Chelsea Handler Shoots For Moon in New Talk Show, Still Finding Her Space Legs
In the event the point escapes you, prepare to write it 100 times on a chalkboard after class: Chelsea Handler's new Netflix talk show, Chelsea, is the comedian's own personal lecture hall and she's the curious, proudly blitzed TV-tutor.
Handler, who called it quits on her popular E! talk show just two years ago after loudly pronouncing her boredom with celebrity culture, has touted her new thrice-weekly streaming broadcast as a reclamation of intellectualism in late-night entertainment. The first episode, which premiered today (May 11), made her lesson plan clear: Instead of lip-syncing with LL Cool J, curricula included earnest talk of public education reform with Pitbull. Instead of red carpet reports with Giuliana Rancic, there was pointed discussion of the limits of feminism with Drew Barrymore.
Rest assured, though, there are still enough "dicks," "shits" and allusions to public sex to land Handler in detention for a week.
"Think of me as the cool professor who you can get high with after class, before class or during class. And also have sex with,” she said to a live audience toward the top of the pilot. “What that show is, I have no idea, but as I speak to you, ideas are coming at me, across me, and sometimes, under me. I believe that we should never stop learning, and I recognize the irony in me saying that since I accidentally missed a few days of high school and then all of college."
Chelsea, the world's first global talk show (it airs in 190 countries and is translated into 20 different languages), delivers on its promise to do away with most inborn late-night gimmicks. Guests sit in a half-circle across series of benches that resembles a public park's burrow. A Pat Benatar novelty T-shirt trumped a formal suit as the host's preferred uniform on the premiere. And, above all else, any mention of the "M-word" is verboten on the premises — which shifts between a Hollywood set and a handful of from-the-front-lines destinations.
"I know this seems like a monologue, but this is not a monologue; this is an explanation," Handler said. "And if you don’t know the difference, then you can log out or log off or f--- off or whatever. I don’t even know where we are right now."
The only problem with the show's formula is that despite Handler's relentless insistence to the contrary, she is no moron. She's incredibly intelligent, and while her ascribed class clown identity does forge solidarity between her and the audience as fellow consumers of academia (explorations of science, politics and news are planned recurring features) it's only a matter of time before she's outed as an egghead. That she's managed to spearhead the first-of-its-kind show is implicit proof that she's far ahead of the curve. And while doofy affectation can make for funny interviews, it can also become annoyingly contradictory to the show's self-professed aim. Handler didn't need to take a remedial all-subjects quiz issued by her first guest, Secretary of Education John King, but she did; she didn't need to harp on a love of the dictionary with Barrymore as if such a thing might have been completely unexpected, because it wasn't.
"I think people are too afraid of asking too many questions because they’re afraid of appearing stupid," she lamented. "But I’m okay with appearing stupid. Knowing you’re stupid is the first step to becoming smart. I don’t want to be comfortable. I want to be uncomfortable. And I want to make a lot of other people uncomfortable."
It would be unfair not to treat the Chelsea's debut like introductory Monday morning homeroom — there are more interesting things to come and more compelling characters to meet. Still, as the district's new, cool teacher, she's definitely got the attention of her pupils, who have little reason to drop the course before the semester's end.
Chelsea debuts new episodes Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on Netflix.