I'm not really sure who over at NBC thought it would be a wise decision to kick off Are You There, Chelsea? with Chelsea (Laura Prepon) getting arrested for a DUI. Apparently, the story is taken from Chelsea Handler's actual book, but trying to get audiences on board with a character who drinks and drives seems like an impossibly worse idea than convincing people to accept the idea of a mancession or tolerate Whitney Cummings. Even worse, those few minutes also managed to make me appreciate Ryan Murphy for giving Dot Jones the chance to play a character on Glee who's not a "lesbian jailbird." Yeesh.
But once the initial awkwardness of the first few minutes of the pilot subsided, I actually really enjoyed Chelsea. I'm not particularly a fan of Handler, so I can't speak too much about how accurate the show is to Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, but as a standalone comedy, it's got its charms. Sure, it's outrageous, and slips in a few too many shock-value gross-out lines than necessary, but it isn't absolutely obsessed or in-your-face about how edgy it is -- instead, it seems intent on being a series about an unapologetic, aggressive young woman who doesn't need huge vulnerabilities to be likable and who is friends with other women who don't feel required to talk about men all day. It's basically every counter to the common criticism about women in romantic comedies crammed into a few characters... and it actually works, on a certain level.
I think if it wasn't for the amount of experience that show creators Julie Ann Larson and Dottie Zicklin have under their belt (they've both worked on successful sitcoms before, including The Drew Carey Show, Dharma & Greg, Caroline in the City and Cybil), this show could have dangerously become very hokey, very quickly. But instead, there is a level of heart and commitment on the part of the talent involved. Prepon may come off a bit drier than need be (and to all of the five people in the world who actually also watched Slackers, she basically reprises her role from that movie), but she seems to have fun with her character, as does Handler herself, who plays her fictionalized sister to Prepon's Chelsea. The supporting cast -- which includes Lenny Clarke, Jake McDorman, Mark Povinelli (who doesn't get stuck being the punchline of gross little person jokes -- yay!) and newcomer Lauren Lapkus -- make a fine little universe to the show's world.
I genuinely look forward to watching Chelsea flesh itself out as time progresses, because as it stands now (and in the second episode, to a slightly less degree), the show faces the challenge of actually being about something. Then again, with so few series on right now starring women who don't regularly get degraded by men, maybe there's a place for it to just hang out after all.
Did the International Vodka Council nix the original name of this show? Vlogger Sean Crespo investigates:
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