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'Chelsea' isn't as thoughtful as host thinks it is
In this April 26, 2016 file photo, Chelsea Handler poses after an interview in New York. Handler is the first host of a global talk show. The thrice-weekly Chelsea, which launched in May, airs in 190 countries, a first for Netflix and the 41-year-old entertainer. - photo by Jim Bennett
I confess that Id never watched anything comedian Chelsea Handler had ever done prior to her appearance at the Social Good Summit in New York City that I attended earlier this month. The summit was held to champion the 17 sustainable development goals drafted by the United Nations, and Handler showed up to discuss how she was supporting those goals with her show on Netflix, appropriately titled Chelsea (TV-MA).

Saba Hamedy, the reporter from who interviewed Handler at the event, said Chelsea is the first talk show to premiere around the globe in over 190 countries in 22 different languages. In her presentation, Handler described how she wanted to move away from a traditional talk show and do something a little bit more thoughtful that had some sort of impact and footprint in a good way. Rather than simply interviewing celebrities and passing on the latest gossip, Handler said she wanted to do a show where I can bring scientists on, I can bring politicians on, and we can actually learn about things Im interested and curious about and do that on a bigger scale.

That sounded intriguing, which is why the first thing I did upon my return home from New York was to boot up Netflix and see whether this show was something worthy of that kind of global reach. I was surprised to discover that the reality of the show didnt quite match up with Handler's high-minded description at the Social Good Summit.

To begin with, for a show thats supposed to be focused more on scientists than celebrities, there are a whole lot of celebrities on hand. The first episode, Appetite for Instruction, begins with a clever piano-accompanied intro from Chris Martin, lead singer of the band Coldplay, and while the segment is a lot of fun, its also something that would be right at home with a more conventional talk show format. It then segues into a monologue that Handler denies is a monologue.

I know this seems like a monologue, she says, but this is not a monologue. This is an explanation.

OK, but its an explanation that feels an awful lot like a monologue. So far, theres nothing all that different from, say, The Daily Show and its ilk, only with a lot more swearing. It made me wonder how well the copious, often R-rated profanity translates into 22 different languages.

Things picked up when Chelsea interviewed John B. King Jr., the U.S. Secretary of Education. She talked to him about teachers that had influenced both of them in their early lives, and it was here that I caught a glimpse of what this show was trying to be. The discussion isn't about policy or politics; it focuses on how King, who lost his parents by the time he was 12 years old, relied on his time in school to survive his tragic circumstances. This isnt the usual sort of discussion one sees with cabinet secretaries, and it provided a welcome perspective that humanized the people who run the government.

But then she decides that the rapper Pitbull ought to join the conversation, and the whole thing sort of goes off the rails and falls back into traditional talk show territory. Then both men leave and Drew Barrymore comes on for the final segment where they both drink a lot of wine, and Im left scratching my head as to how this is supposed to be some kind of innovative step forward in the talk show genre.

I havent watched anything beyond the first episode, so maybe it gets better as it goes along. All I know is that I would have appreciated a show that was a little bit more thoughtful than the one I saw.
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