Are You There, Chelsea?: Pilot

Don’t watch Are You There, Chelsea.

Just don’t watch it.

If you see it on the TV, change the channel. Or turn off the TV altogether. Hurl a brick through the screen. Burn your house down. Anything. Anything at all.

Just please, please don’t watch it.

Boom. Done. Review over.

Ok fine I’ll keep going. You win.

The hard part about writing this type of review is that I really just want to spew out a few hundred words of bitter, bile-soaked insults at this TV show that I kinda didn’t like and be done with it. But that’s way too easy.

So instead I’m actually going to dive in and try and dissect what’s gone wrong here. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. I’m not saying it’ll be fun. Hopefully, though, it will be both easy and fun, which would be really great.

Oh, and just so’s ya know, I could just as easily have turned this off about a minute and a half in and then just not written a review. And that would have been just so, so rewarding. But I’ve decided to review every major pilot that’ll be airing for the rest of the midseason lineup, so be prepared for things like Rob, and Napoleon Dynamite, and other shows that may require the use of the phrase ‘putrid dung heap.’ Just figured you might be curious.

But back to the show- what’s the cheapest, easiest way to make a funny, relatable sitcom? Let’s look at some of the greats of the last 20 years.

Seinfeld- take a popular comedian, then tailor a show around his stand-up style in a way that relates to a large group of people (single friends working in the big city).

Everybody Loves Raymond- take a popular comedian, then tailor a show around his stand-up style in a way that relates to a large group of people (families with nosy in-laws).

Roseanne- take a popular oh you know where I’m going with this I can stop at this point.

And although this trend seems less popular now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, it’s still a simple and easy way to get a sitcom off the ground with a built-in fanbase and a lead actor who’s been proven to bring the yuks. And while Are You There, Chelsea seemingly wants to follow this formula, it’s marred by one  crucial mistake after another when actually trying to put said formula to use.

Now, I’ve heard of Chelsea Handler. I saw her show on E! once. It wasn’t bad. And Ms. Handler has a decent line delivery every once in a while, and at least a little bit of charisma. So, taking that into account, I haven’t the slightest idea why Laura Prepon is playing a Chelsea Handler surrogate when Handler herself is in the majority of this episode anyway. Maybe she’ll be in less episodes later on. Maybe Chelsea Handler can’t… *snicker*… handle…  the time constraints of starring on two shows at once.

I don’t know. But it strikes me as really, truly bizarre that for a show about Chelsea Handler, based on Chelsea Handler’s books, Chelsea Handler is playing a main character but not the actual main character… who is Chelsea Handler. If you’re trying to do the comedian-turned-sitcom-character sitcom, get the actual real live human being the show’s based on to play herself on the show.

And another point about sitcoms- there are basically two styles, camera-wise. First is the multi-camera sitcom (All in the Family, Roseanne, The Honeymooners, nearly any classic sitcom before the year 2000), which employ multiple cameras at once whilst filming (I really wanted to use the word ‘whilst.’ Sue me). With multi-camera sitcoms, you rarely get any close-ups or big camera moves but rather medium shots of the set being filmed. Changes between cameras are used to get different perspectives on the actors whilst (heh heh heh) filming. It’s very simple, but it’s a tried-and-true formula and it allows the show to be taped in front of a live studio audience, which can (in the right places) strengthen the show’s energy.

Then you have single-camera sitcoms. These are filmed with (take a wild guess) one camera, and shot more like a traditional film. You lose the live audience, but you get to play around with close-ups, more complex camera moves, and jumps in time that are much harder to do with a multi-camera set-up. Some pioneering single-camera comedies are Malcolm in the Middle, Scrubs, and Arrested Development, in case you were curious.

Anyway, I have a point to all of this, and it’s that Are You There, Chelsea manages to combine both styles in a way that emphasizes only the crappiest elements of each style. For the most part, it’s filmed in multi-camera, with laugh track sprinkled in over every single vaguely comedic line, but the show also uses the occasional new camera angle, cutaway gag or flashback (much like a single-camera show would), but only to siphon in heaping morsels of voiceover. This only serves to cheapen the actual stories being told here. A combination of the two could be clever (and has been in the past- see That 70’s Show, also featuring Laura Prepon), but it’s certainly not clever here.

Hmmm. At this point, I think I’ve said all I can say. Well, besides my biggest complaint- the show isn’t funny. But I just said it right in that last sentence. So we’re good.

Anyway, I hope for your sake, dear reader, that this wasn’t too negative a review. I mean, it was, obviously, a negative review. But I hope you at least enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Which I kinda did.

