Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good TV: After Lately

It’s been a long time since I laughed hard at a scripted television show. The Office seems like it doesn’t know what to do with itself. Parks and Rec is consistently good, but its never been a gut-buster. I see glimmers of hope in a show like The Onion’s Sportsdome and I mourn the loss of Party Down, but current TV? It seems like all of my favorites are fading away. Maybe the storylines have all run their course, or maybe I’m just getting used to the dynamics of said shows and can’t get truly cracked up like a used to. Are my days of enjoying scripted comedy truly over? Have I lost my sense of humor? Is it me, not them? Well, no, of course not. Because After Lately - the new offshoot of Chelsea Lately - is f’ing hilarious.

Chelsea Handler gained a sort of cult following with her book My Horizontal Life, which was memoir by way of little black book. She also started with bit appearances on television shows before landing a two-season deal with The Chelsea Handler Show. Chelsea Lately premiered every weeknight in 2007 and its been steamrolling the late night ratings ever since. That show took the familiar panel format and spun it on its head, making it more a competition of “who can land the best zinger on Britney Spears in three minutes” (Chelsea almost always wins that contest). Chelsea’s most known for her bitter wit and willingness to completely cut to size her panel members, guest stars and the celebrities she’s covering. She’s built an empire on appearing tough, quick-witted, sexually empowered and half-drunk.

Out of Chelsea Lately’s success a new show has just premiered called After Lately. The premise is that after Lately ends there’s still a lot more interaction and hilarity that ensues between Chelsea, her assistant Chuy, and the writers/panel members. It’s described as “documentary style” but what they really mean is The Office-style. A camera crew catches the best moments and are invisible in their presence save for talking heads cutaways and the occasional wink or nod to the camera. Basically, we get to see Chelsea abuse all of her underlings, and then watch as they all try to displace that abuse on each other.

Episodes have thus far included: Chelsea planning a trip to Cabo and telling her staff that she can invite only one of them, Chelsea posting a picture on twitter of panelist and co-writer Heather McDonald’s vagina, and Reese Witherspoon’s appearance at the offices and how it makes everyone go a little crazy. The most recent episode that aired on Sunday night followed the writing team as they tried to crack a most serious case: Who was taking a dump in the ladies room and not flushing?

The players who get normal screen time on Chelsea Lately are fantastic on After Lately, but the real surprise stars of the show are the writing staff we see only on After. If a show can frame it in the right way the writers are always a good addition to the show. Sure, Chuy Bravo remains a mystifying entity, but the people you don’t normally see sitting in on Lately panels are the ones that are most consistently funny on this new show.

The show may not be for everyone. It is very in-hollywood. If you aren’t interested in the workaday life of comedians, minor celebrities and Hollywood’s A and B-list stars you may find yourself grasping to hold a connection to this show. If that sort of thing floats your boat well, then, stay aboard! Another problem is the above mentioned talking heads segments. When they work on shoes like Parks and Rec they really work well. In After Lately they seem more network-induced. It’s an established trope of the genre and must have made the show easier to pitch. We’re still looking at a very young show, so I wouldn’t be surprised if those segments faded out in lieu of full-on scripted comedy. You can also tell that there’s some ad-libbing going on here, so if that’s not your bag hey, you’ve been forewarned. Also of note, I’ve heard multiple people say they hate Chelsea Lately but love the new show (I’m a big fan of both). So don’t assume you won’t like After because you don’t like Chelsea.

In the end, I laughed. I laughed hard, deep belly laughs. It is, at times, reminiscent of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with off-the-cuff situations based in Hollywood, where everyone is kind of shitty to everyone. But really this show smacks more of The Larry Sanders Show, which, honestly, is the ultimate compliment.