If you're a fan of Chelsea Handler and have read any of her bestselling books -- "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me Chelsea," especially -- you likely already know that her life and writing have inspired a new show, "Are You There, Chelsea?" (premieres Wed., Jan. 11 at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBC).
Unfortunately, I should also warn you that the show is not very funny. It seems that what makes you laugh out loud in written form or in a stand-up show doesn't quite translate to a multi-camera sitcom shot before a studio audience. Handler's particular brand of raunchy comedy -- vodka, sex and more vodka -- could've really been perfect in a fast-paced show without a heavy-handed laugh track, but here it falls flat.
After watching the first two episodes of the series, I was disappointed enough to tweet this:
But that doesn't mean that it won't work -- NBC is pairing it with another smart comedienne's dumbed-down comedy, "Whitney," after all. It also doesn't mean that the good people behind the show (Handler and star Laura Prepon included) aren't trying to make something special.
The day I visited the set, Prepon's fellow "That '70s Show" alum Wilmer Valderrama was there to play on-screen Chelsea's latest love interest -- a baseball player who gets traded to her rival team -- and Prepon was delighted to recall all of her on-screen misadventures so far. In the eight episodes they'd shot at the time, Chelsea had already slept with 10 guys and a dog and Prepon couldn't have been happier. "I love this character," she beamed.
Below Prepon talks about playing such a well-known living person, shooting sex scenes with someone she's known forever and why she thinks the show has a "Cheers"-like quality.
Not creepy at all that your character has sex with Wilmer's character ...
Um, considering he's kind of like my brother in real life, it's a little strange. [Laughs] But yeah, it's fun.
Wilmer was saying his character is the only guy who can make Chelsea crumble.
[Laughs] Of course he would say that! But he's kind of right. We always keep track of how many guys I've dated on the show, because my character is a little ... she likes to have fun. He's number 10. There's a dog thrown in there, too.
Wait ... what kind of dog?
I took in a stray one week who I would spoon and he'd sleep in my bed, so we kind of joke, like, "Well, he counts. He was in the bed with her." So Wilmer's number 10, and out of all the guys, he's the only one who's made Chelsea want to be exclusive. But he's a baseball guy, and it comes down to Yankees versus Red Sox ... I mean, you can't do both, so that won't last.
What other cute boys have you bedded on the show?
We did this amazing episode with Nat Faxon -- he's so incredible. He played this really emotional guy who, whenever he heard emotional music, would start crying. And my character Chelsea was dating him so my friend Olivia could work at his company, and then I found out he was a total cry baby. Of course, he completely falls in love with my character, and I'm like, "Whoa dude, you're way too sensitive."
Has the real Chelsea had any notes for you on how to play her? Like, "Be drunker?"
[Laughs] No, they really let me do my own thing. I am playing her, but it's my version of her. I'm not trying to act like Chelsea Handler. I get to do my own take on her, which is great because it's hard to try to play someone on a weekly basis, and they're there playing your sister.
How much time do you guys spend in the bar on the show, and how much of it is at home?
When she's dating guys, she's out and about, but the core of the show is us in the bar, which is great because I love dive bars. I don't do clubs or anything -- I'm a dive bar girl. Actually one of my favorite bars is just like this, but it's a little divier. And there's no boxing ring. [Laughs] But they serve beer and chicken wings, and I know everyone who works there -- it's like my Cheers. And that's what I feel like audiences are going to relate to in this show ... I think people will connect because it's familiar.
If this is like a "Cheers" bar, is Chelsea the Sam Malone?
Well, that's interesting ... she's like Sam and Diane. We always joke around because Chelsea and Rick the bartender [played by Jake McDorman] have a Sam and Diane relationship. There's this undercurrent of sexual tension, and I feel like the audience is going to be rooting for us. Chelsea's going to be off experimenting and having fun, but there's this core group that grounds her, and Rick especially -- they have this amazing relationship.
"Are You There, Chelsea?" premieres on Wed., Jan. 11 at 8:30 p.m. EST on NBC.