The Brutal Critical Response to ‘Are You There, Chelsea?’ Is Funnier than the Show

01.13.12 6 years ago 35 Comments

In an attempt to verify what we all knew, I watched “Are You There, Chelsea?” Twice. But on both occasions, my mind drifted. It says something about how terrible a show is when foul-mouthed women talking about sex, a motorcycle-riding midget, Lenny Clarke, and a B-plot about a ginger guy with overgrown pubic hair can’t hold my attention (the laugh track didn’t help). I might have felt compelled to write a scathing review of the show myself if it had managed engage me long enough to get worked up over it. But you can’t just say “vodka” and “chlamydia” and “pubic hair” and expect those words to be funny without providing context for the jokes and characters with whom we can identify. “Are You There, Chelsea?” is not a show as much as its just bad actors uttering provocative words that fail to provoke.

Worse still, the ratings for both “Whitney” and “Are You There, Chelsea?” weren’t terrible; in fact, for NBC, they were down right encouraging, which could mean we don’t get “Community” back for a while. Hopefully, however, it was just morbid curiosity that compelled over 6 million people to watch “Chelsea” (compared to the 4 million that watch “Community” on Thursdays), and they won’t be returning next week. I don’t know why anyone would want to watch again. The show was dreadful, as these seven critical responses can attest:

“The debut of NBC’s new Wednesday lineup featured an uninterrupted jag of jerk-off jokes, set pieces about ungroomed pubic hair, and an entire b-plot devoted to the misadventures of an adult woman unable to defecate in the same apartment as her fiancé … Pairing [“Whitney” and “Are You There, Chelsea?” is like spiking lemon juice with vinegar, and the scheduling only makes the insult worse: no matter their morals, no family should be forced to endure television this bad. — Andy Greenwald, Grantland

“If Are You There, Chelsea? were a song, it would probably be “Miracles” by Jefferson Starship—tiresome, lacking any sense of direction, and difficult to endure without a CamelBak full of absinthe. ” — Asawin Suebsaeng, Mother Jones

“The whole thing plays like somebody read one of Handler’s books and highlighted a bunch of stuff that just had to be in a TV show, without really considering if all of those things would work together in the same space. This leads to the curious sense that you’re being led on a tour of someone’s life, with a guide that’s occasionally appealing but is someone who you get the vague sense you’re supposed to like more than you do, just because of who she is.” — Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club

“One thing that’s not confusing: “Are You There, Chelsea?” is terrible. Forget Handler’s weird on-camera presence (she says she’s too busy with her day job at E! for a full-time job) and the dumb name (which clearly arose out of someone at NBC being uncomfortable putting “vodka” in the title). This is a sitcom that is crude without being the least bit clever about it, and which doesn’t even have the guts to let its main character be as nasty as she clearly wants to be.” — Alan Sepinwall,

“‘Are You There, Chelsea?’ is viable, just barely, as entertainment because it keeps things simple. If it had the slightest aspiration even to have an aspiration beyond stringing wisecracks on a loop of pure attitude, it would disappear. The show gets by as the vodka of television comedy. It aims to have no taste.” — Troy Patterson, Slate

Low-brow, raunchy, edgy, whatever you want to call it humor has its place and can be hilarious, and cheers to the crop of women, including Cummings and Handler, and their shows, including “Two Broke Girls,” for attempting to break down barriers concerning what women can do and say for a laugh. The problem is those laughs don’t come easily, if at all. As tricky as humor can be to define, I can’t suggest a surefire remedy for making shows such as “Are You There, Chelsea?” work. Perhaps if the focus rested on building actual stories with believable characters, not just fillers for vagina jokes. — Sarah Carlson, Pajiba

“This thing is bad, guys. Real bad. We’re sure there are lovely crew people and whoever else working on this show who deserve gainful employment, but this thing needs to be smothered with a pillow and thrown into a ditch, next to “How to Be a Gentleman” and hopefully soon “Work It” and “Whitney.” Goodbye, awful sitcoms that trade in tired old cliches and end up becoming gross and vaguely offensive in the process! We will not miss you.” — Richard Lawson, The Atlantic

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