Episode Title: "Pilot"
Writers: Dottie Zicklin & Julie Ann Larson
Director: Gail Mancuso
I've been fan of Laura Prepon's work since "That '70s Show" and I'm still convinced that she's eventually going to have a breakthrough role on television that pushes her towards greater stardom.
It just won't be on "Are You There, Chelsea?"
In this show, Prepon plays a fictionalized version of talk show hostess, Chelsea Handler, who works in a bar and she has a fairly unhealthy love of alcohol that gets her into some DUI trouble in the opening moments. Handler shows up as Chelsea's older sister, Sloane, a very pregnant Christian woman who is tired of bailing her sibling out of trouble. I'm not that familiar with Handler, but her role in this show suggests that someone thought that she wasn't young enough to portray herself.
The weirdest thing about "Are You There, Chelsea?" is that it doesn't play like a comedy. Instead, it comes off as someone's ill-conceived parody of what a real sitcom is. There are dozens of punchlines without punch, flat performances and a laugh track so forced that I can only assume that the studio audience is being held at gunpoint.
The fictional Chelsea doesn't seem to mesh with Prepon's comedic sensibilities. At no point is the Chelsea character ever believable nor does she even have a shred of real personality. She has all of the character depth of "SNL" caricature. I get that same impression from the jokes as well. It's kind of hilarious that the writers think that the lesbian joke at the beginning is funny enough that the ending of the episode is also a callback to it. That misconception is certainly funner than the joke itself.
I'm still not convinced that this show wasn't some kind of "Shake and Bake" mix that was taken out of storage and half formed into its current incarnation. Do you want zany characters? Here's Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus), Chelsea's strange and virginal new roommate! Or, Todd (Mark Povinelli), the bar's entrepreneurial (and colorblind) little person, or Olivia (Ali Wong), Chelsea's coworker who is also her overly protective best friend. Not to mention, Chelsea's father Melvin (Lenny Clarke); whose comedic chops seem to consist of mugging the camera with an "I'm wacky!" expression on his face.
And then there's Rick (Jake McDorman), Chelsea's would-be love interest… who has absolutely zero chemistry with Prepon or her character. I can't believe that the producers fired Jo Koy and replaced him with this guy. Joy Koy has personality, whereas McDorman's Rick is every male sitcom lead that you've ever seen.
The only scenes that occasionally have life are between Prepon and Handler while playing up the sisters' relationship. Some of the jokes landed between them, but their conflict seemed forced and it lacked the genuine emotions that could have helped ground both characters.
The most alarming thing about "Are You There, Chelsea?" is that NBC seems to believe that this is the kind of show that its viewers desire. Because clearly, we all want more shows like "Whitney" and "Up All Night." It's a sharp departure from the smarter comedies that used to dominate on NBC's Thursday night lineup.
To be clear, "Are You There, Chelsea?" isn't the worst show on television. But there's really no reason to watch it just because it's less terrible than "Work It."
Crave Online Rating: 1 out of 10.