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‘Are You There, Chelsea?’ struggles with bad casting, even worse jokes

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 01:01


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Laura Prepon falters at her starring role in “Are You There, Chelsea?”

Comedian Chelsea Handler's new NBC sitcom is so unsure of itself that in its name, there is a question. The answer: Yes, Chelsea is here, but she needs to be more than an infrequent visitor on her show for it to survive.

"Are You There, Chelsea?" is loosely based on Handler's bestselling memoir, "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea," which translates to television with disappointing results.

Handler, best known for her risqué humor and E! talk show "Chelsea Lately," provokes the show's few laughs. Unfortunately, her moments onscreen are too scarce to make much of an impact.

She plays Sloane, her overbearing older sister. Although Handler may be too old to play a younger version of herself, "Are You There, Chelsea?" might have fared better if Chelsea could have been, well, Chelsea.

Instead, Laura Prepon of "That ‘70s Show" is Chelsea, a waitress at a sports bar who starts the show behind bars for driving under the influence.

Even while wearing a brown wig and an enormous fake baby bump, Handler steals attention from Prepon with her trademark snark.

Sloane bails out Chelsea and informs her, "I really enjoyed using a prison toilet for the first time, and hopefully my unborn baby will enjoy her chlamydia."

If that sampler was offensive enough to your sensibilities, don't bother tuning in for another episode. Although Handler is usually effective at merging the vulgar and hilarious, the punch lines in "Are You There, Chelsea?" tend to only be the former.

Chelsea's character is no more engaging and does little to reclaim her spotlight. She should be brimming with snippy retorts, but Prepon is too modest and cutesy to resemble Handler at any capacity.

When she meets her roommate Dee Dee, a wide-eyed virgin who can't watch hot tub scenes from "The Bachelor" because they're "too dirty," Chelsea almost seems pleased with the arrangement.

To top it off, a laugh track fills in the awkward silences. It can be jarring and obnoxious, especially when Dee Dee busts out a lengthy cat impression. At least someone's laughing at this show.

"Are You There, Chelsea?" may be able to save itself with more time, but the pilot already feels like more than enough.

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