CHELSEA DOES… Season Review


Chelsea Handler is an inherently polarizing figure. It’s part of her appeal. Her comedy career is built on her willingness to say anything and receive equal amounts of hatred and adoration. This quality and her status as one of the few women of late night makes her an interesting hire for Netflix and their continued goal to become the television network for the entire world. CHELSEA DOES… is not her new late night talk show, but rather an interesting stopgap on the road to whatever that show’s format may be. CHELSEA DOES… is a four part documentary series focusing on topics that Handler has often covered on her show and in her stand-up with a new perspective, actual people representing the topics she often lampoons. This lends a significant amount of restraint from Handler, brings a surprising amount of poignancy to the interviews, and perhaps most surprising of all, reveals how Handler reacts to the way people react to her.

Focusing on Marriage, the Silicon Valley, Racism, and Drugs, the format and Handler really shine with the more controversial topics, namely Marriage (which is personally difficult for Handler) and Racism (which is a complaint many critics have leveled at Handler). Featuring a frame story of Handler having a meal with friends relevant to the to the topic she is investigating (married couples for marriage, comedians like Margaret Cho for Racism), the episodes take a narrative throughline and carry it to its ultimate conclusion, with Handler having learned something about herself and how she relates to the topic she is investigating.

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It’s when I saw this face that I knew there was something more to this

The most interesting aspect of the first episode on marriage is Handler experiencing her friends and family’s perspective on her personality and her romantic opportunities. In general, they are not kind and seeing Handler show vulnerability and even a bit of sadness in response to criticism is not only enlightening, but also incredibly endearing. The investigative aspects of this show are not incredibly eye-opening, but the diversity of relationships the show highlights is quite the opposite. Through humor and several bad OkCupid dates, Handler arrives at a small revelation. She is interested in finding someone and, in particular, getting married.

This speaks to what seems to be the purpose of the series and a reason why many might not find it entirely watchable. While the series purports to be about the topics, ultimately it is about Chelsea Handler and how she acts outside of the context of her television show. A sort of career and personal rehabilitation, CHELSEA DOES… is about coloring in the sides of a public persona that has been primarily two-dimensional. Successful, but two-dimensional. This is reflective of the current hunger for more personal and authentic comedy, but also the need in 2016 for the audience to be intimately familiar with who their favorite star actually is. For this reason, if you don’t like Chelsea Handler or care about her perspective, there is really no reason to watch.

But if you do have any inkling of an interest, episodes, and in particular Chelsea Does Racism, provide tremendous insight into Handler and the topics she covers.

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The meeting with Al Sharpton was refreshingly equitable

An outlier in content more than form, “Chelsea Does Racism” holds onto the frame story of a meal with friends but drops the narrative throughline that the other episodes have in favor of putting Chelsea in a variety of situations in which her racial prejudices are confronted, or else she is allowed to confront the prejudice of others. The results are varied, but standouts are her conversations with the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, as well as her one-on-one interview with the Prime Minister of Israel. Both provide insight into criticism surrounding politically correct culture and Handler’s Jewish background. The Racism episode is a success because it doesn’t solely focus on Handler’s perspective but rather places her in a spectrum of both acceptance and hatred that is an unfortunate reality of the United States of America. It is the nuance of tone that makes Chelsea Handler’s new show all the more interesting.

CHELSEA DOES… is an interesting experiment that doesn’t really speak to a large audience, but the surprising amount of tact makes it a good promise of something more; something that is unequivocally Chelsea Handler, but something with more heart and perhaps a bit more perspective.

Verdict: Recommend

CHELSEA DOES… is available in its entirety on Netflix

Ian Campbell is a guest contributor here at Crossfader. He wants you to like him just as much as he wants you to like the things he likes. He recommends you give Damon Lindelof a break.

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