January 12, 2012

THE SKED PREMIERE REVIEW: “Are You There, Chelsea?”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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(Note:  SHOWBUZZDAILY had a pilot report on this show back when it was called Are You There, Vodka?  It’s Me, Chelsea.  Since then, it’s been substantially recast and reshot, not to mention retitled, so we’re taking a fresh look at it.)
ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? – Wednesdays 8:30PM on NBC – If Nothing Else Is On…
ARE YOU THERE 2.0, the new version of NBC’s attempt to wrest a sitcom from Chelsea Handler’s comic ruminations, isn’t in the end very different from the first.  Chelsea is still played by Laura Prepon, heavy on the deadpan, and she still works in a sports bar where she outdrinks the customers (the pilot storyline still begins with her DUI arrest, prompting the prayer that echoed the original title).  This time, though, the bartender is good-looking Rick (Jake McDorman) who will clearly provide a Sam-and-Diane vibe to the bar scenes.  Chelsea’s best pal/co-waitress is now Olivia (Ali Wong), and the bar’s little person is now Todd (Mark Povinelli).  Chelsea’s dad (Lenny Clarke) and virginal new roommate Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus) remain in place.  The most notable member of the supporting cast remains Chelsea Handler herself, who will recur from time to time as “Chelsea’s” conservative sister Sloane, and whose birth to a daughter, with Chelsea assisting, is the major event of the pilot.

None of the problems with the original pilot had much to do with the replaced cast members, and the show’s issues largely remain.  Chelsea is a single-camera cable series (probably pay-cable) trying to exist as a multi-camera 8:30PM network show.  It’s not a great fit.  Chelsea is meant to be hard-drinking and promiscuous, but given the limitations of network TV, all she can do is make jokes about “hoo-has” and what it looks like when a guy with curly red hair takes off his pants.  (The show’s new refrain is more jokes than we need on the subject of Chelsea and Rick both wanting to be on top when they have sex, that being the supposed reason they’re not a couple.)  Lenny Clarke, a marvelously eccentric talent best known from Rescue Me, is underused at the moment, the dopey virgin character is none too promising, and it’s unclear how much Chelsea Handler will be around.  
Chelsea is at its best when the show’s 2 Chelseas are interacting with each other, Prepon’s extreme tonelessness meshing with Handler’s sarcasm like the grinding gears of genuine family members.  The other characters, for now at least, are thin sitcom figures who lack distinctiveness.  The storylines, too, are less than scintillating so far, although the rewrite of the pilot minimized the redhaired dating plot, which was a step in the right direction.  
The good news for shows on NBC is that since the network has nothing on the shelves, series that are barely successful like Up All Night are “hits,” and shows that would be cancelled anywhere else are at least given time to find a voice.  In Whitney‘s case, that generosity seems to have been wasted, but perhaps time will be kinder to Chelsea.  For now, though, the sitcom class of its time-slot is over at ABC with Suburgatory.  


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."