This going global thing has Netflix, and Chelsea Handler as its new host-face, acting a bit awkward. Then again, that’s a schtick, right?
Rolling out new episodes of this late night style talk show three times a week to subscribers from nearly 200 countries, Netflix is clearly experimenting with the charm of liveness. That is, liveness without the, uh, literally airing live part. As comedienne Handler herself puts it: “I’m a late night television host that doesn’t want to be tied down by time or television or even hosting.”
In its debut episode, Chelsea shares that rambling, spontaneously funny, but also spontaneously boring element that plagues the talk show genre when the dough hasn’t quite risen, but everyone’s frankly too hungry to care. A piano bar intro with a cute Brit, dimmed nightclub lighting, and the requisite shiny show host desk cue us to the fact that the new Netflix series puts on late night’s swanky trimmings and tips its hat to Leno as much as Conan, if a bit less sarcastically than it lets on.
A few props, however, already feel relatively signature: 1) Handler’s dog wandering around the studio as if on a lazy mom-brought-me-to-work-day tour, 2) her mix of world-weary delivery and feisty sincerity, and most importantly 3) her adorable Pat Benatar t-shirt.
Now that her name’s in a gigantic cursive font, Chelsea looks tickled as she coos “Hello World,” and not just because of all that rose guest star Drew Barrymore brought to drink.
The show delivers a collection of random guests and odd bits in search of a theme, which it loosely finds in the trope of “edumacate me” and the joke of Netflix University. Handler’s first guest is none other than the Secretary of Education, who tests and fails her on the names of the continents. Then rapper Pitbull makes poor grammar sound sexy, sort of, as he genuflects on the scholarly value of his slam academy.
Chelsea tells us to “forget calculus,” and after a quick send up of Netflix’s algorithms that taunts “you’re so f**ing boring, you don’t know what should be your favorite show!” Drew brings it home by reminding us she learned everything she needed to know on a movie set. Pitbull’s “hands-on” knowhow gets a little handsy, and in a final moment, Chelsea tells what seems like the show’s first joke: “I want to thank Pitbull for not humping my leg.”
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