Among the two fat-themed shows debuting this year, I was always a bit more curious about "Mike & Molly". I'm something of a sitcom afficianado to begin with and I recently got into "The Big Bang Theory" which shares a producer with "Mike & Molly". Chuck Lorre is something of a sitcom dynamo, too, and his involvement suggested reason to think the show might be a hit and all the positives and negatives that would incur.
Lorre, also, has a track record of nuanced portrayals of fat people on shows. He actually got his start as a writer and co-producer on Roseanne relatively early in the show's run, so his background with fat characters in love is about as good as it gets in Hollywood, albeit largely by default. He went on to create a number of interesting if somewhat disposable sitcoms until creating the juggernaut that is "Two and a Half Men". I don't watch the show or get its appeal, but I have noticed Conchata Ferrell in the cast. She's long been one of Hollywood's go-to fat women for character work and she always does an exceptional job, even earning an Emmy nomination for a one year stint on LA Law. From what I can gather, her character on "Two and a Half Men" is not particularly defined by her size, which is refreshing if true.
"The Big Bang Theory" has also dipped its toes on the topic with relatively good results. I can think of a couple of sight gags over the show's run with a fat woman as the punch-line, but even then there was a little nuance. One scene is shot for shock value with a character waking up next to a fat woman he met at a bar the night before. It teases the notion that this is a bad situation but the character himself actually happily embraces it. Its nothing I'd give an award for, but I've seen that gag plenty of times without the switch so it was largely playing on expectations. More substantively, though, the show featured a short-sting by pre-diet spokesperson Sara Rue in a role which made utterly no distinction of her size and indeed treated her as obviously sexual and an obviously desirable partner. She dated one of the show's leads for several episodes (actually starting out being chased by two characters) and at no point did the show suggest this was anything but a happy situation for him. He wasn't settling or unhappy. While not exceptionally fat, she was still unmistakably not skinny and most shows would have at least commented on it. This time, it was trusted that the audience would accept her as a potential and entirely welcome mate for a lead character. Sure, the lead was a "nerd", but the lack of commentary is still there. Or not there to be accurate.
So, I have some reason to be hopeful of "Mike & Molly". However, like "Huge", the premise is setting off huge warning signals. The titular characters meet at an Overeater's Anonymous meeting. As with "Huge", I get that this is sort of realistic but it still concerns me. You worry that its going to be a show mocking fat people at worst and about diet buddies at best and suffice to say I'm not sure we need that. Still, these are actors we're dealing with here, not sequestered reality show contestants. They can't make them lose weight to serve the story. The Molly of the duo, Melissa McCarthy, has already dieted in the public eye AND regained the weight. At the time, she was on "Gilmore Girls", which I recall steadfastly refusing to acknowledge any of that in the text of the show. Roseanne, if I recall, also did little to draw attention to the actors when they regained weight loss in high-profile cross-marketing campaigns. Other shows haven't been as good and with it being the purpose of this show, I'd worry about its sensitivity if one or both of the actors did lose weight only to gain it back later in the show's run. There is little precedent for how to handle that.
The AV Club reviews the pilot and both reinforces my fears and hopes. They describe a show that is literally one half sweet romantic comedy that just happens to feature two fat people and one half cascade of fat jokes. The show is going to need to find its balance. Over the summer, Chuck Lorre made a remark that stressed that the show will need to move past commentary on the character's weight pretty quickly. I don't expect them to be there in the pilot, but if there could be a show with a minimum of fat hostility that treated fat characters as humans capable of love (shocking, I know), that'd be a good thing. "Mike & Molly" has a much better chance of success than its peer fat shows (toss "Drop Dead Diva" into the pile) but in a lot of ways that makes it the biggest risk. If its a hit, the marketing departments of Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Nutrisystem will be out in force trying to capitalize and that alone would be a major blow.