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Are You There, Chelsea?, “Pilot” (1.01)

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A review of the new comedy, written by Dottie Zicklin & Julie Ann Larson and directed by Gail Mancuso, after the jump…

I liked Are You There, Chelsea? a lot more than I anticipated. Much like Free Agents, this seems to be a case where the pilot shows a lot of promise, hidden under some more-obvious troublesome elements. This pilot has some big things to fix, but I could see the show developing into a favourite by end of season if it takes the right paths. It could also explode into flames.

My issues with Chelsea, beyond the ridiculous (potentially show-sinking?) title, is the emphasis on jokes-over-character. Zicklin & Larson go for a Chuck Lorre style with the show, pumping every scene so full of sex-jargon jokes (lady wood! handie!) that it tramples over the cast chemistry that develops here. That’s not uncommon in pilots, which often have to prove themselves before said chemistry sets in, so hopefully they will recede (or feel more natural) as things develop. A lot of critics took issue with this style, because it does feel wrong for the show; but far from wishing a quick death on it, I’m expecting it to grow in quality.

And why is that?

Laura Prepon is one reason. Despite the fact that Chelsea’s humour is basically “listen to a filthy, sex-obsessed waitress talk about sex!”, Prepon is funny, engaging and oddly likeable in a role that should be annoying. I’d bet the show on her chops, and the number of lame jokes or scenes that she manages to make work is downright impressive here. As the show finds its balance, that should only grow.

Not only that, but once you dig away the multitude of overly-conscious jokes, there’s a good level of cast chemistry here that is the centre of almost every good sitcom. Prepon is immediately worth watching in her banter with Jake McDorman‘s bartender Rick, while Lauren Lapkus and Chelsea Handler also work surprisingly well in stock roles as the ‘innocent, wacky roommate’ and ‘judgemental Christian sister’ roles. I believe Prepon’s friendship with Ali Wong‘s Olivia, too. There could be a pretty strong ensemble here once the writers have settled in, which is an exciting prospect.

Despite some less-than-amazing jokes and a need for a bit of a structure shift, Are You There, Chelsea? shows some promise. If it can use that, there’s plenty of great episodes ahead.

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