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TELEVISION REVIEW

Handler delivers charm, smarm in ‘After Lately’

Steve Marmalstein (left), Chelsea Handler, and Brad Wollack star in “After Lately.’’ Steve Marmalstein (left), Chelsea Handler, and Brad Wollack star in “After Lately.’’ (Brandon Hickman)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / March 5, 2011

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If you don’t have even a little crush on Chelsea Handler, America’s own Mary Hartless, you probably have no business here. “After Lately’’ is a new weekly mockumentary series that follows Handler and her staff before and after the filming of her nightly E! series, “Chelsea Lately.’’ The loosely constructed comedy is geared primarily for those, like me, who are smitten with Handler’s fierce, crude wit when it comes to pop culture and the underside of human nature. She is the skeptic’s skeptic.

Premiering Sunday night at 11 on E!, “After Lately’’ is a broad, ironic send-up of what goes on at a talk show, and so it has a touch of “The Larry Sanders Show’’ in its DNA. We travel through the offices of “Chelsea Lately’’ and watch Handler’s writing staff putting together episodes while vying with one another for her attention. The situations, most of which involve slapstick moves, appear to be mostly scripted, such as the premiere’s competition among the staffers to get a seat on Handler’s upcoming trip to Cabo. Salad is thrown, and a pie meets cute with a face.

The characters range from the office’s fickle jester (the ever-victimized Jeff Wild) to the resident bully (Chris Franjola), and they all love to push one another’s buttons behind Handler’s back. Writer Brad Wollack is the whiney guy, on hand to provide an easy object for Handler’s contempt, and Heather McDonald is the vulnerable narcissist. Handler’s talk-show sidekick, Chuy Bravo, is also in “After Lately,’’ although only briefly in the premiere.

Playing herself, Handler comes off as a manipulative, impatient boss and a sometimey friend. Her performance reminds me of Matt LeBlanc in “Episodes’’ and Chris Isaac on “The Chris Isaac Show,’’ both of whom also played versions of themselves. They all toy with viewers looking to catch a glimpse of the real star, hoping they’re nice underneath it all; their performances are a shrewd game of peek-a-boo. Handler appears to exaggerate her celebrity self-involvement on “After Lately,’’ which winds up serving the show’s comic takes on Hollywood and fame.

Handler is developing her brand steadily, with her best-selling books, her stand-up tour, and a forthcoming scripted series based on her book “Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea.’’ She has created an unapologetic sensibility where she can just as easily ridicule Nicole Kidman as she can ridicule herself. “After Lately’’ isn’t a significant addition to her little empire; it’s slight and filled with dislikable characters. But for Handler fans, who love to hate everyone famous, that has never been a turnoff.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

AFTER LATELY

Starring: Chelsea Handler, Heather McDonald, Brad Wollack, Chris Franjola, Sarah Colonna, Chuy Bravo, Jeff Wild, Steve Marmalstein

On: E!

Time: Sunday night, 11-11:30