So, I guess "Mike & Molly" is starting

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.


Notblueatall said...

I was curious about Mike & Molly for similar reasons. I love Roseanne & BBT is my current fave show...but then this weekend I heard a snippet for the show on the radio, "You're just a big-boned girl" "Mom! Bones don't jiggle!" and I seethed at this. UGH! I didn't have high hopes, but now I'm hesitant to watch. I will, if only for fuel for a review post. Thanks for reminding me that Sara Rue was on BBT, had forgotten and those were some good episodes.

momjabbar said...

Great post!

I did a paper a semester back on Conchata Ferrell's character in Two and a Half Men -- just a few months before I discovered fat studies, actually. I found that the jokes (usually) skirt around directly commenting on her body, but her fatness is part of her characterization, definitely. She's done time in prison, she's often sarcastic (which I think is the new "jolly"), she's bawdy and aggressively sexual, always dressed in asexual clothes that hide any semblance of a shape, and often uses threats of violence to enforce her will. It all comes together to be presented as a bit of an absurdity; while the audience laughs with her on many occasions, they are also encouraged to laugh at her regularly. Her strengths don't come from a respect she's granted by virtue of being a human being, but because she's large and might be able to hurt anyone who gets in her way. She's also the only working class character we see -- and she's fat. Her body visually separates her from her thin, more TV-standard beautiful, and more financially privileged co-stars.

Er, sorry for going on and on. It was a really interesting paper to write.

Amy said...

I too love love love Roseanne and watch the old episodes on cable every chance I get. Hadn't realized Chuck Lorre was involved in that until recently, because 2.5 Men is a deeply sexist and therefore IMHO disgusting show. I hate how it portrays all women as gold-digging, emotionally needy whores who want to trap men and become viciously vindictive when dumped by Charlie, a good ol boy just out to have a good time. Except Berta, who, as a fat "unattractive" woman is not a target for Charlie's womanizing, but free to criticize him because of his dependence on the services she provides.

(Just parenthetically, Berta's character had one of the best putdown lines I've EVER heard for fat folks. One of Charlie's girlfriends, I think, was pissed off by something Berta said, and sniffed and sneered, "Well, at least I *watch* what I eat." And Bertha snapped right back at her, "Going in or coming out?")

I would say that I see Bertha's character as *less* an object of ridicule, and more a strong person -- as in, very like lots of women I know, including women in my family -- than almost any other other fat person on TV. Everyone on 2.5 Men is a stereotype, and her character is no exception -- and yet, she's someone that women like me, fat, working class, rough around the edges -- can identify with. So I appreciate her, even as I deplore the sexism that characterizes that show.

Haven't decided whether to watch "Mike & Molly" yet. And FTR I also like BBT although that's pretty sexist most of the time too.

nycivan said...

I was very disappointed by the fat jokes that were made throughout the show. Hostile, ugly, stereotypical sloth, disgusting fatness, you take up too much space stuff.

The characters are dieting to loose weight because life will be happier when they get thin. There was not a hint of self acceptance. The main character is eating a single hot dog without a bun for lunch from a fad diet he found in a magazine in the first act.

I am a fan of Chuck Lorre and I hope he can turn it around and humanize these characters without the constant fat jokes. I really do not think this is going to happen if the pilot is any indiction of the tone of the show.

Anonymous said...

I agree nycivan. I only caught about five minutes of the show, but that was enough. As soon as I heard one of the characters talking about shoving ten or so fun size candy bars down his throat before even making it to the checkout counter (srsly, how often does this happen unless a diabetic is having a low blood sugar episode?) I said, "hmmm, what's saved on the DVR?" I'm not going to deny that I eat candy bars from time to time, but I, and most fatties I know, have the fucking dignity to wait until after we've purchased the item. The way it's portrayed, like the addict who's itching for their next fix pissed me off. I doubt I'll be watching again. Grrr.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is off topic some, but still about TV. Do you watch the Colbert Report? I'm a fan, despite fat jokes now and then. This past Thurs he had awesome kick ass director Guillermo del Toro on the show (the guy behind Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth). Del Toro didn't fit in the chair on the show & Colbert wasn't interested, apparently, in finding a chair he did fit into. This left del Toro perched on the edge of the seat making self-deprecating fat jokes and really really really pissed me off. I mean seriously. Colbert couldn't find a different f-ing chair?
ahem. I don't mean to rant--I was actually interested if you saw it/had an opinion--it's not often I see fat men on tv put in such an uncomfortable position, but it brought it home for me.

Anonymous said...

Like the other commenters, I watched the pilot and was rather disgusted. Mostly because the plot and driving force of the show could potentially be so thoughtful and different, and yet, the fat jokes (from both the fat characters and the thinner ones) ran throughout. It's too bad that they couldn't be smarter about the whole thing. Episode 2 is on my TiVo but I haven't watched yet... I haven't given up yet... The pilot is made to sell the show to the network, but episode 2 is where you start to see the direction the show is heading in, because the producers know they have 12 more episodes to play with. Hopefully the job security results in a more unique comedy, inside and out.

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