“Are You There, Chelsea” Review – Otherwise Known As: Are You There, Laughter?

Written by Sarah Prince January 25, 2012

Seinfeld Inspired a Classic; Handler Inspired a Mediocre Sitcom

Upon comparing the biographies of Jerry Seinfeld and Chelsea Handler, it is obvious that they are both comedians who perform stand-up for live audiences and have sitcoms named after them. The main difference however is that Seinfeld was on the air for nine successful seasons, whereas I hesitate to forecast such longevity for NBC’s new mid-season sitcom, Are You There, Chelsea?.

Inspired by Chelsea Handler’s youth, documented in her best-selling book Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, ChelseaAre You There, Chelsea? details the adventures of Chelsea, played by That 70s Show’s Laura Prepon, a blonde twenty-something living in New Jersey. Handler plays Chelsea’s conservative sister Sloane who just gave birth to her firstborn and frequently drops by Chelsea’s apartment because her husband is overseas in the military, so she sees him for less than a week each year.

Unswayed by Sloane’s warnings, Chelsea’s choices are often more influenced by alcohol and impulse than rationality and then ridiculed by Sloane who frequently bails her out, including when she literally bailed Chelsea out of jail in the series’ very first scene. The characters’ disagreements fuel several of the show’s punch lines, yet fail to substantiate a memorable script.

Granted, I admittedly laughed more at Chelsea’s second episode more than at the pilot, but should clarify that I barely even grinned while watching the first episode – I was that unimpressed. As the series develops, so too does the chemistry between Chelsea and Sloane, whose mother deceased long ago, leaving them to care for and comfort each other as well as their nutty widowed father.

There seems to be some chemistry there. Some.

Chelsea’s Quirky Sidekicks

Chelsea’s Asian co-worker slash roommate slash best friend, Olivia (Ali Wong) often has entertaining quips to share about the plot revolving around Chelsea’s life, and makes for a great sidekick. Likewise, their third roommate, Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus) is a well-developed character whose naiveté, shyness and overall oddball self deserves more screen time, if not a spin-off, once the show is cancelled. It could easily be written in that she found a job out of town and then voila! Doesn’t a show all about a cat-loving girl named Dee Dee sound charming?

Diversity!

The sports bar where Chelsea waitresses is a central setting, yet hardly constitutes a memorable TV set in the way that the bars in Cheers or How I Met Your Mother do. Overall, Chelsea’s set is unremarkable and not one for which I’d enter a contest to tour, despite any of the production team’s creative efforts.

Late Night Chelsea > Primetime Chelsea

It would be nice if the writing team behind Chelsea can create better material for upcoming episodes, because surely there’s some talent over at NBC who can craft some witty dialogue. Hopefully this talent becomes apparent during sweeps. Until then, it’s worth checking out, but I’d recommend watching Chelsea Lately first. See if you’re even curious about a fictional sitcom inspired by Handler’s wild adventures from her youth, skim the first few pages of one of her books and give Chelsea a chance, but don’t expect its quality to meet or succeed that of Handler’s other work. In fact, you’re probably better off watching Chelsea Handler YouTube clips and Seinfeld reruns.

Are You ThereChelsea? airs Wednesdays on NBC at 8:30 PM.

Rating: 6/10

Creator and producer Chelsea Handler discusses the inspiration for Are You There, Chelsea?

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About Sarah Prince

Sarah studies Media, Information and Technoculture at The University of Western Ontario and enjoys live tweeting TV shows.

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