Last night I caught up on Drop Dead Diva , Lifetime’s new comedy about an aspiring Price Is Right model, Deb, who dies and returns to Earth in the body of an accomplished, but fat, trial lawyer, Jane. I agree, June, that credit for the show’s greatness goes wholly to Brooke Elliott, who plays Jane . Her walk alone is enough to bring me back for Episode 4. It’s also fun to watch the cameos unfold. You can just picture Rosie O’Donnell getting the script and calling her agent right then to say "A show starring a fat woman that’s not making fun of her? I’m in." I wonder if a legal battle with Camryn Manheim is in Jane’s future.
Still, for all its fat acceptance, including a rather out-of-place courtroom sermon on the use of the word "fat"-an adjective that Kate Harding and members of the fat-o-sphere advocate reclaiming- Drop Dead Diva does have one irksome piece of character development: Jane’s weakness for donuts.
Admittedly, the whole soul vs. brain vs. body concept in the show is a little confusing: Jane has the voice, walk, and memories of her former bimbo self, but the appearance, life, and accumulated knowledge (without memory of gaining it) of Jane. We’re led to believe that Jane’s weight is in part a reflection of her lifestyle; even with the soul of a former workout queen, she just doesn’t have the energy to go for a run after a day at the office-much to the disappointment of her roommate, who seems intent on restoring her to Deb’s pre-body-swap weight.
But what about the donuts? What accounts for Jane’s longing stares at an out-of-reach plate of pastries, her need to indulge in morning sweets? The implication, I fear, is that her new, bigger body comes with a smaller dose of willpower-a disappointing step toward the stereotype that fat people are that way because they’re lazy or lack self control. (Just search for "lazy" in about any unmoderated comments section in an article on obesity and you’ll see this sentiment in its ugly glory .)
Perhaps I’m not giving the show’s writers enough credit: Maybe this is a deliberate statement that food cravings come from your brain (or, Jane’s brain), rather than your experiences or your soul (in this case, both Deb’s)-there are, in fact, studies to back that up. And that certainly was the message of my childhood favorite, The Man With Two Brains , in which Steve Martin falls in love with a disembodied brain, finds a sexy woman’s body to put it in (after killing her, of course), only to have the brain, which it turns out came from a fat woman, drive this new body to fatness. It’s OK-he loves her anyway!
Or maybe it’s not Jane’s brain responsible for the donut binges; maybe it’s Deb’s soul. Does this new body, and the revised expectations from the outside world it brings, finally allow Deb to eat the donuts she always wanted, but never allowed herself? Maybe, but that can't be all there is to it, since the pilot offers a few shots of Jane devouring donuts before the body swap.
The whole thing is tough for me to make sense of though, for the simple fact that I hate donuts. I just can’t see them as a worthy indulgence, no matter your weight. Hot fudge brownie sundaes though- that I get.
Photograph of a donut by Getty Images.