“Chelsea Does” Netflix

Chelsea Handler, profane comedienne and author extraordinaire, released her four-part documentary series on Netflix this week. The series, entitled “Chelsea Does,” sees Handler tackle four national trending issues, each in it’s own 75-minute episode. Throughout the series, Handler investigates marriage, racism, Silicon Valley (technology), and drugs.

The series puts a more serious Handler on exhibition without sacrificing her unique comedic formula. It’s a far cry from her “Chelsea Lately” days, but that may be attributed to the subject matter at hand.

“Chelsea Does Marriage” examines the institution of marriage in contemporary American society. Handler examines her own past, interviewing her father about his marriage with her late mother. An ex-boyfriend shares the screen with Handler as they look back at their relationship and why it ended when it did. A trip to Las Vegas reveals the more…. earthy side of marriage through a trip to the famous (or infamous) Little White Wedding Chapel of Britney Spears fame. “Marriage” not only deals with Handler’s own personal qualms about marriage (and maybe her inability to ever settle down), but it also asks viewers to question age old institutions and to evaluate their effectiveness or necessity in a 21st Century reality.

Handler dives into the Deep South for “Chelsea Does Racism.” For those of us unfamiliar with the bowels of the former Confederacy, this field trip is an illuminating glance at the way a part of America views racism and even slavery. Of particular interest in “Racism” is a meeting between some of the largest special interest media groups in the country – think NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, etc. Representatives from these groups gather around a table with Handler and have a frank, direct conversation concerning media portrayal of racial stereotypes. Handler does well leading the discussion – even while occasionally being attacked – and attempts to clarify comedy’s position on making fun of ourselves, even racially. In a time period when police brutality and accurate diversity in media is of national interest, Handler is able to lead this conversation comfortably and directly.

“Chelsea Does Silicon Valley” was a bit of a low point for the series. It revolved mostly around Ms. Handler’s inability to operate even basic technology (her father claims a microwave is a challenge). Of moderate interest is a look behind what goes into making an app. But for a target audience of Netflix junkies and (likely) Millennials, this topic simply seemed to miss the mark.

What “Silicon Valley” lacked in interest, “Chelsea Does Drugs” makes up for. In this episode, Handler smokes Willie Nelson’s own personal marijuana brand (on his tour bus), eats gourmet food infused with pot, and travels to Peru to sample an indigenous drug, ayahuasca. Medical professionals track Handler’s brain activity while on drugs and when she mixes sleeping pills with booze. Handler tends to glorify her lifestyle, including her moderate drug and heavy alcohol use, which may be of concern to some viewers. It may not be G-rated, but “Drugs” is entertaining and informative.

Handler’s documentaries come as part of a larger deal with Netflix that will create her own talk show on the streaming service.

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