Yet while we're seeing a surge in shows starring overweight actors, in each of these series the character's weight is not only the central plot point, but the reason for the show to exist. Is this trend really a positive thing?
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According to the American Journal of Public Health, only 1 out of every 10 female characters and less than a quarter of male characters on TV were overweight—less than half the percentages of the actual American population that is overweight and obese. While Mike & Molly and these other series do broaden the landscape of the body types featured on TV, they're not making that much of an impact on this trend. Bradley S. Greenberg, one of the study's authors, points out, "I'm not sure if we've identified one handful or two handfuls of these new overweight characters, but I don't think it goes much beyond that."
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Look to Ugly Betty as an example. Using the same scale employed to identify body type in his study, Greenberg says that America Ferrera's character at the start of the series would be considered mildly overweight. Her Betty was a rare thing when the show premiered: a character that was often teased for size and appearance, but also had a robust romantic life—with attractive co-stars to boot. Yet Ferrera noticeably dropped weight over the course of her show's run. Greenberg points out, "As the show progressed over the years, she became thinner and the amount of romantic and friend relationships increased." Is that really a correlation that should be considered positive? Should we be happy that Mike and Molly are heavy characters with vibrant dating lives, if the joke is that they met at AA for fat people?
Even while writing about how hopeful Mike & Molly makes her for the portrayal of overweight people on TV—that "television has discovered, or remembered, that fate people are human after all, with a panoply of dreams, desires, foibles and stories that often have nothing to do with their weight"—Mary McNamara litters her column with fat jokes:
"And this fall pound-power comes to the networks."
"...none of them get bogged down in the slippery excess of parody or pathos that so often accompanies current tales from the top of the scale."
"...comedian Gardell can finally slide out of Kevin James' formidable shadow."
It must be said that it is a fantastic development that network television has a series centered around overweight characters—especially one that's poised to be a hit. Mike and Molly is the latest sitcom from Chuck Lorre, the man behind megahit sitcoms Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. Given Lorre's track record of producing ratings successes (his resume also includes Roseanne, Cybil, and Dharma and Greg), and Mike and Molly's high-profile launch (in addition to a massive marketing campaign, it debuts in the lucrative post-Two and a Half Men timeslot—the same one that Bang Theory broke out in), the show is set up for success. It is also true that in order for a series to exist, there must be a premise. Mike & Molly is a situation comedy; the situation here is meeting the love of your life at Weight Watchers—and it's a clever conceit at that. But when are we going to see an overweight lead character who goes about life normally without weight being the central issue? Mike & Molly, Huge, Drop Dead Diva: are all good shows, diversifying what we see on TV. Now if we could only diversify their life's preoccupations. To borrow McNamara's affinity for puns: that would be a big deal.
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