COMEDY PREMIERE "Are You There, Chelsea?"
WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 8:30 on NBC/4
REASON TO WATCH For Chelsea Handler fans
WHAT IT'S ABOUT There is this sports bar in New Jersey and this young woman who works there named Chelsea -- Laura Prepon of "That '70s Show" -- who is based on Chelsea Handler before she was Chelsea Handler, or the famous late-night talk show host for E! ("Chelsea Lately").
Handler, meanwhile, plays Chelsea's sister, Sloane. And . . . if you're not hopelessly confused, please read on: Chelsea and Olivia (Ali Wong), her BFF and waitress colleague from the sports bar, recently moved in with Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus), who's a bit ditsy and not at all interested in the pillow talk that the two roomies luxuriate in. By the way, this is all loosely based on Handler's series of popular books, most notably the 2008 bestseller, "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea." Handler's role is only recurring. Plus, this bonus: A very slimmed-down Lenny Clarke ("Rescue Me") plays Chelsea and Sloane's dad, Melvin.
MY SAY Handler is an acquired taste, but there's no particular taste that has to be acquired for this largely generic chickcom. You've seen it all before, and, in fact, if you're a "2 Broke Girls" fan, you saw it just this past Monday.
With a laser focus on the male sex organ and the various double entendres and puns that refer to it, "Chelsea" faithfully services Handler's literary output -- or as faithfully as frayed network standards still allow.
But what's intriguing here is this question: Why put Handler in a sitcom as a supporting character when another actress is playing Handler? Besides her other job at E!, your answer: Handler can't really act. She spits out her lines like an accountant spits out numbers, without rhythm or sense of timing. To an extent, that's by design; her Sloane -- described by NBC as "Chelsea's born-again Christian sister [and a] married conservative new mom" -- is supposed to be a bit of a stiff, anyway. But that doesn't mean she's supposed to be a two-by-four, either.
By contrast, Prepon is slinky and raw and naughty and . . . interesting. If this show works, she'll be the reason why.
BOTTOM LINE Not as terrible as you would have every reason to expect.
For Chelsea Handler fans B-
(TV Chelsea is not as raunchy as the real-life Chelsea.)
For everyone else D- (A little too raw, especially in this hour.)