"Do my knees look fat?"
These are the first words of the new television series Drop Dead Diva, which premieres Sunday, July 12th at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on Lifetime. DDD is an emotional comedy that asks the audience to suspend disbelief in following the progression of Deb as she comes to terms with the literal and metaphorical death of her old self—a shallow, self-absorbed, not-very-bright model—after having come back to life in the "plus-sized" body of Jane, an intelligent lawyer who reads self-help books (which Deb deems "loser lit") in order to combat her insecurities about her weight and social invisibility.
While the most recognizable member of the cast is Margaret Cho (who plays Jane's assistant Terri), the show's focus is entirely on Jane (played by Broadway actress Brooke Elliot). The two actresses play well off one another, and their chemistry comes across on screen. Terri gets Jane's back after her co-worker Kim (Kate Levering), the show's antagonist, seeks to sabotage Jane's most important case. Kim—a self-serving and fashionable beauty—is, in many ways, a reflection of Deb, but she differs in that her character is conniving and intentionally mean to Jane, rather than Deb's clueless brand of offensiveness.
The show itself somewhat mimics Deb's obliviousness when it comes to the issues of fatness it seeks to address. While its intentions are coming from a place of standing up for bigger women's right to be seen as fabulous and treated with respect, Drop Dead Diva plays on stereotypes of blondes as bubble heads and donuts as an obsessive distraction for fat women. When Jane is stressed out, Teri pulls out a can of Easy Cheese, squirts it directly into Jane's mouth, and Jane's response to the processed goo is orgasmic. On the flip side, when Deb-in-Jane's-Body begins to have complicated thoughts about math and geography, she grabs her head and says, "Ouch!" It literally pains her to think.
On one hand, one could say that utilizing these stereotypes makes them more apparent and allows for them to be deconstructed. On the other hand, it also serves to reinforce them as true. Since I've only seen the pilot episode, I can't make any definitive judgment either way, but it's certainly something worth keeping an eye on as the season continues.
I haven't even begun to spin out all of the plots interwoven into Drop Dead Diva's weekly hour of dramady. Despite its heavy-handedness in pushing a feel good vibe, the show provides visibility to those of us who are socially invisible because we don't conform to a largely unattainable standard of beauty, and DDD's ultimate message is worthwhile: that all people are beautiful and valuable no matter how they outwardly appear. The activist sentiment is made clear in one of the last lines of the show:
"If you don't fight for yourself, the person you are is lost."
Drop Dead Diva is firmly standing on our side.
Margaret Cho is workshopping new material on her Fall Tour. If DDD isn't enough Cho for you, go see her live!