Season 1, Episode 1
When you’re a comedy kid growing up, you study comedians. When you’re an unfunny comedy kid, you really study comedians. When I was a kid, I watched clips of Dane Cook obsessively—relax, this was when we were all on that Cook train, you liars—and then I moved on to people like Mike Birbiglia, Demetri Martin, Jim Gaffigan, Loni Love, Amy Schumer, Gabriel Iglesias, Tina Fey and Bo Burnham. But a huge influence on my comedy and my writing and my funniness—besides Lorelai Gilmore—was Chelsea Handler.
After Chelsea Lately ended, Chelsea Handler went soul-searching. She did a bunch of standups—Uganda Be Kidding Me—and books—Uganda Be Kidding Me—and then the hilarious and insightful docuseries Chelsea Does.
And more than anything else, her new Netflix “talk show”, Chelsea, feels like a natural extension of Chelsea Does, which in turns is a natural extension of Chelsea Handler in a way that Chelsea Lately never was. During Lately, you could always feel the tension, the vague bitterness that Chelsea had towards E! and the sense of a caged tiger pacing behind bars.
Chelsea made no bones about the fact that she kinda fucking hated E! and felt like an idiot doing Lately. And something she made very clear on the first episode of Chelsea, centered around education, is that she hates feeling like an idiot.
In a year of trying to “shake up” the talk show game, Chelsea manages to succeed where others have failed. And by “others” I know that you know that I’m talking about Kocktails with Khloe. Now, don’t get me wrong—I would take a bullet for Khloe Kardashian in a way that I would never for Chelsea Handler—but Kocktails felt like a total money-funded passion project, aimed at giving a new network star quality and a ratings boost.
In a similar way, Chelsea feels a little indulgent, and is the first step Netflix is taking at live-streaming rather than binge-worthy season drops. But Chelsea is smart and funny and not talking itself too seriously, whereas Kocktails always felt like it was a little too aware of the cameras. In the first episode, Chelsea does—but doesn’t—do a monologue, and sits behind a—very fancy, black—desk, turning it into a “meta, breaking the fourth wall” version of every late night talk show. And it feels almost on purpose—like Chelsea knows that she’s going to get compared to everyone else, so why not beat them to the punch?
Some of the show was a little weird—the “Netflix University” faux-commercial was boring and didn’t feel cohesive—but Chelsea had some fucking impressive guests. Her first guest was the U.S. Secretary of Education, John King. At first, when he was testing her on basic education, it felt a little like “This is about you but it’s really about me,” but after that, the interview is actually interesting. They talk about the need for education, personal mentors, and other cool stuff. After that, Chelsea brought out Pitbull, who spent twenty minutes trying to chase down Chelsea’s dog Chunk, who was loitering in the background like a beautiful teddy bear. Pitbull is starting a charter school in Miami—Slam Academy—and continued on the theme of “teacher mentors.”
I think this could really be Chelsea’s strong suit. Since it’s a three-times-a-week digital stream, rather than doing “trending topics” like Lately, Chelsea could do much better by connecting pop culture to a larger episodic theme, similar to each documentary of Chelsea Does. Like, who the fuck would’ve known that Pitbull would’ve started a charter school? And also how he got his nickname “Mr. Worldwide?” It’s cool.
Side bar: they did that thing I hate, which is having the first guest sit in on the second guest’s interview. You had the U.S. Secretary of Education watching Pitbull try to be BFFs with a dog. It always seems so awkward, like when Bill O’Reilly had to stay while Jimmy Fallon interviewed Lorde, and I was like, “Who tf is Bill O’Reilly?” and my mom was like, “Who tfudge is Lorde?”
After Pitbull went back to his kennel—someone stop me, please—Chelsea brought out Drew Barrymore. She began by talking about how she, like Chelsea, didn’t really receive an education, but how that drives her. She read the dictionary as a kid, which is the ultimate nerd-out. The conversation veers towards Drew’s divorce, which was surprisingly honest and raw and real—a testament to the intimacy of the stream—and then how she wants to be a cheerleader for women by discussing divorce, and raise her daughters to be awesome women. The interview felt fun and fresh, unlike when talk shows bring on guests who are forced to hawk their latest project.
In one episode, Chelsea made me do what Kocktails couldn’t accomplish in twelve—make me want to keep watching. I want to see what the next topic is, and who she brings on. I want to see what this turns into.
Keep on, keeping on Chelsea.