Hopes weren't exactly high for NBC's new sitcom Are You There, Chelsea?. Though it is based on comedian Chelsea Handler's popular memoir (can we really call something of this stripe a memoir? Let's actually call it a ha-ha memory book) and was one of the hottest scripts of last year's pilot season, since then the show has been plagued with problems. The pilot was reshot with new characters and cast, a new setting (Los Angeles to New Jersey), and a new plot. Oh, and the title was changed from the already awful Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea to the downright nonsensical Are You There, Chelsea? (Yes, she's right here! Right there. She's the lead on the show. She's standing right there.) The buzz on the show was that it was a mangled and deformed product of development and testing hell, a once-promising project that had somehow turned into a gnarled nightmare.
So yes! Expectations were not exactly high. But hoo boy could anything have prepared us for what lurched onto the screen and just about died with a wheeze and a rattle before us last night? Well, actually, yes something could have. We'd seen the original pilot many months back and it was indeed a mess. But somehow the new version was even messier?
The pilot revolves around the central joke of Chelsea getting a DUI, which, haha? "Edgy" comedy (for lack of a less horrible TV executive word) like making jokes about drunk driving can be done well — Leslie Mann's scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin comes to mind — but when it's all cheap and overly lit and used to make the lead character seem, sure a little sloppy, but mostly free-wheeling and a hoot, it just does not sit right. All the jokes about Chelsea drinking in the show just make her seem a little troubled, and not in a funny way. It's like someone sharing too much information on a first date or during a wedding toast. "Ah, no! Don't tell me these things! I don't even know you!" And, really, who would want to know her?
Mean, boorish, unambitious, boring louts are popular comedy staples, but rarely do they work well as main characters. And Chelsea, in this iteration of the Chelsea Handler Story anyway, is just such a creature. "Oh haha, she's so funny as she's being a complete asshole to her date just because he has red hair," we're supposed to think. "Oooh, she's rude and dismissive to her pregnant sister, how droll!" we are supposed to coo. But no, we do not in fact wind up doing either of those things. Chelsea really only ends up coming across as someone that no one would want to be friends with. No wonder she only has one friend, an equally unpleasant jerk played by the poorly used young comedian Ali Wong. Chelsea is played by Laura Prepon, always the weak leg of the That '70s Show table, and here is as miscast as Jessica Biel doing Medea. How she of all actresses made it through round after round of audition to snatch the part is one of those boggling Hollywood mysteries that we may never know the answer to.
Yes, she is bad. As is the "eww, butch lesbians!" scene in jail, as is every acid bit with Chelsea Handler, the real Chelsea Handler, playing fake Chelsea's sister. Siblings bicker, we know this, but do siblings who at the core love each other really treat each other this terribly on the surface? A not-at-all-earned slightly sentimental ending with a baby delivery is not enough to convince us that these two gorgons aren't going to someday murder each other, and that is just not a convincing sibling relationship. It's all sassy/cruel barb, cruel/sassy retort, then false emotion. Blah. How lazy. The writing on the show is so cynically presentational, as if the writers figured that if they gave us enough outrageous and it goes there jokes we wouldn't notice that just behind them is a thin layer of rot and then nothing, just ugly emptiness stretching all the way to some NBC executive's office.
There are no glimmers of hope for this series. Not in the wacky roommate nor the embarrassingly forcing-it actress who plays her, not in Greek's Jake McDorman, who played the unfortunately bewigged redhead in the original pilot but has now been made the bartender at the bar where Chelsea works. And not in Mark Povinelli, who plays a little person that works at Chelsea's bar. Look, that Chelsea has a little person sidekick just like the real Chelsea! And, oh, he's kind of just a sad punchline in the fake world too. Terrific. Ugh.
This thing is bad, guys. Real bad. We're sure there are lovely crew people and whoever else working on this show who deserve gainful employment, but this thing needs to be smothered with a pillow and thrown into a ditch, next to How to Be a Gentleman and hopefully soon Work It and Whitney. Goodbye, awful sitcoms that trade in tired old cliches and end up becoming gross and vaguely offensive in the process! We will not miss you.