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Are you funny, ‘Chelsea?’ Mostly, but ‘Rob’ not so much

LaurPrep(left) is title character ChelseHandler is Sloane her older sister NBC’s “Are You There Chelsea?”

Laura Prepon (left) is the title character and Chelsea Handler is Sloane, her older sister, in NBC’s “Are You There, Chelsea?”

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‘ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA?’ ★★1/2

7:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays on WMAQ-Channel 5

‘ROB’ ★★

7:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-Channel 2

Updated: February 12, 2012 8:02AM



NBC’s new comedy “Are You There, Chelsea?” was supposed to be called “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.”

Peacock Net execs insist the change came about because the title was too long.

The show’s namesake has hinted the higher-ups felt the word “vodka” was too raunchy or risque for a prime-time series on broadcast TV.

If there’s any truth to the latter, the prudish powers that be clearly haven’t watched the show. The jokes are dirtier than martinis, and martinis are like water to the main character. At times, “Are You There, Chelsea?” makes “Two and a Half Men” look like “Little House on the Prairie.”

When Chelsea takes a guy to bed because “it’s been a while since my bottom half smiled,” she describes the scene below her red-headed lover’s belt as “a clown in a leg lock.”

Her cat’s name, by the way, is A--face, and her favorite drink is vodka, followed by more vodka. (Remember, people, we’re talking broadcast TV, not anything-goes cable.)

The semi-autobiographical sitcom is loosely based on the life — or is it based on the loose life? — of comedian/late-night host Chelsea Handler (“Chelsea Lately”). It premieres at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday after “Whitney,” another eponymous comedy starring a bawdy bombshell, which moves from its former time slot on Thursdays.

In “Are You There, Chelsea?,” Handler dons a brunette wig to play her own “judgy, super Christian” older sister, Sloane.

Seems like it would make sense to have Handler play, oh, I don’t know … herself. But that role went to Laura Prepon (“That ’70s Show”), who does an admirable job as an irreverent blonde hottie perpetually in search of her next sexual conquest/drink.

The premiere gets off to a clunky start when a DUI lands Chelsea in jail, prompting her to say a prayer to the almighty vodka.

“Vodka is not the Lord,” chides Sloane, after bailing her sister out of the drunk tank.

“Are you sure?” Chelsea responds. “They’re both invisible and have a hand in unexplained pregnancies.”

With her driving privileges revoked, Chelsea finds a new apartment within walking distance of her workplace, which, conveniently enough, is a bar. She moves into these new digs with her equally dysfunctional best friend, Olivia (stand-up comic Ali Wong), and a sheltered virgin named Dee Dee (Lauren Lapkus), whose nerdy innocence helps balance out Chelsea’s hard-partying ways.

Even in this day and age, it’s refreshing to see female characters who aren’t afraid to drink, swear and chase tail with all the gusto of a guy’s guy.

The flipside is that people who act like that aren’t any more appealing just because they have pretty hair and wear lipstick.

Even so, “Chelsea” started to grow on me after two episodes. Like the main character herself, the show is crude and rough around the edges, but you can see glimmers of potential.

The same can’t be said for CBS’ midseason sitcom “Rob,” debuting Thursday.

It stars “Saturday Night Live” alum Rob Schneider as a career bachelor who marries into a tight-knit Mexican-American family after eloping in Las Vegas.

His bride, Maggie, is played by Claudia Bassols, a charismatic Spanish actress who made Gwyneth Paltrow look especially lifeless on the PBS travel/food show they co-hosted in 2008 called “Spain … on the Road Again.”

“Rob” isn’t as much a comedy as it is a mystery: Why on earth would Maggie, a gorgeous, smart man-magnet, enter into holy matrimony with an older, shorter, obsessive-compulsive schlub she just met? (And no, he’s not rich.)

We see that Maggie’s family is wondering the same thing when she brings Rob home to introduce him.

Bet you couldn’t see this culture clash coming. It’s like watching someone break open a piñata, and all that falls out are lame jokes revolving around Mexican stereotypes.

“Big family. Now I know what’s going on during all those siestas,” Rob says after walking into a room packed with his wife’s relatives, who include Cheech Marin as papa-in-law. “That was a joke,” Rob stammers, trying to recover. “Of course, this is a big family because you’re all Catholic. You don’t use protection.”

Uncle Hector tells Rob he’s visiting from Mexico for the weekend before whispering, “I’m not leaving. Ever.”

We have a couple of guacamole gags in there, too, as well as some slapstick scenes involving a candlelit shrine to a dead relative and a pitcher of sangria. Ay caramba!

The only times “Rob” flirts with funniness are when the stereotypes get turned around, like when Rob tells his mother-in-law he’s a landscape architect.

“Oh, you’re a gardener,” she says dismissively.

“Rob” also underwent an 11th-hour change to its original title, “¡Rob!” The network that saddled us with “$#*! My Dad Says” wised up and dropped the inverted exclamation points.

Now we’ll just have to wait for them to drop “Rob” from the schedule.



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