The Bottom Line
- Stars Laura Prepon, Ali Wong, Jake McDorman, Lauren Lapkus, Lenny Clarke, Mark Povinelli
- Created by Dottie Dartland Zicklin and Julie Larson
- Airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. EST starting January 11, 2012, on NBC
Based on a trio of Handler’s memoirs (Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea; Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang; My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands), Are You There imagines Chelsea as a twentysomething sports-bar waitress in the present day, with a similarly bawdy and boozy best friend (Ali Wong), a couple of horndog male co-workers (one of whom is a little person, much like Handler’s talk-show sidekick Chuy), a weird roommate (Lauren Lapkus) and a fun-loving dad (Lenny Clarke). Sitcom Chelsea has few ambitions other than to get drunk and bed as many good-looking dudes as possible.
The thin premise is really just a vehicle for Handler-style jokes, which fall completely flat in the context of an old-fashioned multi-camera sitcom. Part of Handler’s appeal is how unapologetic she is, but the show demands its sentimental sitcom moments, and so Prepon’s version of Chelsea comes off as inconsistent and hypocritical. The actress’ inherent likeability also works against the character, making her seem insincere and needy rather than bold and independent. The supporting cast is pretty one-dimensional, although Lapkus is kind of amusing as Chelsea’s completely out-there roommate, even if she sometimes seems like she belongs in a completely different show.
It’s also a huge mistake to have Handler herself on the show, playing Chelsea’s ostensibly uptight older sister Sloane. As anyone who’s seen her terrible E! mockumentary show After Lately or her supporting role in Hop knows, Handler is an abysmal actress, and she drags down every scene she’s in. And even though she’s billed as a special guest star, Handler has more lines in the first two episodes than several of the series regulars, and all of them fall completely flat. Even though Sloane is supposed to be Chelsea’s nemesis, we can’t help but see the real Handler shine through the portrayal, and know that she should be the one delivering the nasty jokes.
Of course, she is the one delivering those jokes -- every night on her talk show, and at stand-up shows around the country. There’s nothing about Handler’s humor or life that benefits from being translated into a bland sitcom. Take away that style, however, and all you have is another second-rate comedy about young urbanites looking for romance, no different from Romantically Challenged or Friends With Benefits or any other quickly forgotten sitcom from the last couple of seasons. The only thing Are You There really has to set it apart is Handler’s style, and it’s constructed in the worst possible way to showcase that style. Prepon deserves a better star vehicle, and Handler’s fans deserve a more unadulterated delivery system for her humor.