Inspired by the best-selling books from actress/comedian Chelsea Handler, “Are You There, Chelsea?” follows the exploits of the twentysomething Chelsea (Laura Prepon, “That ’70s Show”), an opinionated and unapologetic young woman who lives life to the fullest as a cocktail waitress, friend, daughter, sister and sexually dynamic “advanced drinker.”
Chelsea’s life revolves around her work at Jerry’s Ultimate Sports Bar in New Jersey, where she is surrounded by an eclectic group of friends and co-workers, including Rick (Jake McDorman, “Greek”), the handsome bartender; Olivia (Ali Wong, “Breaking In”), a fellow cocktail waitress and Chelsea’s best friend since childhood; and Todd (Mark Povinelli, “Water for Elephants”), the bar back who is always ready with a quick comeback. Chelsea and Olivia have recently moved in with Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus, “The Middle”), a sweet and somewhat sheltered young woman who could be considered the polar opposite of Chelsea. And then there’s Chelsea’s dad, Melvin (Lenny Clarke, “Rescue Me”), a man with a big personality and a big heart… and all too often – a big mouth.
Chelsea Handler (“Chelsea Lately”) has a recurring role as Chelsea’s born-again Christian sister, Sloane, a married, conservative new mom who has little in common with her carefree sister. – NBC
35 out of 100
Yet, another tough review to do because once again, our prophecies about this show were correct… both of them. Therein lies the problem. Our predictions on this show were completely contradictory. Back in May, we suggested that the show had the potential to be good based on the Chelsea Handler comedy and a couple of weeks ago we suggested that upon further review that it looked like complete sh*t. It did and it is…
The key to understanding why this show doesn’t work is by simply looking at the different titles the show has gone through. Are You There, Chelsea? was, of course, originally titled, Are You There, Vodka? It’s me, Chelsea., after the book of the same title by Chelsea Handler. This bastardization of the title, much like with $#*! My Dad Says, is the perfect metaphor for the problems associated with trying to adapt a nonfiction book for a television series. When you can’t even stay true to the title, there’s no way to be able to stay true to the source material.
Are You There, Chelsea? is like two different shows in one. On the one hand you have the typical, stupid comedy that suffers from all of the lame problems that they all do: lame writing, ridiculous premises, and jokes written by people who wouldn’t know funny if Groucho Marx himself came down from Heaven and hit them in the face with a duck with a secret word on it.
And the premise is absolutely awful.
Now, the obvious reason why the title was changed is that NBC wasn’t that comfortable with the cynical and borderline blasphemous and definitely sarcastic take on the children’s book Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret?, by Judy Blume. Apparently, there are some lines of decency and innocence that NBC doesn’t want to cross which is a position, as we point out, that just sets this whole thing up for failure. But the thing is that the lines that they are willing to cross are rather distressing.
Now, we like Chelsea Handler and we think that she’s pretty quick-witted and funny but her brand of comedy only works in short doses, in the realm of her stand-up routine and her talk show, Chelsea, Lately. It’s obnoxious and it’s extreme as good stand-up should be, but it’s the kind of fantasy that doesn’t play well in the realm of weekly comedies because the notion behind situation comedies is that they are a reflection of real life, albeit exaggerated. That’s why the more relatable they are to our own life, the better they are. The success of The Office and Modern Family isn’t really much of a secret when you think about it in those terms.
That being said, would you ever expect that either one of those shows would treat a subject of driving while intoxicated so cavalierly as if it’s “no big deal?” The Chelsea character, who by all estimations is an alcoholic, chooses her new apartment based on the fact that she can walk to the bar she works at… and stumble home when she’s loaded. Her father addresses the issue of her D.W.I. conviction with, “Did you learn your lesson?” and doesn’t say another word about it as if the only issue is that she got caught. It’s frankly ludicrous and offensive and considering how much of a stink the LGBT crowd made about the short-lived Work It, we’re surprised that M.A.D.D. hasn’t raised concerns about how this show addresses – no… glorifies – alcohol abuse.
On the other hand, about halfway through – and this is where the concept of “a tale of two comedies” comes into play – they actually start inserting some pretty good jokes. The problem is that they feel incredibly forced, almost as if they were wedged in just to make the show bear some resemblance to the book as opposed to the perversion of the book that this comedy really is. Although, this is a clever ploy and you might fall for it if you’re not paying attention, you need to understand that it is indeed a ploy.
The performances by the entire cast is fine, again, it’s one of those situations where the cast has to work with what they are given… although that brown wig worn by Chelsea Handler herself is kind of embarrassing.
Are You There, Chelsea?, although certainly not as intolerable as $#*! My Dad Says or Whitney, is certainly not a show we can recommend, either.
You can watch episodes of Are You There, Chesea?, here.