I’ll admit it, I expected watching Lifetime’s new drama, Drop Dead Diva which premiered this past Sunday in the States to be something like watching a house burn – it’s just too dreadful to look away from.
The basic premise of the show is that two women, polar opposites in everything from looks to brains, die at the same time. One, Deb, is so shallow she rates a zero at the P
Pearly Gates – she’s neither good nor bad, she is just there to be pretty. That is the sum total of her life. She’s size zero (but got up to a two during her years at community college, which is why she quit), blonde, tall, gorgeous as the media wants a woman to be. She dies when she’s too busy checking herself out and gabbing on her cell phone to realize there’s a giant truck of grapefruits (oh, the irony – her breakfast of choice!) backing up into her lane of traffic.
The other woman, Jane, is a workaholic do-gooder who everyone likes and takes advantage of. She’s intelligent and has the law degree to prove it, but her self-esteem is in the crapper: she doesn’t see how awesome she is. She’s portrayed in a way that reinforces we are to see her as plain Jane (Pun almost certainly intended) – her clothing is all dark colors, she wears little to no make up and she’s (gasp) a size sixteen. She dies because she walks into the direct line of fire of a man angry at one of Jane’s law firm partners for sleeping with his wife – she tries to talk him down, but trips on a handbag, the gun goes off…
So the set-up is fairly obvious. Deb, the zero, is seen in heaven where she demands to be put back – she’s got an audition for The Price is Right she’s got to get to. She pushes the return button (Heaven apparently hasn’t got modern keyboards) and does return … but in Jane’s body. Jane? Jane’s just dead, except Deb somehow now has access to her remarkable brain, occasionally spouting off facts ala Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Deb’s suffered a fate worse than death: she’s trapped in a fat body. On the other hand, she’s been given a great opportunity: she’s now no longer a bubblehead.
The idea is, I think, to demonstrate how these two people are halves of a whole. That being pretty isn’t everything, but being smart isn’t everything either – they need to be balanced. In Deb we have the beauty queen airhead stereotype and in Jane the ugly, fat smart woman stereotype. Frankly, I find the simple delineation of roles problematic in and of itself, but I’ll leave that be. The goal isn’t a bad one, though it smacks a bit of trying to create “the perfect woman.” I fear the execution will be so filled with mixed messages no one will truly get what needs to be taken out of it.
I love the idea of a plus-sized leading lady, and Brooke Elliot, who plays Jane, er, Jane-with-Deb-inside does a wonderful job. My initial concerns, however, appeared in the very introduction of the Jane character. We meet her rooting through the work fridge for the ginormous cinnamon bun, with the song “Big Girls Don’t Cry” blaring at us. We see her longing for a chocolate doughnut in a meeting with a client, to the point a catty (ooh, another female stereotype) colleague suggests they take a break and shoves the plate of doughnuts at Jane. We see her craving chocolate again later. We see her needing to have Easy Cheese squirted directly into her mouth as a stress-reliever (she exclaims something like, “My God, that stuff is like Xanax!”).
Because, as we’ve established here before, a person can only get to be plus-sized if she has a diet of high-fat, un-nutritious foodstuffs, right?
Don’t think Deb is off the hook. She’s played as the typical dingbat, who’s relied on her looks to get her everywhere. She’s sweet and sunshiney and vapid. She’s got the attention span of a three-year-old and all she wants is to look good again (read: be a size zero). While she appreciates the brains she’s received thanks to Jane’s soul departing to who-knows-where, she would trade it back for a “better body” in a heartbeat.
I think the biggest problem for me, though, is that this isn’t a story with a fat woman in the lead role. It’s a story of a fat woman playing a skinny woman, often for comedic effect. I’m not sure I can continue watching just to see if someone puts out the fire, or if the house was already lost before it went up in flames.