Chelsea Review: We Can't Handler the Truth of Netflix's Drab New Talker

chelsea handler review

grade_D+The fact that Chelsea Handler’s new eponymous talk show, Chelsea, is on Netflix means you can tune in any time of day or night — and I say that as something of a threat.

“Nobody should have to watch me for longer than [30 minutes],” noted Handler, during a bleak interview with TED conference curator Chris Anderson, in one of the show’s initial trio of episodes. The host then drove home that idea with a dim “comedy” bit in which she gave her own TED talk about time — the “punchline” of which was that new installments of Chelsea premiere on the streaming service every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Perhaps some day Chelsea will inspire a fascinating intellectual discussion about the perils of noisily promising something new on the late-night scene, then delivering the TV equivalent of an ancient burlap grocery sack: a good idea in its infancy, perhaps, but now on the brink of everything imminently falling out of the bottom with a messy splat.

It’s a shame, really, seeing how the male-dominated non-daytime talk scene is in desperate need of female perspective. But in her first three episodes, a baffling aura of ennui permeated Handler’s monologues (like babies and Stevie Wonder, she joked, she’d make a terrible designated driver), her pre-taped sketches (an entire and completely laugh-free segment was devoted to Handler’s struggle to understand Spanish-language cues at a school for telenovela actors), and even her interviews (a Q&A with Captain America: Civil War‘s Chadwick Boseman opened with the host’s lengthy diatribe about her disinterest in comic-book lore).

Look, I get it: Nobody loves every aspect of hers or his job — and I’m sure that applies to talk-show hosts as much as it does butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. But letting your audience feel that disdain seems like a dubious way to drum up repeat business.

Even worse, there’s an icky tendency toward kissing up when Handler brings on one of her celeb friends (Gwyneth Paltrow! Drew Barrymore!) as a guest. As Paltrow rambled on about a recipe for organic lubricant in the sex issue of her online magazine, Goop, I was sure Handler would at least give her a mild ribbing about the widely reported $15,000 24-karat gold vibrator that the Oscar winner was selling. Instead, Paltrow got a chance to earnestly discuss the backlash she’s experienced as a forerunner in the actor-to-insufferable-life-curator field, quoting the late David Bowie’s warning: “Don’t ever be the first person to try anything.” Oy!

It’s still early days, of course, so perhaps Chelsea‘s unfortunate opening week will turn out to be an aberration. But with a heavy reliance on recycled material about her love of mood-altering substances and black men, I’m not hopeful. After all, it’s not as though Handler is admirably swinging for the fences and missing, she’s striking out while attempting a bunt.

The TVLine Bottom Line: Oddly paced and unrelentingly unfunny, Chelsea is nothing to talk about.

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