At long last, Chelsea Handler is coming to network television. Beginning January 11 at 8:30 ET, NBC will air “Are You There, Chelsea?,” a sitcom based on the comedienne’s best-selling book, “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.” The mid-season series will star Laura Prepon as Handler’s sitcom surrogate — also named Chelsea — while Handler herself will appear occasionally as Chelsea’s right-wing conservative sister Sloane.
In anticipation of the series premiere, Handler and Prepon phoned a few television journalists to discuss their new show — particularly why Handler decided to play a character so unlike herself, whether it was difficult for Prepon to channel Handler’s salty persona, how closely the series will parallel Handler’s book and how they plan to push network boundaries.
“I’ve been playing myself for 35 years,” Handler explained, when asked why she isn’t playing the lead character, who is based on and named after her. “I’m not really getting as much out of it as I would a challenge to play something that’s completely against type. So it’s been much more fun to put on a wig and [...] I’m very, very uptight. I’m very sarcastic, still, the character, but I’m very kind of buttoned-up. So it’s fun to just kind of dress schlumpy and have a completely different appearance and have a completely different attitude.”
It may not be hard for Handler to play against type but how difficult was it for Prepon to play a character based on the acerbic E! personality?
“People ask me if I’m nervous playing Chelsea, [especially since] she’s in the scene right next to me,” explained the “That ‘70s Show” alum. “And honestly, I’ve never been nervous or stressed out about it. She really lets me do my own take on her. And it’s been amazing.”
Watch An Interview With Chelsea And Laura:
That being said, there was one Handler characteristic that Prepon really wanted to nail down.
“I mean, Chelsea speaks with a very certain pattern,” the “Chelsea” star said. “And when we were doing a lot of voiceovers she really helped me a lot with a particular way that she speaks, which is awesome. But other than that, they really trust me to do my thing. It’s great.”
Fans of Handler’s ribald novel may be curious to know just how closely the network series will follow the book’s often R-rated anecdotes.
“With any show it’s like in the beginning you might stick to certain stories and certain things,” Prepon revealed. “But as the characters evolve [and] become more established, I think that it becomes more and more loosely based on the stories.”
Even if the series does stray from the novel’s plot points, Prepon promises that it maintains the novel’s racy tone.
“I think audiences are more mature now. I think they’re smarter now. [...] We definitely push the envelope and we’re very, kind of, risqué.”
Additionally, Prepon and Handler also discussed why Prepon was perfect for the lead role, whether Handler’s dog Chunk will be guest-starring on the series and the two subjects that the E! comedienne absolutely refuses to joke about.
Why Prepon is perfect to play Chelsea:
Handler: “As soon as we all saw Laura we thought she was perfect. She’s very down to earth, you know, she’s very direct — which are three things that I’d like to identify myself with being. [...] She’s a very cool, laidback kind of girl. The whole thing about my books and my life is that I create this drama [that’s] always around me. It gives me an excuse to look like the sanest person in the bunch, even though some of my actions are ridiculous. So she kind of encapsulated that from the minute we saw her.”
How Chelsea’s TV father will play into the series:
Handler: “[Chelsea’s father] is a pretty sizeable component in the show. [...] We cast Lenny Clarke, who is really, really hilarious in the show. He doesn’t really physically look anything like my father, which is probably a favor to America. It’s not a pure depiction. Every character isn’t a pure depiction of what you read about in the book, but the essence of everybody is kind of there.”
Whether Chelsea’s beloved dog Chunk will appear on the show:
Handler: “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll have Chunk come on. We haven’t thought about that yet. We have to film the show in Burbank, which is the Valley, and Chunk’s never been to the Valley. So I don’t want to shock his system just yet. He’s just dealing with the fact that I got another dog.”
How the show is similar to “Cheers:”
Prepon: “Our main set piece on the show is a sports bar which [...] has a little bit of a ‘Cheers’ vibe where everybody does kind of know your name. You know what I mean? You feel comfortable there, and I really think audiences are going to love coming back to see what’s happening with us, which is great.”
The things that Chelsea Handler refuses to make fun of on her NBC program and in her stand-up routines:
Handler: “Ugly babies…or people who are dying. [...] Those two things aren’t necessarily funny to me.”
Why Laura is having such a good time filming the series:
Handler: “She’s definitely getting her share of good times, though, because she has a different guest star — male guest star — every week that she has to make out with or have sex with.”