Chelsea Handler has “reinvented” the talk show format: her new Netflix show streams at midnight on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and, if you crave dependability, her small tweaks to the format will be quite jarring. Some of her formats—eating dinner at her home with the cast of Captain America, for instance—you saw during her documentary Chelsea Does. But what stands out above everything else, as it did there, is how damn happy she is to do whatever the fuck she wants, audience desires be damned.
“Hello world. Here I am, did you miss me? I missed you!” Handler said at the top of her first episode, in her non-monologue monologue. “I’m finally getting to do the exact show I’ve always wanted to do. So thank you Netflix. What that show is, I have no idea.”
“I’m a late night television host who doesn’t want to be tied down by time or length or hosting,” she added. “Think of me as the cool professor you can get high with after class before class or during class. And also have sex with.”
This lack of time, length and traditional hosting means that Handler’s dog runs around her set, while she’s talking to Pitbull at the same time as John King, Jr., the U.S. Secretary for Education. Handler’s thirst for knowledge continues to be the driving force of the show—or is it her thirst to do things her way, after years of fealty to a reportedly shitty network?
Handler’s lack of monologue doesn’t mean there isn’t one; if the late night monologue is essentially a lame version of the stand-up format, she’s made hers go back to its roots, chatting with her audience at times in conversations that do not seem planned. Episode 1 featured an introductory song by Chris Martin and pre-taped segments devoted to bad bits about Netflix; Episode 2 had Gwyneth Paltrow discussing the Sex Issue of Goop, before being joined by Tony Hale, where they dug into a topic they’re apparently passionate about—human trafficking. Ted Talks were later explored, and then mocked. By Episode 3, Handler had moved into a deep dive into the Marvel Universe, having it explained to her by a woman who loves the stuff, with a ticker across the bottom of the screen explaining that yes, almost half the readers of comics are women. In her interview with future Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, they tackled race and gender in Hollywood.
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Handler seems to think a late night show can do funny and smart at the same time, but she also acts as though she’s the first to do it, as if The Daily Show or, more recently, Full Frontal, haven’t killed it at that balance. Perhaps she would put those in more of a political bucket, whereas her show is all over the map, following whatever her interests are.
She is certainly doing one thing different than those shows: their relevancy has largely depended on clips from their episodes having a second life on the internet. Handler’s show (already on the internet) doesn’t easily lend itself to that, or allow websites to create “viral” moments with its content; the celebrities she has on are promoting shows or movies, but other than that, there were few (if any) references to stories of the week. In order to consume her, you need to do it in full, remembering to check Netflix at midnight, or the next morning, not just leave the TV on out of habit. (Chelsea’s taping schedule is a little odd; despite its “talk show” format, they seem to tape it a few days before the shows go up, though obviously other segments are done even earlier than that). Or you need to check it a few days later, and watch a few at a time. The rules have changed for how you consume her, and as such, her show sits in a strange spot between being relevant but not being incredibly timely to any particular story.
A large part of that is that she and Netflix are thinking bigger than the American television audience: the show will be available in 190 countries, which requires quite a hustle on their part. From Wired:
When the first episode of Chelsea wrapped in the late afternoon on Monday, Netflix’s team of 200 translators was already hard at work. Voice recognition software generated a quick-and-dirty English transcript of the half-hour show that an editor then cleaned up, noting idioms and current events that translators should know. Teams of three to six translators then translated that transcript to their target languages. A technical team then polished those and input them into Netflix’s system, so the subtitles are timed with Handler’s speech. The whole process should take about 12 hours, Wright says. Then they’ll do it all over again the next day.
The question very much still lingers, and likely will for awhile, whether American and other audiences will agree that whatever Handler wants is what they want (and given that Netflix doesn’t release data as to who is watching their shows, we may never actually find out). “Knowing you’re stupid is the first step to becoming smart,” Handler said during her first episode. Well, there are hardly worse mantras.
Image via Netflix.