Hooray.

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20 responses to “Are You There, Chelsea?: Pilot

  1. putrid dung heap… that’s gold, right there. Well, to describe some shows… I haven’t seen this pilot yet, but from what you write, it does seem like combining 2 camera styles could lead to disaster, especially if the show is not funny, and even more so if they add laugh tracks to tell you where it’s supposed to be funny and you’re like, “um, wait, what, did I miss something?” lol… Too bad, because Chelsea can be pretty funny on her other show… *Sigh*

    • I’ve never really followed Chelsea Handler, but from what I’ve heard she’s pretty funny, and this show has some decent comedic talent (Laura Prepon and Lenny Clarke, who was great on Rescue Me), but it just feels like a half-finished idea. There are a couple decent ideas here (the colorblind dwarf gag could have been funny had it actually been well-written), and the idea of a show about quasi-alcoholic messes could actually be clever with a different creative team behind it (something like a cross between Cheers and Black Books, or something). Too bad we’re stuck with this one.

  2. I saw a commercial for this, I didn’t understand combining fake Chelsea Handler with real Chelsea Handler. It’s like that bad WWF match between the 2 fake Undertakers. God who approves this crap. I bet the board room meeting went something like this…

    Noob 1-“Hey you remember Chelsea Handler?”

    Noob 2-“Vaguely, was she funny?”

    Noob 1-“Yeah. A lil’ bit.”

    Noob 2-“Good enough for me, lets give her a show. Is she hot?”

    Noob 1-“She’s getting old, but I’d still hit it. How about we cast that girl from That 70’s show as her, and let Chelsea be a supporting character, like yoda.”

    Noob 2-“Thats gold!”

    Screw this crap, just bring back the Wayans Bros. show so we can laugh on Wednesday nights again.

    • Thinking about the actual board room discussions for some of these shows just makes me want to cry.

      “Yes, I like Rob Schneider. Why yes! I do like jokes about Mexicans! Fund it. Fund it now.”

  3. I used to watch Chelsea Handler’s show and that it was more funny before she became popular. Once people started catching on to her show (mostly after she wrote her first book), I was hearing from other comedians that she was only allowing an exclusive group of comedians to be on her round table discussion at the beginning (which was my favorite part). Before she was allowing any up and coming comedians to join in on the fun. I haven’t seen this sitcom, and even though I wasn’t planning on watching it I did enjoy reading your review. Lol. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! It’s interesting to hear that her show’s declined in quality- maybe if this sitcom had been made a few years ago it would have actually been worth a watch.

      • It’s hard to tell. I have some friends who didn’t like her from the beginning and thought she wasn’t funny at all. She has her moments like you said. I think why I liked it so much was the banter between the comedians and her.

  4. First off, thanks for the ‘like’ on my post. Second, I have always found Chelsea funny. I catch her show(Chelsea Lately) whenever I can and I have read both of her books (love them!). I think that reading the books helps you get a better sense for the show. While the show isn’t at the top of my DVR priority list, I still think that it is funny enough to catch every once in a while–when other things aren’t recording. Granted it’s not the funniest of shows, I do find the fact that Chelsea is playing her sister kind of funny. I don’t think the show will last forever. However, I do think it is better than every one else thinks. To each their own… I guess. 🙂

    • Nothing wrong with being a follower- there’s a ton we can learn from old TV classics. One of my fondest memories as a child was spending an entire weekend on the couch with my family watching a three-day marathon of All in the Family after Carroll O’Connor passed away.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • Thanks for the comment! And I’m not much of a photographer, but I find half the fun of this blog stuff is reaching out into new unexplored interests I haven’t… well, explored yet.

  5. I was never a fan of Chelsea’s late night show on E so I never really cared for her. But I actually watched the show last week and fell in love. I really like it! I think its cute and funny.. and it follows Whitney, which I love, so its easy to just keep watching.

    And by the way, Seinfeld is the absolute worst show ever lol! I cant stand that show. Sorry

  6. It’s too bad that Laura Prepon is in such nonsense. I really liked her on That 70s Show. Even though that show was incredibly formulaic – so much so that I didn’t have that much difficulty sketching out a potential script for a theater class – it was consistently funny with likeable characters. This seems like it lacks all of that.

    • Yeah, it’s sad to see her fall so far. Although I’ll say that on That 70’s Show, Prepon was the normal one in a group of crazy people, but in Are You There, Chelsea, it’s hard to tell which characters are supposed to be the kooky ones. They’re all an unpleasant mix of blandness and bad antics.

      Too bad.

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