In theory, a snarky, nightly half-hour devoted to entertainment culture makes considerable sense for E!, but in “Chelsea Lately,” the network has gotten the idea right and the talent wrong. A poor woman’s Kathy Griffin with a grating voice that could curve the spine, comic Chelsea Handler has bulldozed her way through the first three episodes, unpleasantly lurching from one snide comment to the next. Playing a sort of grown-up sorority girl, Handler’s shtick gets old quickly, with the cabler’s modest expectations offering the show’s best hope for enough longevity to improve — assuming that’s possible — on this rocky start.
Since premiering July 16, “Chelsea” has highlighted the by-now obvious point that not everyone can host a talkshow — in part because Handler doesn’t really listen to her guests, eager as she is to direct unimaginative jabs at Victoria Beckham or explore “female happy endings” during massages.
Taped before a live audience, each night opens with a four-person panel of whoever can be rounded up (top names: wrestler Chyna Doll on Monday; Tuesday: Scott Baio; Wednesday: a perplexed Bai Ling) to bash celebrities. Topics have included the “most annoying celebrity couple,” “America’s Got Talent” and Dr. Phil in the first few shows.
After several minutes of that, Handler roams into the audience or tosses to a taped piece, closing with a celebrity guest. “Jackass'” barely verbal Steve-O — who insisted Handler shoot him with a BB gun — hardly made for an auspicious beginning, but “King of Queens” star Leah Remini, one of Handler’s pals, wasn’t much better.
Ultimately, there’s no avoiding comparisons to Griffin, who has become a Bravo staple, but the similarities aren’t flattering. Both are mediocre comics that define themselves strictly by badmouthing the famous — something Defamer and a few other websites do better on a daily basis, with roughly the same production values.
Based on the early going, then, given the implied question mark in the title “Chelsea Lately,” the polite response would be “Chelsea No Thanks.”