Thursday, September 2, 2010

My new addiction: Drop Dead Diva

When my mom and sister, both chick-flick aficionados, told me to check out a new show on Lifetime called Drop Dead Diva I was initially skeptical. Lifetime: Television for Women has not really been my favorite channel over the years as it generally seems to have a bunch of melodramatic made-for-TV movies which sensationalize violence against women. Recently, however, Project Runway, a favorite guilty pleasure of mine, has been exclusively on Lifetime, so maybe the channel wasn’t so bad. DDD piqued my interest when I heard that its storyline follows a skinny white blonde model that dies and returns immediately as what the blogosphere has generally dubbed a “plus size” white brunette lawyer. I am a huge fan of the 1978 film Heaven Can Wait in which Warren Beatty plays a professional football player who comes back immediately as a millionaire that was killed by his wife and her lover. Magical realism and death are always interesting to me: I loved the show Dead Like Me and the movies Death Becomes Her (1992), Chances Are (1989), and even the 2001 remake of Heaven Can Wait starring Chris Rock, Down to Earth. I decided to give the show a go and immediately realized: this show has Margaret Cho in it! Now, feisty Asian assistant trope aside, Margaret Cho’s involvement in anything gives it all sorts of street cred. One of my favorite glory stories is that me and my friends got to be on the opening clips of her movie Beautiful which was filmed in Long Beach, Ca. I’m shouting at the camera: “Long Beach feminists for Cho!” I was pretty pleased that the editors chose to put us in even though we used the F word. Beautiful, like Drop Dead Diva, is about accepting and appreciating beauty that does not necessarily match up with the unreasonable and impossible expectations set by the media. Cho, like the main character of DDD Jane/Deb (Deb being the skinny model inside), had mainly struggled with her weight as a source of negative body image, so being in DDD is really perfect for her. Cho has also notoriously been both an icon and an activist for the LGBT community and openly identifies as queer or bisexual.

A common problem for minority actors is that they recieve jobs based solely on their look, in this case, Brooke Elliot for her size. The show is what some are calling “fat positive,” though terminology such as fat (another important F word), overweight, and plus-sized are often argued as placing thinness as the normal/default. Jane was advertised as a size 16, though there is a great comments section conversation in which many women said she has to be at least a 20. Whatever her actual size, the show is a mix between a courtroom drama and a feel-good reincarnation story which finds ways to mix law, fat positivity and actual facts about weight in every episode, namely Season 1’s “The Dress.” Jane argues in the courtroom that “the average woman is a size 14” and “66.3% of all women are considered overweight by the AMA” in her attempt to make a high-end clothing boutique carry plus sizes. The same episode tackles the very contemporary issue of Girls Gone Wild and consent considering the recent ruling of a Missouri court that basically said that being in a bar is consent even though the woman said she did not want to show her breasts and was then assaulted. (someone pulled her shirt up on camera.)

When Deb first becomes Jane, the rules of immediate reincarnation are set: Jane/Deb has both Jane and Deb’s intellect, but only Deb’s memories. Thus, Deb, whose history is portrayed as an airhead model, receives the brain of a legal theory expert without having to study at all. In the beginning of the show I wondered if it would follow the storyline of Heaven Can Wait. Warren Beatty, after becoming the millionaire, immediately begins training to be a professional football player and eventually plays again. Would Deb/Jane get skinny and become a model again? This question is answered through the initial story of Deb’s old best friend Stacy who pressured Jane to go on a strict diet and exercise regimen. But what Jane eventually does is accept her body and encourage Stacy to do the same. This then became the beginning of the NOW-esque Love Your Body theme that continues throughout the show.

Though I find the show incredibly entertaining, it would be irresponsible not to mention that the cast is largely white, the characters who are not Jane (Brooke Elliot),  Terri (Margaret Cho), or a judge character played by Rosie O'Donnell, are super skinny and that most characters are also upper class. Though there was a fleeting gay assistant character (how’s that for a stereotype), the issue of sexuality has not been much-addressed aside from Jane’s pseudo-virginity in her new body, Kim (Jane’s skinny and catty colleague) and Parker’s (a partner at her firm) promiscuity and Terri’s boisterous man-crazed attitude.   Though the show has its soap-opera type moments, its Legally Blonde meets Warren Beatty storyline and its white heteronormative cast of characters, I think it brings something new to television and is worth a watch.

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