The Complete First Season (2005) (Showtime-2005)
“She’s not the same chick from Cheers, is it?” a cop asks in awesome wonder when spotting Kirstie Alley outside her lavish California home. Not too long after that, a parking valet asks her, “When is the baby due?” A black NBC executive observes, “she has an LA face and the Oakland booty.” And when The King of Queens’ Leah Remini has gained a few pounds, she is overheard by Alley herself saying, “I’m getting into Kirstie Alley territory.”
Alley as a handicapped victim of her social world and of her superficial profession is the premise of Fat Actress. The Showtime series, in which Kirstie Alley makes her unfortunate heftiness work for her, feels like she must feel: bloated and desperate. We all know that Alley had gained weight anyway (not for this series), so this is supposed to be her explanation, her personal sad story of pain and rejection, albeit a wacky, silly, outrageous one.
Because the show takes place in the most superficial of all worlds – Hollywood – the immediate message of the danger of obesity in America gets eaten. The creators don’t seem to be too concerned about cautionary tales here – their interest is in what they think is the unfairness of a business that prizes the thin and the fit.
We are asked to somehow identify with Alley’s role as a sudden outsider, yet at the same time, the writers go great guns in proving that she is a flimsy caricature who really doesn’t deserve a second chance. There seems to be no real and solid point to this series other than to keep her in paychecks, which may be the biggest irony of all. Any heartfelt connection we may develop for Alley is immediately severed due to her bizarre, plastic personality (her biggest goal in life is to fuck Kid Rock) and the lameness of the storylines that feel too eager to become water-cooler classics.
“Sometimes she has no idea she is being treated like a freak,” says the director in the DVD commentary, but this is the premise that we should conclude on our own. As she sashays into the NBC executive offices with the grace of an elephant, we are expected to laugh at her, but because we know that Alley herself has given this scene her blessing, then we are asked to laugh with her.
Alley may be hefty but the series is pencil thin; it hops on the Curb Your Enthusiasm bandwagon, but lazily so. The good idea of improvising scenes, then sitting back and watching the laughter build, is a concept meant for professionals only. Larry David can pull it off effortlessly; Alley needs a great deal of help. The Curb gang is not all that different: rich, bored, superficial Hollywood types who have reached their heights anticlimactically; there is nothing left for them to do, seemingly, but to torture each other and themselves.
Where Curb so easily floats through the air on the concept of a show about nothing, Fat is a bottom feeder, scrounging for scraps: Blossom’s Malim Baylick self-consciously plays herself as a bitchy next-door neighbor; Kelly Preston self-consciously makes herself look and sound different as a bitchy dangerous-diet guru; Jeff Zucker plays himself all too well (of course) as the head of NBC while Alley constantly tries to please him, to no avail. And John Travolta, no longer thin himself, makes a cameo by coming to her emotional rescue (but he’s not helpful enough, apparently). To see his potbelly is heartbreaking.
Her in-house staff and Greek chorus, Rachael Harris and Bryan Callen, have, all at once, too much to do and not enough to do. Though appealing and intelligent, they seem to make the stories clunk along as they fetch her Popsicles, wax her toes, and indulge her QVC buying sprees. They show us a good deal of flop-sweat improvisation as they take on the Herculean task of moving the plot – and Alley – forward; however, the idea that Alley has two assistants for no reason at all doesn’t help us to warm up to her; the idea that these two capable people are wasting their lives in servitude to her feels uncomfortable.
What works for Alley always is her vulnerability and naiveté masked in toughness. On Cheers, she was determined to be efficient and well-meaning, but turned out to be inept and human to a fault. Same here. However, her desperate attempts at dieting and “appearing smaller” is too little and too late: we know that what she really needs is sensible diet and exercise, but she’s not going there. If she did, there would be no show (but maybe a better one). We are asked to find funny her misplaced priorities and her misguided attempts at rescue.
There is some vague fun here and there: watch Connie Stevens, as Alley’s Midwestern mother, smoking crack, and learn that Alley’s security gate code is 1-2-3. However, we are immediately taken back to the trying-too-hard method, like an NBC executive named Chuck Manson.
The DVD contains only eight episodes, but moves like an overstuffed snail. The commentary is a combination of ass-kissing (“this scene is brilliant,” Callen says) and brutal honesty (Alley: “when I stand up at the end of this scene, it is disgusting.”). However, during a close-up look at the woman behind the show, Alley pauses for an actual real moment, admitting how terrible she felt when her previous series, the unhackable Veronica’s Closet, was cancelled. “I feel like I let a hundred people down,” she says, and that’s the Alley we wish we could get in this series.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 19, 2005.