March 29, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The sex jokes may have diminished over at Whitney, but they’re in full force on ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA?.  In the first few minutes of tonight’s season finale, Chelsea (Laura Prepon) told her friends about a trip to Atlantic City:  “I got penetrated by a guy who made salt-water taffy.”  This was followed by a bit about cocktail weiners that probably doesn’t have to be explained.  Later on, there were many euphemistic gags concerning one character’s untrimmed pubic hair, of which the highlight was probably a Russian woman telling her she must also be Russian, considering her Black Forest.
So it’s not as though the NBC censors have gotten particularly censorious.  Are You There, Chelsea? has plenty of problems, but they don’t include an inability to express itself.  

As a midseason series, Chelsea had a short 13-episode order, not really enough time to make major changes midstream even if they’re needed, and the series essentially stayed the same as the one that debuted.  Mostly Chelsea hung out with her buddies, either at the bar where she worked or her apartment, and talked about all the sex she had, the booze she drank and the pot she smoked.  (Although little of that occurred on camera–the network censors have to do something for a living.)  
Until the last few seconds, when bar manager Rick (Jake McDornan) finally made the leap into romantic interest, the season finale, written by creators Dottie Dartlin Zicklin and Julie Larson and directed by Gail Mancuso, wasn’t particularly finale-ish.  The episode played up the show’s strongest selling point, which were the occasional appearances by the real Chelsea Handler as “Chelsea’s” sister Sloane.  It was Sloane’s birthday, and after getting her sister drunk, Chelsea discovered that Sloane’s soldier husband was back from Afghanistan and on his way home.  So she, with the help of BFF Olivia (Ali Wong) and spacey virgin Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus) had to clean Sloane up, and merriment supposedly ensued. 
There were worse sit-coms this season than Chelsea (Whitney‘s been one of them), but it was a miss.  The scripts assumed that throwing double-entendres at the wall would be enough to get laughs, and mistook talking about outrageousness for the real thing.  The Dee Dee character’s silly naivete was never as amusing as the show thought it was, nor was the plotting or structure in any way clever.  For all its “cutting edge” sex talk, at heart it was an old-fashioned and not very interesting sitcom.
Even at NBC, Chelsea probably isn’t long for the schedule.  Its highest rating in the past several weeks was a 1.5, and even though NBC Can’t Cancel Everything, it can cancel some.  (Unless Handler’s influence at NBCComcast, due to her enormous success at sister network E!, outweighs that.)  Ultimately, it’s not a show anyone will particularly miss.

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."