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TV review: On ‘Chelsea,’ it’s all about the host

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Three weeks in it’s clear that “Chelsea,” the thrice-weekly late night talk show on Netflix, is mostly about Chelsea.

That would be Chelsea Handler, the occasionally breast-baring, consistently self-deprecating, abrasive, strong, controversial and pointedly scattered comic who for years hosted “Chelsea Lately” on the E! network. After providing Netflix with an entertaining group of Chelsea-driven documentaries last year, she’s returned to reinvent the late-night talk show in her own image.

And this is a late-night talk show — it comes on at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays — although, since it’s on Netflix, it’s always on.

Handler has dropped some of the late-night talk show conventions. There is no band, there is no announcer, there is no sidekick, although her dog, Chunky, wanders around the set at will. Sometimes there’s a monologue, but she’s just as apt to open with a taped political discussion she’s had with Florida seniors.

Still, there is a set, and Chelsea mostly operates from either a standard host-guest couch situation or from behind a desk. On the other hand, it’s Netflix, so Chelsea can get as salty as she wants — and she wants. Also, it’s Netflix, so it’s very well-funded: in the opening weeks the show has had pre-taped bits with Chelsea in Mexico, Japan and Russia. The girl gets around.

Episodes can have a theme or not. An episode on comic book movies found Chelsea hosting a dinner party for four of the stars of “Captain America: Civil War,” which was a rowdy, enjoyable mess. Politics come up, so topicality isn’t completely off the table.

The guests are a hodgepodge including politicians (Secretary of Education John B. King, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.), chief financial correspondent DJ Khaled (funny in a taped bit, not so funny live), comics, musicians and an unfortunate string of Chelsea age-compatible Hollywood blondes (Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera) in the opening weeks.

But it doesn’t really matter who the guests are. Chelsea is fairly terrible at interviewing, since she consistently shoves her humor and personality into any conversation. The guests are, for the most part, mirrors for Chelsea’s reflections.

Which sounds worse than it is. Although this is certainly the most narcissistic talk show in memory, it depends wholly on whether you enjoy Chelsea or not. She runs certain subjects into the ground — her proud stance on not having kids, her lack of education, her attraction to black men — but her rants can be fabulous, her interruptions hilarious and her fierceness downright inspiring.

Or grating. It all depends on where you fall along the Chelsea Handler enjoyability spectrum. More than any other talk show, this is all about the host. If you like her, give it a try. If not, chill elsewhere.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.



12:01 a.m. Weds., Thurs., Fri.