Spring 2012 Review: Are You There Chelsea?

20 Jan

I run out of things to say about these generically terrible comedies.  Distinguishing between them is difficult and sometimes feels like splitting absolutely pointless hairs.  Grouping them is also an alternatively interesting and useless experience.  Are You There Chelsea? belongs firmly to one of this year’s hot categories, series about bawdy women that show that women can get right down in the gutter with guys along with  Whitney went there, as did 2 Broke Girls (Unsurprisingly Whitney Cummings, behind Whitney and 2 Broke Girls, made several appearances on Chelsea lately).

Are You There Chelsea? stars That 70’s Show’s Laura Prepon as Chelsea, a veiled Chelsea Handler-based character. Chelsea is an unrepentant sinner, getting drunk and having sex as she pleases.  When at the beginning of the first episode, she gets a DUI, she has a moment when she decides she needs to reevaluate her life.  The hook is that, if this was an traditional, classic show she’d realize she needs to get her life together, but here what it means is that she needs to get an apartment that’s walking distance from the bar where she works.  That’s good, in theory, in that it’s modern thinking.  I’d certainly rather that outcome than her life suddenly changing drastically.  The problem is that the show acts as if that unrepentant party girl attitude is just enough in and of itself to sustain a good show.  I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to shock the conscience or just be genuinely funny, but it’s not either.  Comedy has moved past the point where the  non-traditional sitcom arc of Chelsea’s life is novel.

The show is multi-camera and has a laugh track.  If there was any sense of comic timing present in the show at all, the laugh track murders it.  It’s also complete with the usually unhelpful crutch of narration.  Entries and books could be written about the use of narration, and at its best, it’s pointed and helps us get in touch with the mental state of a character or keeps us up to date with the story so events can happen without being shown.  At its worst it points out things we can figure out on our own or adds unnecessary sentiment.  Sentiment should be earned by events that happen in the show rather than said.  At the end of the first episode, Chelsea is right beside her sister who has just given birth.  This is supposed to be a touching moment, but in case you couldn’t figure that out,Chelsea reinforces the fact with some unnecessary narration.  Are You There Chelsea? tries to be unconventional in its subject matter (the whole drunk, bawdy woman thing) but traditional in its approach with the filming method and the healthy doses of sentiment and none of it works.

The show was originally called Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea, but that title was changed due to some regulations about using the word vodka in a network show title.  Still in the script though is the use of that original title as a line within the first three minutes of the show, as Chelsea asks that question when she is in jail for her DUI.  The new title Are You There Chelsea? makes absolutely no sense but it doesn’t use the name of an alcohol product, for whatever that’s worth.  It’s also slightly confusing that Chelsea Handler plays character Chelsea’s older sister.

It’s a shame all these shows are so bad because there’s absolutely no reason there shouldn’t be a funny show led by a late 20-something dirty girl.  There just isn’t.

Will I watch it again?  No.  I feel bad when I judge shows before watching them.  I feel slightly less bad when I judge them within one minute of their starting.  It’s definitely not completely fair, but 90% of the time you can tell whether there’s a chance of a show not being terrible.  Of course, I still stuck around for the whole episode, but I suppose my mind could have been made up by then.  That said, I’m no less confident that the show was terrible.

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