Can TV stop treating fat people like jokes?

New scripted television shows like "Huge" and "Mike and Molly" attempt to portray overweight people as actual humans, but critics are split on their efforts

Does "Huge" portray overweight people fairly?
(Image credit: ABC)

Though two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight, this reality is rarely reflected by the svelte casts of scripted television shows. That's changing, however, with efforts like "Drop Dead Diva," ABC Family's new "Huge," starring Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray) as an obese teen sent to a fat-camp, and an upcoming fall series, "Mike and Molly," about a couple who meet at Overeaters Anonymous. Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara says these shows "buck tradition and portray overweight people as actual humans…just like all those crazy-thin people we've been watching for years." Is the television industry finally featuring overweight people with sensitivity and accuracy — instead of reflexive mockery? (Watch a MADtv sketch parodying obesity on TV)

Yes, and it's about time: After years of turning weight loss into "the sort of blood sport last seen in ancient Rome" on reality shows like "The Biggest Loser," television has "discovered, or remembered, that fat people are human after all, with a panoply of dreams, desires, foibles and stories that often have nothing to do with their weight," says Mary McNamara in The Los Angeles Times. In these new series, "overweight is just one part of who these people are, losing weight just one of the things they would like to experience in their lives."

"TV finally gets weight in focus"

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Frankly, these shows are still weight-obsessed: But are these series really a step in the right direction?, asks Jezebel's Dodai Stewart. "While it's great to have non-skinny women on TV (once only the realm of non-skinny dudes like Kevin James)... it's still strange that these shows can't have a chubby or plus-size lead character without making a big deal about it. Why couldn't Mike and Molly meet at the gas station? Or a wine-tasting event [instead of]... Overeaters Anonymous?"

"Does this count as progress in the portrayal of overweight on TV?"

And ultimately patronizing: "Huge" is deceptive, says Tom Shales in The Washington Post. Though initially it seems like the show will "take a refreshingly contrarian stand against all the for-your-own-good advice people are always forcing down fat folks' throats," clearly Blonsky's character will eventually "cave in to the rah-rah mentality so dear to reformers everywhere." And this just reflects another way television is cashing in on America's national fat neurosis: Substituting "scolding and patronizing encouragement" for ridicule.

"TV preview: ABC's 'Huge,' raising a crop of cliches, down on the fat farm"

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