Producer Lindsey Bannister enjoyed some success with “My Life as Liz,” an MTV docu-serial so heavily staged there was virtually no “reality” about it. She’s back with a similar format — but a much more appealing, relatable leading lady — in “Chelsea Settles,” a series whose protagonist proves so sweet and vulnerable as to create a rooting interest even among the jaded. Premiering with a one-hour launch before continuing as half-hour episodes, watching “Chelsea” might provoke many different emotions and a dose of skepticism, but thanks to its star, it’s not settling.
A 23-year-old Pittsburgh native, Chelsea Settles has dreams of moving to Los Angeles and pursuing a job in the fashion industry. The distance, however, is less an issue than her diabetic mom and anxiety about weighing 320 pounds, which prompts her to avoid various social situations.
Chelsea’s insecurities are magnified, inevitably, by her aspirations to gain access to what’s even more than most industries a size-0 world. Asked about her passions, she shyly references her form. “It’s pretty obvious what my No. 1 passion is,” she says, later admitting, “I hate my body.”
Although the move eventually happens, accompanying Chelsea as she navigates L.A. in subsequent episodes is hardly another “The Hills” knockoff. Hers is rather a life filled with minor indignities and major tears, from a doctor who calls her “morbidly obese” to a workout with a personal trainer that takes on a “Where do I begin?” quality.
Unlike “Ruby,” which focused on a woman whose weight is an all-consuming health concern, “Chelsea” feels much better rounded (pardon the expression) — focusing on a young woman whose problems are exacerbated by her weight, but where obesity and body-image issues aren’t the only defining elements.
Whether Chelsea triumphs or not — and typical of the genre, no moment, happy or sad, can occur without musical cues telling viewers precisely how they should feel — she’s such a winning personality even a cynic can suspend disbelief long enough to be drawn into Chelsea’s orbit.
“I’ve spent too much of my time being a quitter,” she tearfully protests at one point, trying to force herself to face her fears.
Given all the dubious characters MTV has afforded platforms in recent years, whatever the outcome, those who tune in won’t want to quit on Chelsea.