Rachel Crowe took a look at Chelsea’s first month in her new gig, and found the show to be entertaining, vulnerable, and revealing.
“Chelsea” spent a lot of its pilot waffling about not being like other talk shows and now that the Netflix venture has settled into a talk show-y pattern, there didn’t need to be all that fuss.
Now that Netflix’s first original talk show has settled into its peculiar schedule of releasing new episodes on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, it’s established a reliable tone, while leaving room for growth. So far, Chelsea’s show isn’t an audience-oriented sweepstakes every other week “Ellen”-style exercise in community. “Chelsea” is a show about two things: Chelsea Handler and Chelsea Handler learning. The show doesn’t need to rely on a gimmick to differentiate itself; it’s already got a singular host helming it.
It takes bravery to admit not knowing, especially on internationally broadcast television. Sometimes Chelsea might be playing dumb, but she’s asking questions for the benefit of the audience and as she puts it, “I think people are afraid to ask too many questions because they’re afraid of appearing stupid.” In turn, Chelsea appears stupid and smart, callous and caring.
Chelsea’s segments often revolve around her personally. Instead of quizzing guests, she’s quizzed. Some might perceive this as narcissism, but it’s a lot more personal than “Carpool Karaoke”. Megan Fox reads her exhaustive chart decoding Chelsea Handler’s astrology and the insights that provides into her character. While it’s arguably entirely bullshit, it’s a revealing conversation to have in front of audiences and cameras, especially as Handler acknowledges where Fox’s chart checks out. In a later episode, Handler’s guests encapsulate a ridiculous juxtaposition; there’s the Secretary of Education and then Pitbull comes on to explain his self-appointed nickname “Mr. Worldwide”, but proceeds to share his passion for helping kids understand there isn’t one right way to learn.
The show is personalized well beyond the usual style of most talk shows in their first season. Undoubtedly, this precociousness is inherited from Handler’s expansive time as a host on her E! show and its many spin-offs, “Chelsea Lately”. There are background aesthetic touches in this current incarnation of Handler’s hosting, like her dog ambling in the background, but more so there are everyday people that are utterly special to Handler. One episode featuring Ellen Page also stars Florence Henderson, credited as “Chelsea’s Fake Mother” first and foremost and secondly, a star on “The Brady Bunch”. However, the best touch is that Handler’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Schectman, drops in and reflects on Chelsea as a child as well as talking about assault rifles exactly like your sweet aunt would.
The show doesn’t live up to its unorthodox premise, but it does live up to Chelsea’s initial promise that she wants to “never stop learning”.
“Chelsea” isn’t quite a talk show unanchored by the elements of a talk show like it purports to be, but it’s more fun to see a host expose themselves than commit to being different for the sake of being different. Just like leaving room for herself not to know, “Chelsea” lets itself sink into serious emotions and expand interviews to very serious, vulnerable places. There’s a moment after Chelsea and her guests commiserate on hate crimes against LGBTQ+ communities and the recent attack on the Orlando club Pulse when she welcomes Von Miller on to the show to discuss his time on “Dancing with the Stars”. It’s so inane and silly, until Chelsea ascertains from the athlete that he really, genuinely loved being on the show and collaborating with his dance partners. The only link between an interview with Ellen Page following the hate crime in Orlando and a Denver Broncos player’s college major in poultry sciences and owning 64 chickens is the earnestness. What’s binding the show together is that vulnerability; a love for learning and others and one’s self.