If, like myself, you’re enthralled by Chelsea Handler’s obscene humor and candid self-reflection, then her return to late-night, thanks to Netflix, is nothing but good news. Her new series will air three times a week, shaking up both the traditional late-night television schedule and the streaming service’s usual model. However, the frequency and platform of “Chelsea” aren’t its only boundary-pushing aspects.
The show reflects her unique persona and disregard for the norm in the causal flow of its content and its host’s even more lax attitude. Her attitude doesn’t signal a disregard for what she does, but rather a disregard for the norms defining it. A show that can accommodate her personality makes for not only interesting content but energized, hilarious discussion. Clearly, Chelsea feels at home on her new show – more so than on her previous E! series, “Chelsea Lately.” Even her dog Chunk freely ambles around the stage, making it feel like we’re watching her at her home.
As Chelsea puts it, she’s “a late night television host that doesn’t want to be tied down by time or television, or even hosting” — a typical Chelsea statement that expresses everything that makes her so great. She’s enjoyable to watch because you never know what to expect next. This sense permeates her discussions with guests from a wide range of backgrounds, including the Secretary of Education and Pitbull –– two people you’d never expect to see sitting down together for a conversation about education.
Though Chelsea explores a greater breadth of subject matter than she did on E!, she does so with the same effortless panache. Her flair transfers easily from her live talk show to Netflix, possibly because it retains many of her previous series’s aspects. While the platform has changed, Chelsea remains the same. And even though her new show feels more intimate, it combines the qualities of both her previous talk show with what comprises late-night television as we know it. Essentially, this isn’t enough to invigorate the nearly 40-minute show, which crawls at a threateningly dull pace between pre-recorded segments and guest appearances that are haphazardly strung together.
The structure of the series and its bizarre airing pattern seem like an attempt to deviate from what’s already out there, but ultimately prove to be more of the same. And while Chelsea continuously talks about how different her show is, there’s more being said about what differentiates it than shown –– producing the opposite of its intended effect.
Despite the pre-recorded segments awkwardly breaking up chats with the show’s guests, the segments provide us with more of what we loved about her previous show and documentary series “Chelsea Does” (also on Netflix). While she boasts the image of comfort speaking on her show, it’s in the moments where she breaks free of her comfort zone where her humor truly shines. In one episode following the premiere, she butchers the Spanish language honing the craft of telenovela acting. In the segment’s hilarity, you almost forget the awkward, abrupt segue into it from Chelsea’s conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow (even though any moment of relief from Gwyneth talking about her cookbook is welcome).
From live action to staged dialogue, Chelsea remains shamelessly, unapologetically herself –– a quality that her show must make a few more strides towards to recapture the energy that makes Chelsea (and her shows) so confident and likable in the first place. Maybe her new show differs from her old one, but it still emulates features of shows like “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight” while seizing her humor and forcing it to be something it’s not –– scripted and inauthentic. Unlike Stewart or Oliver, Chelsea is unable to deliver written lines with the same energy. It’s her impromptu frankness that makes her so appealing, and that somehow evades the grasp of her new show.
While I’m excited to see her back behind the camera on her own talk show again, it may take some time before the show is able to reconcile what it really means to change the face of late-night television with a host like Chelsea.