There is a fundamental problem with Are You There, Chelsea? that will take a lot of effort to change: not everyone loves Chelsea Handler. The best-selling author/comedian/late night host has a very distinct sense of humor and tends to be polarizing. It's rare to hear anyone say they think Chelsea Hanlder's just ok. Are You There, Chelsea? is a laugh-track sitcom inspired by her memoir Are You There, Vodka, It's Me, Chelsea?. Laura Prepon (The 70's Show) stars as Chelsea, a heavy-drinking bar tender with a healthy appetite for sex. She knows what she wants out of life and she gets it. She and her best friend Olivia (Ali Wong) move into a new apartment with goofy and sweet Dee Dee (Laurie Lapkin) solely so they don't have to risk a DUI coming home from work.
The first episode of Are You There, Chelsea? starts off on the wrong foot to sell the character of Chelsea. How many sitcoms can you name where the title character's first scene takes place in a jail cell? I can't think of any others. Chelsea bragged about sucking the worm out of a bottle of tequila before being pulled over for DUI. The first time she speaks, she insults a larger cellmate, then improvises to save herself from a beating. I could see that scene being enough to turn people off of this show before it even starts.
Chelsea Handler steals the show as Chelsea's very religious sister Sloane. Say what you will about Chelsea's writing and public persona. It's hard to deny that she's managed to create a very well-rounded character in Sloane that would just be a foil on other shows. Unfortunately, Sloane will only be playing a recurring guest character on the show only because Handler's late night/stand-up schedule doesn't let her appear in every episode. That means the show needs to develop the rest of the characters to better humanize the Chelsea character like Sloane does. Chelsea, the character, will never be the hero, but she will be more relatable if she's playing against more grounded characters.
The reason I have hope for Are You There, Chelsea? is simple. It made me laugh a quite a few times. Isn't that the main goal of a sitcom? The show won't change the world, but it can be a welcome distraction each week. The laugh track, however, is a needless distraction when the actors are doing a fine job hitting the humor.
The thing about Chelsea Handler is that her writing tends to work on multiple levels. She loves puns and wordplay. She's not afraid of misdirection or making the obvious joke. She loves awkward situations and nothing pleases her more as a writer/comedian than betraying the expectations of her audience. Handler is one of those comedian's who believes no topic should be taboo, which is what can make her so polarizing.
It's not very often I get a chance to include such an apt graphic in a post. Take a good look at the IMDB ratings for Are You There, Chelsea? after one episode.
22.3% of viewers think it's a 10/10 series. 27.2% of viewers think it's a 1/10 series. Almost 50% of viewers are split to either extreme. The only way this will change is if the network forces Chelsea Handler to tone down the Chelsea Handler factor of the show. The problem with that is NBC ordered the Chelsea Handler sitcom to appeal to that 10/10 crowd. If the ratings are good and stay consistent, the DUI as a lead-in to a comedy series factor isn't going anywhere.
I say it's worth giving Are You There, Chelsea? a try. If you don't like it after the first segment, your opinion isn't going to get any better. But if you're open to a goofy old-fashioned sitcom with a warped sense of humor, you might find enough in the show to keep you coming back.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.