By Stephan Lee
Updated March 07, 2011 at 04:20 PM EST

Image Credit: Brandon Hickman/E!Part of late night show Chelsea Lately’s appeal is the seeming lack of effort involved by the people producing it: Chelsea Handler has a hard time reading the prompter and knows it, Chuy the Nugget recites poorly written jokes but makes them funny by mangling them, and the roundtable comedians acknowledge that they’re part of something delightfully slapdash. To me, the show is best when I put as little effort in watching it–it works well as background noise while I’m cleaning, reading a magazine, or playing Angry Birds. After Lately, the new behind-the-scenes pseudo-reality series that follows what happens before and after filming Chelsea Lately, doesn’t seem like it takes too much time out of the staff’s workday, but I was almost hoping for even less effort.

After Lately has the same single-camera documentary style of The Office, but for the first time ever, I sort of wished there was a laugh track. In the premiere, members of Handler’s staff scheme and backstab to win the boss’ affection and a coveted seat on her private plane to Cabo. It’s basically a longer version of one of the stupid behind-the-scenes skits we see on the late night show, and I miss the response of the live studio audience — it would remind me that there are other people who are silly enough to laugh at it. It’s nice to see a different side of roundtable favorites like Heather “Long Boobs” McDonald, Brad “Little Orphan Annie” Wollack, and Chris Franjola, who is revealed to be a bully behind the scenes. Much of the dialogue is ad-libbed, but it’s still weird to see these people acting; the show felt too scripted, and the production values were way too high. I sort of felt like it should have been filmed on a cheap hand-held, with fluorescent lights washing everyone out. I have a feeling hidden camera footage of what actually happens at the Chelsea Lately offices would be much funnier than anything on the new show.

I doubt After Lately will win any new fans, but it’s an acceptable gift to preexisting Handler followers. Some highlights: Jeffrey “Jiffy” Wild joining the ranks of Toby Flenderson and Jerry Gergich as the resident ne’er-do-well punching bag; McDonald’s Jenna Maroney-flavored performance; and Brad Wollack’s on-screen chemistry with a 5-year-old redhead. After Lately borrows from The Office, 30 Rock, and The Larry Sanders Show; it’s definitely nowhere as good as any of those shows, but I guess that’s kind of the point.

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