A year and a half after her talk show Chelsea Lately ended, Chelsea Handler finally unveiled her secret project: Chelsea Does, a four-episode documentary series that premiered on Netflix on Friday. In each hourlong episode, Handler explores a single topic — seemingly of her choosing — from marriage to technology to racism to drugs.
The premise is certainly an exciting departure from the comedian’s previous work and feels inspired more by the cultural anthropology seen on shows like CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown than by her own talk show past.
Chelsea Does showcases a more vulnerable, if not entirely softer, side of the crass and sarcastic comedian. Handler’s blunt and biting style is certainly still present but somewhat sandwiched between bits during which she talks about her insecurities and personal life.
Handler does seem a bit out of her comfort zone against this new backdrop. The series, though ambitious in its aim, lacks the focus and insight of its more serious docu-series counterparts. It drags on at times without trying to elicit a laugh, making Handler’s role as host a mystery.
In the first episode, during which Handler speaks with former Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman, the interview achieves neither the thoughtfulness of CBS News’ recent talk with him nor the comedy of Amy Schumer’s Q-and-A session with Biderman from her sketch show Inside Amy Schumer.
Handler’s die-hard fans, at least, should be satisfied simply to see the comedian back on the scene after her long absence from television, though her move away from stand-up style might be a little jarring at first.
Despite its shortcomings, Chelsea Does has potential. If Handler can better determine how to apply her comedic chops, a second season could be a career-changer. In the meantime, the meager four released episodes don’t fully justify her excessively lengthy break.