Can Chelsea Handler's Vodka-swigged and swaggered life be the tonic for NBC's less-than-intoxicating ratings?
The network seems to think so and has a toast at the ready for her new series set in a bar.
Buying a round for Handler? Why not; it's easy going down: She's been a major success at nearly every project she's tried. Indeed, Chelsea in the morning — and in the afternoon, evening, late night, too; the actress/comic seems to be everywhere.
And that includes late-night cable talk shows and a publishing rampage of best-sellers, including Are You There, Vodka? It's Me Chelsea — and a comedy tour ("Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang") in which sponsor Belvedere Vodka got its bang for the buck.
Drink up: Now the comedian in her prime is bringing her talents to the network in prime time with Wednesday night's Are You There, Chelsea? Answer: Yes, and the 36-year-old can be found portraying not the title character but the neo-conservative sister to a younger Handler incarnation (Chelsea Newman, portrayed by Laura Prepon), described as "an opinionated and unapologetic young woman who lives life to the fullest as a cocktail waitress, friend, daughter, sister and sexually dynamic 'advanced drinker.' "
Raising the bar? It's been done before as a comedy backdrop and the very same network won Cheers for it. As for Handler, everybody does know her name; indeed, Glamour Magazine named her one of its 2011 Women of the Year.
Is it all that surprising that Handler be asked to share some trademark sarcastic sheen with the preening peacock? After all, her late-night efforts — such as Chelsea Lately — have recently demonstrated great demographics for E! TV and, obviously, being a guru of the Millennium Generation is no millstone to hang around a network's neck.
"Hanging out" is Handler's handle, one honed through a cavalcade of guest spots on such shows as Red Eye.
No one's crying for her career although there were times when Handler maybe couldn't handle her own status growing up less than prosperous in Livingston, N.J. As she once told W Magazine in an appropriately titled piece, Chelsea Handler, Insult Queen: "We lived in this nice Jewish neighborhood. Everyone had Mercedes and I was going to school in a Pinto."
But the backfire of those memories fuels her routines to this day. Poor little risqué girl: The author of My Horizontal Life benefits from a vertically integrated career built on many of those memories — including being raised as a Reform Jew by her Jewish dad and Mormon mom.
Mormon? Is Handler being handled by Roseanne's reps? After all, comedian Roseanne Barr made much out of her own childhood surrounded by what she called "Mormon Nazis" in Utah, where her Jewish family tried to give the young Roseanne as much a Jewish sense and sensitivity as possible.
Maybe it's no coincidence that when explaining the new NBC series roots, exec producer Tom Werner, joining Handler — also exec producer of the NBC series — for an interview, noted that "when we're developing a show, we're always looking for a very clear voice — the voice of Roseanne or the voice of Billy Cosby." Those voices spoke loudly — and successfully — to Werner, who produced those stars' landmark comedy series.
Will Handler land among them? "There's humor to be mined from anything," Handler says of the Good Book and the Book of Mormon, which both inspired her best-seller list of bash-style comedy.
If Joseph Smith Jr. had met Joseph, son of Jacob … "My kind of cross-relations is ground for good material," reasons Handler.
"If you look at your circumstance kind of askance and think, OK, there's something a little off here, then, usually you can make a career out of that."
And she has done just that. But, with all the success and glamour and glitter, has the onetime self-confessed outsider come inside? "I have had amazing highs and have had big lows," she concedes. (Well, there was that DUI she writes about in her book.)
"But I don't feel like an outsider," albeit "that voice is always kind of there. So there's always times where you think, do I really belong here?"
Here — in prime time — is where she belongs, network execs reckon of a star combining brains and beauty. But, some have looked at, and then heard, Handler, and puzzled, "What is wrong with this picture?"
Even Geoff Wills, an agent who booked Handler early once found himself feeling as if he were watching a Roman epic in which the actors' voices moved out of sync with their lips: "She's a pretty stunning-looking girl, and she talks like a sailor."
Her own family isn't immune from her salty sallies. Asked why she changed her own NBC series' character name from Shoshana to Sloane, she retorts, "I did that for legal reasons so that my family wasn't able to sue me." Really? "Well, with my family you never know. I don't trust anybody."
But can she trust co-star Prepon to play her? "I'm so sick of playing myself," relates Handler, that to have someone normal play her was a revelation.
On other casting, maybe what Handler says isn't litigious, but it certainly lit up a reporter's eyes. On her father, Seymour, being played by Lenny Clarke: "He doesn't physically look anything like my father, which is probably a favor to America."
She does her dad no favors here, either: "We couldn't have somebody actually going to the bathroom in public places without using toilets" on the series.
"So we decided to go for the more cleaned-up version of my father."
Sexy and seductively sarcastic, Handler cleans up nicely.
Now if only that infamous mouth would follow along.
But then, if it did, maybe the answer to Are You There, Chelsea? would be a ratings' resounding no.