Rebel Wilson has been poised for a big American breakthrough since her scene-stealing cameo in 2011's Bridesmaids as Kristin Wig's bizarre, awful roommate. Industry types have rightfully fallen all over themselves trying to find a way to package the Australian comedian so she could shine in her own right. But despite a few strong performances — including a supporting role in the surprise hit Pitch Perfect — Wilson hasn't taken the lead... until now. ABC has given the curvy blonde her own sitcom, Super Fun Night, in which she and her two equally nerdy roommates attempt to come out of their respective shells and get up to some old-fashioned fun.
Playing a successful lawyer who has just been promoted, Wilson's Kimmie is much like the characters she's already played: Awkward, smiling, and straaaaange. She seems socially out-of-touch and gives those interacting with her plenty of reason to stare dumbfounded at her weirdness. It's a quality that can prove delightful in moments, but Super Fun Night shows that it's harder to stretch into an endearing central character. While Wilson is unquestionably a bright talent, one can feel the anxiety those behind the scenes have felt in figuring out how to package her unique range of talents. Unfortunately, they went with the broadest and most obvious choice: Playing up her weight over and over again, and reinforcing the idea that a woman who looks like Wilson would be a social outcast.
As Super Fun Night begins, we meet Kimmie as she fills us in on her life via video diary on her laptop. She tells us that she's been promoted, and is using that professional ascent to force herself out of her social comfort zone. Her two roommates, Marika (Lauren Ash) and Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) look straight out of central casting's "nerd" division — one-note characters who reinforce and continually remind the audience that Kimmie is not cool, and probably will never be. But don't worry — if you're slow to catch on, their buttoned-up cardigans and unfamiliarity with ordering alcoholic drinks will hammer the idea into your head.
For the pilot episode, we learn that the girls have a jar labeled "Super Fun Night" where they've left slips of paper with ideas for Fridays out together. The first slip they pull is to go to a piano bar, where Kimmie will confront her stage fright and sing on stage. She's already nervous — but when she's able to wrangle her cute co-worker Richard (Kevin Bishop) into coming along, it's a go. Unfortunately, the plan is further complicated when Kendall (Kate Jenkinson), the gorgeous alpha in the office, gets wind of the plan and decides to crash in order to make her on move on Richard.
The basic concept isn't without potential — but unfortunately, the whole thing plays out much like the blandly familiar plots of the Revenge of the Nerds franchise. The geeks are mostly clueless about how out of touch and embarrassing they are in their pursuit of "normal" fun. It's a well-worn and regressive trope that doesn't need dredging up in the year 2013. While beauty queens with frighteningly perfect cheekbones will always exist to make certain women feel inferior, characters like Kimmie aren't necessarily assumed to be losers straight out the gate anymore. In fact, just a few channels away on Fox, there's The Mindy Project's Mindy Lahiri, juggling handsome men and ruling the roost as a queen bee doctor — even though she mysteriously doesn't look at all like Jennifer Aniston.
After Kendall shows up to the piano bar and hogs the stage with her shimmering, perfect voice, Kimmie looks poised to fall and give up. In fact, she does fall when she faints on stage, but her roommates give her a pep talk in the bathroom and remind her that mean-spirited bullies like Kendall have been making them all feel inferior their whole lives. Now is the time to do something about it, they argue. Kimmie gathers her nerves, gets on stage, and sings her heart out to Meatloaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)." Kendall also hops on stage and writhes around while trying to out-perform Kimmie duet-style — a tactic that inexplicably works — and at the episode's end, she's awarded the night's trophy over poor Kimmie. But don't worry: Kimmie is happy just to have conquered her nerves and pushed herself. Triumph!
It's a very connect-the-dots type of story, and one that does manage to shoehorn in some funny moments here and there. Unfortunately, so many of the jokes are about Kimmie's size and nerdiness that the audience is never allowed to get away from the feeling that the show's star and her best friends are mere punching bags we're supposed to laugh at, not with, over and over again. For all the confidence-building speeches and fear conquering Super Fun Night attempts to shoehorn in, the real theme here is that chubby girls and their nerdy friends are there to be laughed at, no matter how accomplished or interesting they might be.
Even after her big night at the piano bar, the final scene of the Super Fun Night pilot is Wilson stumbling around her apartment alone, desperately trying to get an oversized pair of Spanx underwear off her curvaceous bod. It's well-executed physical comedy — but after a half hour of laughing at her size, it's just another reminder of what's really underlining the entire show. The hope is that someone with Wilson's obvious talent will eventually move away from a barrage of fat jokes at her own expense and give us a real reason to connect with Kimmie and her ragtag gang. Otherwise, the show is less of a Super Fun Night and more a Super Obvious Exercise In Fat Shaming — and that's a story none of us needs to revisit.