I have an answer to the question in the new NBC sitcom Are You There, Chelsea?
Let's hope that it won't be there for long.
It is one thing to read and enjoy the raunchy attitude of comedian Chelsea Handler in her bestselling books and late-night E! cable talk show.
But when it comes to the same material on prime time network TV, a little raunch goes a long way.
Handler is one of the stars of the series that premieres on NBC Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET, after the less offensive and occasionally funny Whitney. But she doesn't play herself. That's a smart move. As an NBC promo for the series suggests, she's probably a little too old by TV standards to play a sex-crazed bartender with a sailor's tongue. And she's wise to dye her blonde hair dark, as if she is trying to avoid being seen.
The real Chelsea plays Sloane, the very pregnant older sister of the fictional Chelsea, who is played by Laura Prepon of That '70s Show. The most laughable moment out of Handler's mouth in the two episodes available for review occurs near the end of the second episode when Sloane (the real Chelsea) gives the fictional Chelsea a relationship lesson and tells her that life isn't all about sex.
This show is. Cover your ears, or in this case, your eyes as the fictional Chelsea narrates the episodes. In the first minute of the pilot tonight, there's a chlamydia joke, soon to be followed by jokes about sexual positions, a wacky new roommate's virginity. and giving a bartender a "handy" (in front of Chelsea's father, no less). I'm no prude, but this show tries much too hard to get laughs out of sophomoric material, with one-liners that probably read funnier written on paper than they do when performed. The sexual-position joke is the bottom of the barrel -- and repeated often.
It isn't like NBC doesn't have a censor. The word "vodka" isn't in the show title, as it is in Handler's bestseller Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. However, it kept vodka in the script, and also allows several politically-incorrect drinking jokes. After all, isn't drunk driving funny?
Besides the virgin and the father (played by Lenny Clarke), the characters include a dull bartender, a best friend, a male little person, and a cat with a name I won't repeat (but isn't the obvious slang word you might think). None of the actors (or the cat) makes much of an impression.
My impression is that potential viewers would be wise to ignore Are You There, Chelsea? and read a book. Even one of Handler's books.
Rating: 1 and a half stars out of 4