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.