January 19, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Are You There, Chelsea?”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Previously… On ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA?:  “Chelsea Newman,” aka the fictionalized Chelsea Handler (Laura Prepon) works in a New Jersey sports bar, knocking back drinks and men, and trading barbs with co-workers and family alike.
Episode 2:  If it weren’t for hour-mate Whitney, Chelsea might be the least sexy show ever to be obsessed with sex.  Between sister Sloane (the real Chelsea Handler) complaining about her “hurt locker” (her TV husband is a soldier in Iraq), fictional Chelsea’s continuing banter with bartender Rick (Jake McDorman) about why they haven’t hooked up (“you’re just too big,” snigger snigger), and the storyline that found Chelsea–mistakenly believing her new boyfriend finds baby talk erotic–reaching for his “rattle,” it was enough to make a viewer opt for The Disney Channel.

The relentless and unfunny sex jokes in the show’s second episode (written by Co-EP Robin Schiff and Brian Gallivan) were bad enough, but the really unappetizing aspect of the show was its classic network gambit of wanting to have its sex cake and eat “real feelings” too.  The main storyline concerned Sloane’s old boyfriend coming into the bar and, since Chelsea had always had a crush on him and Sloane is married, Chelsea deciding to date him, despite Sloane’s telling her not to.  This led to Sloane, having found out not only what’s going on but that the old beau preferred sex with Sloane, misleading Chelsea into that baby talk fiasco.  What unforunately followed was Sloane having a “serious” talk with Chelsea, where she somberly explained that all she wanted was for Chelsea to find true love (that was why her high school sex with the ex was better back in the day), and Chelsea, deeply moved, saying that that’s what she wished for too.  Watching the scene, you could almost read the network note telling the producers that the characters needed to care about each other.  And when you’re doing a show about recognizable human beings, like Parks & Recreation or How I Met Your Mother, that’s a valid thought.  But when your whole reason for being is to be rude, boisterous and dirty, affixing a “they really love each other” coda to an episode is like an exploitation movie covering its tracks with a scene of “redeeming social content”:  cynical and unfelt.
Also unpromising:  the introduction of Natasha Leggero, quickly recycled from NBC’s Free Agents, as a new waitress at the bar who’s an ex-girlfriend of Rick, so she can can cause trouble for any budding Rick/Chelsea relationship.  (Network Note:  “Chelsea needs an adversary.”) The character appears to be at least a recurring if not a regular in waiting, and although Leggero was the best thing in Free Agents, Chelsea doesn’t need another brainless narcissist in that bar.  

The ratings for Are You There, Chelsea? were OK in its debut last week, but that was before American Idol made its yearly Godzilla-like entrance to the schedule.  We’ll see if Are You There, Viewers? becomes the show’s new lament.  Nothing the series is doing so far encourages an audience to stay.

And yet… still better than Whitney.  

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…
PILOT + 1:  Try “Suburgatory”.  Or that “Idol” show on FOX.

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."