The comedian and host Chelsea Handler has made a career of phony provocation; her typical "joke" is just saying that she thinks a celebrity is dumb or promiscuous. But the finale of her late-night talk show "Chelsea Lately" last night -- she's moving on from the E! network to streaming service Netflix -- Handler revealed that for all she mocks and disdains celebrities, she's more obsessed with them than anyone else on television. She brought her seven-year tenure to an end with a bonanza of celebrity guest appearances.
The marquee moment of last night was a sing-along in which Handler's guests intoned that she was off to a better place, as she was tired of pretending to care about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber as a paid star on a pop-culture channel. That's fine -- except that those singing along included only marginally less easy targets, including Kelly Osbourne, Avril Lavigne and Fergie. Decrying celebrity culture as vapid and depressing doesn't really stick if the one doing the decrying surrounds herself with celebrities, or elsewhere in the broadcast talks at some length (with crude racial stereotypes, of course) about her past relationship with 50 Cent.
Handler's outlook on fame, evidenced by the sheer volume of friends she dragged in and ceded her final episode to, is actually the closest to Jimmy Fallon's -- that celebrity is a really fun and cool thing, and that she is a celebrity, too, rather than a commentator on it. A segment in which Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston and Mary McCormack roasted Handler felt clubby in the worst way.
The show was largely unremarkable, and Handler herself took a backseat to her many, many celebrity guests. Miley Cyrus, performing Roy Orbison's "It's Over," seemed not to have gotten the memo that this was a comedy show, while Sandra Bullock made some wince-worthy jokes about the size of Handler's sex organs. Perhaps the only moment that really captured my imagination was when Chuy Bravo, Handler's longtime sidekick and a little person whom she calls "my little nugget," told the camera that Handler had always "treated me with dignity and respect." A single audience member guffawed even before the punch line came -- a montage of Chuy being physically abused and tied to the roof of a car. Respect, here, only comes for the celebrities Handler deems worthy, which is almost all of them. It's hard to imagine, though, this many stars making time in their schedule for a nascent talk show on Netflix, and so Handler will have to stand or fall on her own -- something her final episode didn't indicate she's had to do in a while.