Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Glimmer of Home in a World of Flatsploitation

I painted a somewhat bleak picture about the (mis)representation of the overweight in television yesterday, so here I am today to post a follow-up.

The glimmer of hope? Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva. (The Style Network's Ruby deserves an honorable mention, and it is on its second season, so there's hope to be found in more than one place.)

To be honest, I looked forward to Drop Dead Diva with a touch of trepidation. Would it do the right thing? Would it delve into shallowness? Would it be misunderstood like Shallow Hal (which, actually, was a fat-positive movie, though most people didn't stop either laughing at the visual gags or scolding the skinny actress portraying the fat girl's "inner beauty" enough to understand that.)

If you are unfamiliar with Drop Dead Diva, let me give you a quick summary of the pilot: Insecure overweight lawyer (Jane) gets fatally shot. Gorgeous and shallow girl (Deb), whose big ambition is to become a Price is Right model, T-bones a fruit truck and dies. Slender Deb manages to escape the afterlife, but ends up in the oversized body of Jane.

I know, right? It soooo could go either way. Well, it could have. The good news is not only is this a good show, but it appears to be great. I waited until the end of the second episode to decide this. (It was the best I could do.)

How much do I love Drop Dead Diva? Enough that I'm going to provide a bulleted list. I know, right? I didn't even do that for my over-long review of my Garmin! Alright, on with the list!

  • Brooke Elliott's behaviors change tangibly from playing Jane before and after the soul switcheroo. This is good because it's hitting on the idea that peoples' responses to sizeable women is not always about the size; it's often about the attitude. (I remember an advice columnist once telling an overweight man that the reason he can't find a date is not because he's overweight, but because he acts as if he should apologize for taking up everyone else's air.) Note that this is not sending the message that all fat girls are insecure. From other cast, it's clearly sending the message that insecurity was part of Jane's problem.

  • But it's not all about attitude; Jane is sometimes treated differently because of her size/appearance. When Jane goes for research in a bar, looking fairly nice, she's treated "ok", but her hot friend gets a free drink. Her boss treats her like a welcome mat, even when she starts to assert herself. (There's even a bit about how she should think like another overweight woman, well, just because they're both overweight.)

  • Jane is brilliant. Is this playing against the stereotype that blonde girls (like Deb was) are ditzy? Not really. It's made very clear that Jane has/had a high I.Q. so, like her insecurity, this is specific to Jane. The same stands about Deb's previous average (or so) intelligence.

  • Deb, her svelte figure a thing of the past, finds herself (or Jane's body?) drawn to donuts and chocolate. Hmmm... possible stereotype, but they're covering that a bit with the notion that the body feels comforted in certain places and with certain foods. Since it's been made clear that hormone levels and other body/brain chemistry affects cravings and hunger, it's not outlandish. Beyond that, this is a tv show. Play along and appreciate the thought.

  • Stacy, Deb's friend from a previous life (now Jane's friend, of course) tries to help Deb/Jane by helping her lose weight. This, she thinks, will help Deb get her life back. Her clumsy attempts at helping Jane (for example, she changes Jane's drink order to cut calories) are not only a bit funny, but make the viewer sympathize not only with Jane, but with Stacy. We know she means well, but the problem is obvious.

  • I'm not sure that Jane will decide to lose weight. I'm pretty sure she won't. This is a good thing.

  • Deb/Jane hasn't magically figured everything out (yet). She is sad when she sees herself in the mirror. She is flummoxed by the changes this new body brings. (Comfortable bra, anyone?) She doesn't quite "get it" when people treat her differently or, ironically enough, when she finds herself treating an overweight woman with a little bit of improper judgement. She's torn and mixed up, but she's learning.
I'll admit that I was a little taken aback by one particular moment in the pilot. Deb/Jane is with her guardian angel, Fred (played by Ben Feldman who reminds me more than a little of Chachi), and she asks him to make her skinny and hot. (I'm paraphrasing.) Fred responds that he's not a miracle worker. I wanted him to say something else. Something more like, "I can't make you skinny, but hot is a lot closer than you think." Or something like that. I'm not a script writer.

But I think that's part of the journey that Deb is on. She's got to figure that out for herself. Let me tell you: Brooke Elliott, the leading lady in this show, already knows that she's hot. Her character still needs to figure that out.

Let me make that clear. Jane isn't a woman who's unattractive because she's fat. She's unattractive for all the right reasons: poor styling, poor attitude, poor self-image. Let's compare Brooke Elliott in and out of character. (It should be fairly obvious which is which, but I'll tell you anyway that Jane is the top photo.)

Photo credits: The-F-Word (who, by the way, gets it wrong by bashing the show long before it actually aired) and access hollywood.

Sure, the show may be sappy tripe at times but, for the most part, it gets it right. This makes me happy.

1 comment:

Cidtalk said...

Sounds interesting. The only thing I would disagree with is that a person can be unattractive due to their styling. That's part of the shallowness in the world :)

I have no style at all, or my own, whatever you call it. I don't want to be judged by the kind of clothes I wear or how I do my hair any more than I want to be judged or considered based on the size of my body :)