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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fat. Yeah. AND...?

Mike and Molly. I made reference to this new sitcom a few posts back and claimed to have an opinion on it. Here it is.

The early episodes left me very torn. Yes, it's a show about an obese couple who met at Overeaters Anonymous. We get it. They're fat. It's silly to pretend that the elephant isn't in the room; sometimes we're going to have to acknowledge that they're fat. It's also silly to pretend that they aren't human. Humans often exhibit a self-deprecating (or gently teasing amongst friends) humor. Fat people (gasp!) sometimes comment on their own fatness. And sometimes they laugh about it.

So I'm not going to be one of those people who is horrified that *being fat* is a topic of conversation or a target for humor. As long as it isn't mean-spirited, I don't see that "fat" is a problem. (And the few early examples of mean-spirited comments have been handled gracefully with either retaliatory humor or gentle but firm protest.) I don't think the fat jokes are the problem.

What could, and just may, kill this show is the reliance on the fat jokes. The other most outstanding aspect of fat people is, um, they are people. There is much, much more to a person than this one dimension. I worried early on that they'd quickly run out of jokes and plot tricks involving girth and there would be nothing left to fall back on.

The analogy I most commonly make is to Ellen Degeneres' show. Not her current talk show, but her sitcom. Not long after the actress--and her character--came out as a lesbian, the show was taken off the air.

I cannot speak for the networks' decision; I realize that at the time the show was pulled, they were under pressure from many protesting groups. I can speak for myself, however, and the reason I eventually stopped watching that show was because after that episode, the writing fixated on that one element of her character's story. The coming-out episode was the turning point between two shows which had the same setting and characters but a completely different tone. As much as I applaud the honesty of dealing frankly with a real issue, I feel that this was the day that show jumped the shark. Ellen's gay! OMG, did you know Ellen's gay? Hey Ellen, what's it like being gay? Hey Ellen's mom, what do you think about Ellen being gay? Gaygaygaygaygaygaygaygaygay...

OMG I get it already. Ellen's gay. AND...? Did the rest of the world stop turning? Did she stop being a businessperson/friend/consumer/etc? Apparently being gay is so much of a burden that she didn't have the energy to deal with anything else.

According to the writers, it seems. And that's the trap that Mike and Molly fell into almost instantly. Fell, hell. They started there. They're fat! OMG, he's fat! She's fat! They're fat together! Look, they're fat! Fatfatfatfatfatfatfatfat...

Again, I get it already. I don't expect a gay person to never mention her orientation or for a fat person to never acknowledge her weight, and I don't expect those aspects of a character to never work into a plot. But in real life, NO ONE I know focuses on one aspect of their makeup almost to the exclusion of everything else. Anyone who does act in such a self-involved, one-dimensional way is boring at best, annoying at worst. They tend to lose friends. Obsessive behavior may be a curiosity in the short term, but after a while it's just not that interesting.

And frankly, this problem also plagues Mike and Molly's supporting cast, whose characters are almost all offensive one-dimensional stereotypes. This can work in a show that's meant to be ironic--like Married With Children--but I don't get that vibe and think that a few of the script writers need to spend more time trying to write characters instead of characteristics.

Like Ellen, the lead actors in Mike and Molly are charming and deeply relatable and have an excellent sense of comic timing and delivery. They deserve infinitely better material than what the writers have been giving them to work with.  I truly hope that once the powers that be reassure themselves that they've hooked the viewers who tuned in out of curiosity, they will start producing scripts that play to the strengths of the actors and their chemistry. As it stands now, this show has equal potential to be either a really sweet romantic comedy, or a really tragic freak show. I like the characters, and the actors who portray them. They deserve better than this.

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