Overweight People Rejoice! 'Huge' Is Honest and Funny
by Piet Levy, posted Jun 29th 2010 11:00AM
A comedy about weight camp? Oh boy, that could be a big problem (yes, painfully obvious pun intended.)
Hollywood, that skinny-means-everything fantasyland, isn't historically sensitive when it comes to portraying heavy people. Remember the hypocrisy of 'The Nutty Professor' remake, where the audience was encouraged to laugh at Professor Klump's girth and then encouraged to hate characters that laughed at him? Then there's 'The Simpsons,' a by-most-accounts genius show that's nevertheless cynical and cheap when it comes to jokes about Springfield's obese. Even 'The Biggest Loser' often reduces contestants into tragic pity parties where happiness is simply a matter of shedding pounds.
But here comes 'Huge,' ABC Family's stellar new dramedy (Mondays at 9PM ET). It happens to be funny -- but not in a dumb, mean-spirited, "look at the fat guy!" way. It happens to be honest; obesity, as the show candidly demonstrates, isn't a healthy lifestyle. And, most refreshing of all, its happens to be complex, addressing all the insecurities and struggles that come with being overweight.
And it happens to be completely identifiable. Being a bigger guy myself who once felt insecure about my appearance, particularly without a shirt on, I understand exactly the kind of embarrassment and self-doubt that these characters are going through. Why weren't characters like these on my TV when I was growing up?
The show starts with a scene you'd expect from a show about teens -- kids in bathing suits. Except all of these kids, to put it bluntly, are fat. But they're not freaks. As written by mom-daughter creators Winnie Holzman ('My So-Called Life') and Savannah Dooley, they're never freaks. Except maybe for Willamina, or Will (a winning Nikki Blonsky from 'Hairspray'), whose freaky in a fun way, hilariously performing a saucy striptease in her bathing suit to protest against camp counselor Dorothy Rand (Gina Torres), the skinny authority figure who represents everything Will despises--namely, a pressure to conform.
Will, put in weight loss camp by her parents against her wishes (and stuck with an obvious metaphor for a name), rebels in a big way, secretly peddling contraband junk food to kids like they're drugs.
She also takes her aggressions out on pretty, blond Amber (Hayley Hasselhoff, daughter of David), one of the skinniest, most coveted girls at camp. But its obvious Will's masking some deep-seated insecurities, just like all the kids on the show, and just like all kids in general. Ian (Ari Stidham), positioned to be Will's love interest this first season, is a relaxed guy who nevertheless feels shame for being so big. Quiet friend Becca (Raven Goodwin) feels practically invisible, and despite losing a lot of weight last year, she's practically gained it all back.
Even Amber has issues--diet-obsessed since she was 10, she cuts out pictures of bony models and places them around her bed as "thinspiration." She's the kind of girl whose prettiness others envy, and yet, she may never be completely happy with the way she looks or with who she is.
This is extremely tricky subject matter--you don't want to condemn or shame obese people, nor at the same time condone obesity. Even deadlier is the possibility of the show slipping into preachy, after school special territory (I'm looking at you, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager.")
So its a little miracle that 'Huge,' based on a book by Sasha Paley, doesn't feel like a lecture, that it doesn't promote impractical weight loss practices like 'Loser', that it doesn't suggest that unhealthy living is acceptable. What it does do is feel real, or as real as anything I'd ever expect to see on ABC Family, and it delivers an easy-to-understand message: be healthy, but ultimately, be happy with who you are.
Believe me, that is something that was hard for me to do at times as an overweight kid. I felt particularly self-conscious and shameful at swimming parties, or when kids called me fat, or when I received thinly-veiled, condescending critiques from adults. Today, I'm still a big guy, I still enjoy a good cheeseburger, but I work out too, and try to live healthier. And ultimately, I'm happy. And I'm especially happy to see a show like 'Huge' that authentically addresses exactly what I've gone through, and what millions of others continue to go through.
What did you think about 'Huge'?