In Netflix’s new docuseries, Chelsea Does, comedian and former talk-show host, Chelsea Handler does marriage in the first episode. The only problem is that Chelsea can’t find anyone to do her until death do they part. Absent groom aside, she’s not sold on the idea of a wedding and sets off to discover what the big deal is about weddings and being married.
Leaving no stone unturned, Chelsea interviews multiple types of couples and industry professionals. From one celebrity wedding designer, who thinks Chelsea’s dream wedding includes a marijuana bouquet with a black dildo for a holder to Las Vegas’s famous Little White Chapel, whose rules for marriage includes: “Neglect the whole world rather than each other,” (which explains why we have a global warming problem). It seems Chelsea’s hang up with weddings is the wedding industrial complex where people push their own visions of what elements are needed to feel like a bride and host a wedding just for profit. “People pretending to be excited for you just to get you to buy things, makes me sick. I hate industries related to anything to that, it’s very insincere.” Hear, Hear, Chelsea.
Her investigations seem to rub her the wrong way when other people’s input and perspective on love and forever just don’t logically add up. Especially when a baby boomer couple explains that a happy marriage is a wife serving and beautifully presenting herself to her husband to keep the romance alive or Ashley Madison’s former CEO, Noel Biderman who, in front of his wife, on whether or not he’s cheated on her, romantically declared, “Not yet…”Chelsea’s tolerance of people’s romantic intelligence starts to severely wane with Biderman and when she finds an interracial, polyamorous, BDSM threesome where the man refers to his women as slaves. She finally starts to take a stand towards the blatant insensitivities, misogyny and lack of respect whirling within people’s understanding of what makes a good relationship. I would have loved her to take it further so viewers could see the sharp-tongued Chelsea of Chelsea Lately, but she clearly holds herself back in the docuseries. It’s only to a toddler, who’s engaged to her Canadian cousin that Chelsea cuts to the chase that that behavior may be allowed in Canada but not in America and maybe she should talk to her parents about her decision making.
There’s also everyone under the sun from her family and friends to matchmakers and strangers who share how she is “undateable” to telling her what type of guy she needs to marry. What seems to be missing from her interactions is everyone listening to what Chelsea wants; even the matchmakers at Stellar Hitch completely forego Chelsea’s choice in men when the set her up on multiple dates. The best perspective on having a healthy relationship comes from a random teenager, “It’s not as necessary as it used to be [marriage]…I think I want to be my own person and not rely on someone else.” Somehow all the adults in the episode miss this very important point.
What’s missing from the docuserie’s equation is the feminist bride conversation that I think Chelsea is really looking for. When it came to the idea of her father, whom she loves, giving her away Chelsea’s response is, “forget that, I give myself away.” It’s no wonder that she still feels unsettled at the end of the episode. The underlying theme of misogyny and restrictive gender roles and rampant consumerism in wedding and relationship culture is never directly addressed and seems to leave Chelsea disillusioned with all the pomp and circumstance. It’s apparent that Chelsea’s inner feminist bride wants to surface but she’s never given the tools to do so within everyone’s restricted ideas of what love and marriage is. Chelsea’s a sharp, independent women, who doesn’t seem to ever want to fit into a cookie-cutter mold, yet no one in the series frames love and marriage in an open-ended way enough to accommodate her needs and spirit. What’s beautiful about embracing feminism in this arena is that it makes doing so possible. In the end, Chelsea finally admits that she’s ready to be in a relationship, I just hope she eventually figures out that it is possible to have a wedding and be married without making sacrifices or playing into someone else’s biased, conventional vision and that she can use feminism to do so.