Netflix debuted the first of a four episode “docu-comedy” entitled “Chelsea Does” on Jan. 23. The show features comedian and author Chelsea Handler as she tackles tabooed, challenging subjects such as marriage, Silicon Valley, racism and drugs in the ground breaking new program. Handler rose to fame as a reality talk show host on the E! Network show “Chelsea Lately” with her unique brand of brash comedy, celebrity gossip and news. Handler also infamously posted a photo last summer on Instagram that showed her riding a horse while bare-breasted, jokingly mimicking a seemingly legitimate photo that Russian President Vladimir Putin had circulated of himself. Handler’s photo “commentary” caused minor controversy and was removed by Instagram for showing her exposed breasts. This led to Handler advocating for the “Free the Nipple” campaign.
Handler lays it all bare in this series, with all of her imperfections as fair talking points. She openly discusses her own drug and alcohol abuse as well as her inability to find someone whom she loves or can see herself marrying.
She even goes as far as to take Ambien—a sleeping pill—and drink at the same time to display the unnerving reality of self-destructive behaviors. The result is a painstakingly long scene where Handler—in a drug-induced stupor—plays Twister and draws a barely comprehensible picture of her family. While the scene was included to add humor to the episode, the result is a sight that seems very out of place and should have been left out of the episode all together due to its lack of relevance to the issue at hand.
Furthermore, Handler—who is known for not shying away from touchy subjects—puts her own personal spin on the world through one-on-one interviews and roundtable discussions with friends and public figures such as Al Sharpton, Khloe Kardashian and Willie Nelson. During these discussions, they touch on personal anecdotes that relate to the topic of each episode.
Handler’s show also includes interviews with non-traditional subjects, including young children. She asks for their opinions on topics such as marriage, as in the episode where she tries to come to grips with her love life—or lack thereof.
At times, the show’s strengths are also its shortcomings. Handler incorporates her brand of comedy into serious topics and while that may be appealing to some, it often ends up feeling like the final product doesn’t do the topics the justice they deserve.
Despite her intention to add her own spin to the series by showing herself off without “fakeness”—the very fakeness that is often prevalent in reality television—Handler’s behavior often seemed forced. This distracts from the exploration of the serious nature of the topics she’s attempting to tackle.
This is not to say the show is a failure, however. The interviews with Sharpton and Nelson are fairly compelling and Handler’s willingness to show her real self is refreshing in an age of reality television that focuses on the fabricated. Admittedly, the show does struggle due to its looseness, with many segments feeling inauthentic.
Handler has made a name for herself by always staying true to who she is and never faking it. She continues that trend in “Chelsea Does,” but this time, Handler doesn’t necessarily hit her mark.