Review: Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC) 1×1

Who knew drinking could be such an unhappy experience?

Are You There Vodka?

In the US: Wednesdays, 8.30pm EST, NBC

The big four American TV networks have something of an alcohol problem. Or at least a problem with alcohol. In any given TV show, anyone shown to be drinking a lot or generally having alcohol-related fun must have a problem and they need to give up alcohol ASAP if they’re to get their life into gear.

Who knows what would happen if they ever remade Inspector Morse.

The last time the networks had a go at a show about people who quite liked drinking, it was Showtime’s Shameless remake, in which Frank’s drinking is the root of all evil (although he’s not much better off the sauce, addmitedly). And before that, it was the “anything but” Happy Hour on Fox.

Now NBC is trying to make a comedy based on talk show host Chelsea Handler’s autobiography, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. And that’s what the TV show was called until very recently, until it was nonsensically renamed Are You There, Chelsea? (because having vodka in the title would put off viewers, apparently.) In it, a thinly veiled version of Chelsea Handler (who actually plays Chelsea’s born-again Christian sister in the show) works in a bar and tries to navigate through the complexities of work, boyfriends, friends and family while repeatedly getting rat-arsed – and everyone telling her she has a drink problem.

Here’s a trailer. It’s from the now almost-completely reshot pilot. If you’re in the US, you can view a proper trailer after that, too. Neither will make you laugh.

Inspired by the best-selling books from actress/comedian Chelsea Handler, “Are You There, Chelsea?” follows the exploits of the twentysomething Chelsea (Laura Prepon, “That ’70s Show”), an opinionated and unapologetic young woman who lives life to the fullest as a cocktail waitress, friend, daughter, sister and sexually dynamic “advanced drinker.”

Chelsea’s life revolves around her work at Jerry’s Ultimate Sports Bar in New Jersey, where she is surrounded by an eclectic group of friends and co-workers, including Rick (Jake McDorman, “Greek”), the handsome bartender; Olivia (Ali Wong, “Breaking In”), a fellow cocktail waitress and Chelsea’s best friend since childhood; and Todd (Mark Povinelli, “Water for Elephants”), the bar back who is always ready with a quick comeback. Chelsea and Olivia have recently moved in with Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus, “The Middle”), a sweet and somewhat sheltered young woman who could be considered the polar opposite of Chelsea. And then there’s Chelsea’s dad, Melvin (Lenny Clarke, “Rescue Me”), a man with a big personality and a big heart… and all too often – a big mouth.

Chelsea Handler (“Chelsea Lately”) has a recurring role as Chelsea’s born-again Christian sister, Sloane, a married, conservative new mom who has little in common with her carefree sister.

“Are You There, Chelsea?” is a production of Bonanza Productions in association with 4-to-6 Foot Productions, Werner Entertainment, Borderline Amazing Productions and Warner Bros. Television. Dottie Dartland Zicklin (“Dharma & Greg”) and Julie Larson (“The Drew Carey Show”) are creators and executive producers. Chelsea Handler serves as executive producer, along with Tom Werner (“That ’70s Show”), Mike Clements (“The Life & Times of Tim”) and Tom Brunelle (“Chelsea Lately”).

Is it any good?

There, that was easy, wasn’t it?

So, the show is obviously aimed at young women in the same way that Whitney is (Whitney Cumming got her big break on… Chelsea Handler’s talk show, Chelsea Lately). And, as you’d expect, it’s about as good as Whitney is, too, despite the massive retooling of the pilot.

There could have been some fun to be had with a show about a 20-something woman who enjoys herself a lot. A modern Rhoda or Mary Tyler Moore Show if you will. Instead, following in the foot steps of Happy Hour, this is a show about a woman who could be having fun but instead has lumbered herself with some miserable friends and spends most of her time either bemoaning the fact she’s having fun and needs to get her life in gear… or getting hectored by her friends for having fun when she should be getting her life in gear.

Laura Prepon works just fine as Chelsea, although she has a neverending stream of ‘sparky’ lines to deliver that unceasingly fail to amuse. We have a best friend who works at the bar with her (amalgamated from two different characters in the pilot). She’s not that amusing. We have a room-mate who’s irritating beyond belief. We have a judgemental sister. She’s not at all amusing, either. We have a bartender that Chelsea hooked up with once and who spends his time badgering her about her drinking (recast since the pilot). He’s not funny. And there’s a dwarf bartender. Okay, he’s almost funny at times.

In case you haven’t guessed, Are You There Chelsea? just isn’t funny. As with Happy Hour again, take the laughter track out and this could have had the makings of quite a good comedy drama: there’s quite a bit of substance to Chelsea and some of the other female characters, as you’d expect from something based on an auto-biography. But as a sitcom, it’s dreadful.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.