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Archive for Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Self-absorbed sitcom lacks laughs, wit and a point

January 11, 2012

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“Are You There, Chelsea?” (7:30 p.m., NBC) arrives tonight. And like a dead body washed up on the shore, it’s an unsightly, bloated, hideous desecration of a sitcom that passers-by may glance at out of curiosity — or pity — before averting their eyes.

Of all the ways to adapt the memoirs of a self-proclaimed promiscuous, alcoholic narcissist for the screen, a traditional three-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom is the very last I’d choose.

Based on a best-selling book by aggressively vulgar talk show host Chelsea Handler, “Chelsea” stars Laura Prepon in the title role, one that threatens to erase our memories of her charming turn in “That ’70s Show.” She plays a sexually omnivorous waitress at a sports bar who oozes a confidence that she can land any man she chooses. Preferably after drinking him under the table.

A contrived pilot has her arrested for DUI and landing a cheap apartment with a goofy, virginal roommate, Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus), whom Chelsea and her sour, skanky sidekick, Olivia (Ali Wong), adopt as a strange and amusing pet.

“Chelsea” is not the first comedy to showcase a promiscuous woman prone to saying outrageous, if not filthy, things. Patsy and Edina on “Absolutely Fabulous” and Karen on “Will & Grace” come to mind. But those series had two ingredients sadly lacking on “Chelsea”: Smart, witty dialogue and fearless physical comedy.

While we can imagine Prepon’s Chelsea will eventually “learn” from her mistakes, there’s little about her that’s sympathetic or funny. If a male character behaved like Chelsea, he would be considered either a bully or the kind of brash lothario (usually named Chad) whom the real comic (or romantic) hero must overcome. Neither figure inspires sympathy or humor. Some may find Chelsea’s character to be “liberated” or “empowered,” but that argument has nothing to do with comedy.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Howie Mandel hosts two episodes of “Mobbed” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Domestic adjustments abound on the ninth and final season premiere of “One Tree Hill” (7 p.m., CW).

• “True Life” (7 p.m., MTV) profiles a teen with hard-to-please parents.

• Would-be parents want to adopt a higher primate on “Harry’s Law” (8 p.m., NBC).

• A school project gets obsessive treatment on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).

• Folks anoint their favorites on “People’s Choice Awards 2012” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Add “I Cloned My Pet” (8 p.m., TLC) to the network’s slate of freaky reality fare.

• A theater’s stage becomes a crime scene on “Law & Order: SVU” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Another notch in Emily’s belt on “Revenge” (9 p.m., ABC).

• The costume/special effects competition series “Face Off” (9 p.m., Syfy) enters its second season.

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