all the talk of Handler's progressive raunchiness, Are You There, Chelsea? is a "largely generic chickcom," says Verne Gay at Newsday. "You've seen it all before, and, in fact, if you're a 2 Broke Girls fan, you saw it just this past Monday." The show's weakest link is Handler herself. A mediocre actress, she has an off-putting screen presence, robotically spitting out lines "without rhythm or sense of timing." "Here's Chelsea, pass the vodka"
There's no such thing as too much Chelsea: Sure, Handler's sitcom "goes for crotch-grab laughs too often," says Hampton Stevens at The Atlantic. But an "undeniable sweetness" sets it apart from other sitcoms starring female comics (Whitney, for instance). Whatever her NBC show's fate, it's a testament to "why Chelsea Handler matters." She's achieved an unprecedented success as a woman hosting a late-night show. And her "emancipated, bold, caustic, and often crass" humor has helped make Handler "the voice of a generation" who "grew up as Mean Girls… and who made Bridesmaids a smash.""Why Chelsea Handler matters"