It turns out, yes, Chelsea is there. In fact, there's more than one of her.
Comedian, author and talk show host Chelsea Handler created the new NBC comedy series, "Are You There, Chelsea?," which stars Laura Prepon as Chelsea and Handler herself as... Chelsea's sister. So to recap: We have Chelsea the producer/creator, Chelsea the lead character and Chelsea the actress playing her own sister.
It actually all make perfect sense, since the series is based loosely on Handler’s comic bestseller "Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea," which features boozy, bed-hopping, semi-biographical tales from the comedienne’s fast-living twenties. So Prepon (“That 70s Show”) is the sitcom’s twenty-something bar waitress Chelsea, with Handler herself – her hands full with her E! talk show “Chelsea Lately,” the online series “In the Motherhood” and further book deals – donning a brunette wig to pop into several episodes as Sloane, Chelsea’s married, God-fearing sister who disapproves of her sibling’s relentlessly irresponsible lifestyle.
“I have a sister – her name isn't Sloane,” admits Handler. “We had to change her name for legal reasons so that my own family can't sue me.”
Handler says she likes watching Prepon live out her fictionalized past while she looks on with a jaundiced eye.
"First of all, it's a dream come true to have someone else portray me, because I've been living this life for a long time, and I'm over myself," she explains, "and it's a pleasure to play my sister because everything I've been accusing her of my whole life, I can now re-enact before her eyes. She's thrilled, surprisingly. But yeah. It's a lot more fun for me to play her than it would be to play myself. It's a lot more challenging, anyway."
Handler says the Prepon version of Chelsea’s a bit softer and sweeter than her real-life attitude at the same age.
"I was probably angrier than she is in the show, which – and we thought wasn't as palatable," remembers Handler. “I went through my twenties in a way that not a lot of people do: I kind of barrelled through them with kind of no rhyme or reason or no repercussions for anything. And so there's definitely an essence of that. She's not gonna be a caricature of me or of what she thinks I am. So we all wanted to give Laura license to make the character as great as she could, and she has. I like myself much better as her."
Handler’s billed as a guest star, but she’ll be on hand for plenty of episodes – even though the original plan was to let Prepon be the primary Chelsea presence.
"It's Laura's show really, ultimately, and the show's based on me, so I wanted her to have as much time without me as possible. But it ended up being a really fun character, and we all really had a good time together, so we did it as often as I possibly could, which was seven times. I would love to be in as much as I can, but I have some other jobs," Handler said.
Handler’s also accepted the network’s decision to tweak the show’s title and drop the alcohol invocation.
"We just thought 'Are You There, Chelsea?' is really a kind of play on 'Am I there? What am I thinking?’” she says. “There were all these little kind of different meanings to it. So we thought it was a funnier play, you know. Not everybody is into alcohol as much as I am, and it's not cable – it's network. We wanted to have a broader appeal and make people feel like they could be interested in watching the show, whether or not they have as big of a drinking problem as I do."
"Are You There, Chelsea?" premieres Wednesday night, Jan. 11, at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.