What’s Eating America? Weight-Obsessed TV Shows Take Over

by | August 22, 2010 at 9:22 AM | TV News

CBS' New Sitcom, 'Mike & Molly' (Photo: CBS)

CBS' New Sitcom, 'Mike & Molly' (Photo: CBS)

It’s the year of fat.

But why is TV so obsessed with fat people all of a sudden? Is it because TV always strives to reflect its audience, and at least half of that audience is overweight? Or is the TV industry suddenly concerned about the health of an increasingly obese country and now wishes to encourage fat people to embrace dieting and exercise? Could that be why there are so many shows lately about real people and their struggle to lose weight?

In the United States of America, home of the best-fed people on earth, it’s finally come to this,” Simon Dumenco wrote in Details. “We have developed an insatiable appetite not only for mammoth cupcakes but for fatness itself. Turn on the TV and it’s everywhere.”

“It used to be that fattertainment—media content that invites gratuitous gawking at bulging bellies, thunder thighs, and cellulite—was the domain of an odd subset of fetishists,” he added. “But now we’re all fascinated by fatties.”

Indeed, the fat trend is huge right now, and includes a ton of shows: ‘The Biggest Loser’ and ‘Losing It with Jillian’ on NBC; this summer’s ABC Family drama ‘Huge,’ about a teen fat camp; ‘Too Fat for 15,’ Style net’s docu-series about a real fat camp; TLC’s ‘One Big Happy Family’; Oxygen’s ‘Dance Your Ass Off’; Lifetime’s ‘Drop Dead Diva’; Style net’s ‘Ruby’; last summer’s ‘More to Love’ on Fox; and the upcoming ‘Thintervention’ with L.A. trainer Jackie Warner on Bravo; E!’s eating disorder series ‘What’s Eating You?’; and ‘Mike & Molly,’ the CBS sitcom about two fat people who begin dating after they meet at Overeaters Anonymous.

Mike & Molly’ is drawing the most attention, probably because it’s on one of the biggest networks, CBS, which heretofore has not shown much interest in the inner lives of fat people (and don’t worry about overusing the word “fat” instead of “obese” or “weight-challenged” – the Oakland, Calif.-based National Association for the Acceptance of Fat People, NAAFA, says “fat” is OK).

‘Huge’ Star: ‘Go Big or Go Home’

And, of course, a sitcom with two fat people as leads (Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy) is unheard-of in a business where thin is always in. Airing Mondays at 9:30 p.m./8:30c following ‘Two and a Half Men‘ starting Sept. 20 (both shows are from producer Chuck Lorre), ‘Mike & Molly’ is about a tubby Chicago cop (Mike) and a chubby grade-school teacher (Molly) who begin dating. It’s a sweet premise, and while the show deals partly with Mike and Molly’s battle to resist stuffing themselves with chocolate cake and ice cream, it’s more about their lives as ordinary people who just happen to be fat.

The Skinny on ‘Mike & Molly’: It’s a Love Story

Some critics have already identified the big difference between ‘Mike & Molly’ and all the other shows – from ‘The Biggest Loser’ to ‘Thintervention.’ In those shows, the premise is really about fat people who are worried about their health and dissatisfied with the way they look. The point of these shows is to transform fat people into thin ones, while ‘Mike & Molly’ is more about fat people trying to be satisfied with who they are.

“For those of us long weary of seeing weight issues addressed only in extremes — by participants of ‘The Biggest Loser’ [and] longtime yo-yo’ers Kirstie Alley and Carnie Wilson … ‘Mike and Molly’ is a beacon of hope,” L.A. Times critic Mary McNamara wrote earlier this summer.

‘One Big Happy Family’s Weight Loss Journey

But before we jump to the conclusion that TV has suddenly become concerned about the well-being of fat people, bear in mind that there are at least eight shows about cake currently on TV.

Is TV sending mixed signals about overweight people? Watching many of these shows, you get the idea that the goal of every fat person is to be thin. Or, does the onslaught of fat shows signal that we’re ready to simply accept the fact that many people are overweight, and that the thin and fat ideal is not for everyone? Have you noticed how many fat people are on TV nowadays? If you have, what do you think about it?