“I’m treating this show like the college education I forgot to get.”
And there, in a quip, may be your best guide to Chelsea Handler’s new Netflix talk show, “Chelsea,” premiering Wednesday. She did use the line in the trailer released Monday, after all.
Beyond that, there’s not much else to go on, with “surprise” now Handler’s chief ally. But aside from that long-delayed college education that Netflix is footing the bill for, we know a few other things. She promises to “free the talk show” (another trailer declaration) and loosen those bonds three times a week. Alas, her former sidekick on “Chelsea Lately,” Chuy Bravo, is not along for this ride.
Will Chelsea still hammer the Kardashians, E! and all the rest of the pop-culture flotsam out there that she once so memorably loved/loathed?
Let’s assume the answer is “probably not.” Handler left E! in August 2014 a disgruntled ex-employee, eager to get on with her life or maybe just eager to get away from E! That year she took meetings, flirted with bids (maybe from CBS, maybe HBO, maybe Comedy Central — she never said exactly who, so we’re left with the maybes) and relished her stature as TV’s longest-running female late-night host. But with her four Netflix documentaries as evidence, there are indications that Handler has indeed moved on. High school was then, that college education is now. By the way, there are no references to either vodka or men in the few details offered. Her fondness for both wasn’t just a running joke on “Chelsea Lately” but a galloping one.
What does she mean by “college education”?
Not the type of college education you may recall, or would care to pay for, either. She will presumably travel — a great deal — in pursuit of a global perspective, or global quips, or frequent flier miles. “Join her as she travels around the world — from Russia, Japan and Mexico City, across the U.S.,” says Netflix, which also happens to be a global network with global interests. Topics covered include (per Netflix) “international cultures, alternative lifestyles, education, health, sports, parenting, politics.” The show will also tape in front of a studio audience in Culver City, California.
Why just three days a week?
Let’s make an assumption that long-distance travel will preclude a five-day-a-week schedule. But that’s an assumption only. Clearly, Netflix and Handler are trying something brand new here — new to both of them as well — and a partial-week load allows them breathing room to figure how to make this work.
Can she really “free the talk show”?
“Free the talk show” sounds (at best) like a commercial tag, or (at worst) balderdash. Unlike information, talk shows have no desire to be set free. They are, sui generis, simply talk shows, with host and guest and (sometimes) audience. Promotional tie-ins are also a necessary evil. Besides her global jaunts, “Chelsea” does in fact appear to be just another talk show — guests Wednesday are Drew Barrymore, Pitbull and U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, while Friday wraps with “Chelseacon,” where she meets with the cast of Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” The movie may be a hit, but Marvel is also a hugely important Netflix supplier. File that under “house promotion.”
Do her documentaries provide a little insight into what to expect?
Almost certainly. There were four — on marriage, Silicon Valley, racism and drugs — each with essentially the same style and approach. Handler saturate-bombs a subject she knows little about — for example, she asks Netflix chief Reed Hastings what “streaming” is — and finds some humor and eventually some truth. They were mostly hit and miss — somewhere between “exasperating” and “illuminating.” They weren’t (at least) dull. Her new talk show should aspire to that.