TV seems to have a very low opinion of us right now. Midseason replacement time is upon us, and we’re being assaulted by the likes of “Work It” (thankfully already canceled) and a sitcom starring Rob Schneider. (Seriously, what did we do to deserve that?) NBC, meanwhile, is making an all-out assault on our collective taste by pairing the execrable “Whitney” with the marginally less execrable “Are You There, Chelsea?” Both shows were no doubt generated at the roundtable of “Chelsea Lately,” the E! Network comedy chat show hosted by Chelsea Handler and frequented by Whitney Cummings.
For a lot of people, Handler is a love-her-or-hate-her prospect. Her humor—consisting of frequent booze and sex references—isn’t for the Jay Leno crowd, but it plays well on late-night TV. Though the source of her rapid rise to fame has occasionally come into question (she dated the CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group for six years), she’s proven herself a quick wit on screen. Now NBC has translated her best-selling semiautobiographical book Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea into sitcom form. Coupling it with the unrepentant raunch-fest that is “Whitney” seems like a no-brainer.
Oddly, Chelsea Handler doesn’t actually star as the titular Chelsea. That honor falls to Laura Prepon from “That ’70s Show.” One day, Prepon will stumble into a script worthy of her talents. This isn’t it. Like “Whitney,” “Chelsea” has never met a genitalia reference it didn’t like. “I’m so excited to show him my boobs!” and talk of “girl boners” is pretty much the level of discourse here. It’s not that raunchy humor doesn’t work—even on prime-time television. It’s just that this generic sitcom doesn’t have anything else going for it. Bridesmaids came along last summer and showed us all that crude humor delivered with a serious look at women’s roles in Hollywood can make for solid entertainment. Hard-drinking, sex-crazed and generally misanthropic, this “Chelsea” isn’t a very compelling lead character. Plus, every time you think Prepon might actually be settling into the role, Chelsea herself steps into frame to remind you what a hard-hearted, man-hungry misanthrope really looks like.
To top it off, “Are You There, Chelsea?” is hands-down the worst-looking sitcom on TV. You’d swear you’re watching a rerun of a 1981 sitcom out of Canada. The laugh track sounds like barking seals. The sets all look like cardboard. The entire thing is set in a New York bar where Chelsea works as a waitress. That’s pretty much it for the concept. The real Ms. Handler drops by occasionally to take on the role of Chelsea’s older sister Sloane, an uptight Christian with a newborn baby and a husband overseas in the military. It doesn’t seem like the best use of Handler’s loose, snide charm. Consequently, “Are You There, Chelsea?” doesn’t seem like the best use of our TV-watching time.