sugar: (the robot falls in love [HIMYM])
Kath ([personal profile] sugar) wrote2010-10-30 03:22 pm

sitcoms, how do they work?

I keep having thinky thoughts about that controversial Marie Claire article, despite the fact that the controversy is *so over* that the backlash has already come and gone. So I don't really want to talk about the article itself. Its very publication is going to go down as one of the great mind-boggling mysteries of the modern age, but the outrage is long over.

Mainly, I want to say that I've been watching Mike & Molly. So far, it's an okay sitcom. Not brilliant (it has that strange 90's feel of having been structured around the lead actor's stand-up monologues, although I have no idea if that's actually the case, since I'm not familiar with Billy Gardell) but not awful, either. It's kind of sweet and gimmick-free, which I'm enjoying. When was the last time we watched a sitcom about two people dating, without all the unfolding-a-complex-but-ultimately-pointless-mystery or this-documentary-crew-has-been-filming-here-since-the-dawn-of-time style conceits?

Also, I love Melissa McCarthy. I always have - I think she's sexy and funny and a brilliant actress. I loved her with Ryan Reynolds in The Nines (in which she was fab, despite the total lack of sense that movie made) and "God", the short film that came with it on DVD, is one of my favourite things ever. And granted, I know nothing of the behind-the-scenes workings of her career (or of her Samantha Who role - I never saw a single episode), but I love the fact that over the course of it, she's gotten to play a number of nuanced roles that weren't defined by the character's body type.

The thing is, this show worries me a bit, because it makes me wonder if fat *is* the gimmick. Do I just not see it because I'm grateful to finally see someone like me on TV? Is it because Melissa McCarthy reads as "normal attractive person" to me, while other people see her differently? I mean, the show certainly does get a lot of mileage out of the dress size of its main characters. Is that its "thing", like how Big Bang Theory's "thing" is nerds, and Two and a Half Men's "thing" is thinly disguising Charlie Sheen's real life issues? (Yes, I do have an exclusive contract with Chuck Lorre to use his shows as my sole examples.)

What I'm getting at is that I can't decide if Mike & Molly is a good or a bad thing for media representation of fat people. I mean, it makes them visible, and portrays them as likeable people, which is cool. But it also depends pretty heavily (pun!) on the weight of its characters for its plotlines and jokes, which is disappointing. I also wonder if it's a step back for McCarthy, or at the very least a step sideways: after 10 steady years of TV work, she finally gets to step up to a lead role in a show, but it's a relatively 2-dimensional sitcom mainly about how fat she is. I guess that's a fair compromise to make, although I'm not sure I'd make it myself.

The thing is, there are awesome things about this show, from my point of view. It has fat people kissing! Hell, it has fat people fucking! (Well, not on-camera; it is a sitcom.) It has people acting like people, being insecure about their bodies, living with their parents, fighting over who gets the doggy bag at the end of the night... you know, things that real people do all the time, but that I never see in sitcoms.

Much as it occasionally makes me cringe with its 90's sensibility and its one-track mind, I'm going to keep watching, because I have hope that it will expand into a better show with a greater scope and a better grasp of how to have fat characters without being about characters who are fat being fat and all the fat-things that they fat-do while fat. If you know what I mean.

Strangely enough, among this year's new shows, it's not the worst offender of this type. Outsourced commits the same crime using Indianness as a gimmick, and to a far greater degree - so much that I'm no longer able to watch it, honestly. There are only so many times you can watch the Indian call centre workers boggle over some crass American novelty and make oh-so-hilarious incorrect assumptions about American traditions before you have to change the channel. The staged, cutesy naivete ascribed to these "foreigners" (entirely treated and viewed as such even though the sitcom TAKES PLACE IN INDIA) is at times completely offensive.

There CAN be more to your show than just its initial premise, people. And if you're doing it right, you will have glimpsed that state of "moreness" by the end of your pilot, and will be ready to start telling stories about people.