Mike & Molly Are So Fat! How Fat (and Funny) Are They?

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 28: Actresses Swoosie Kurtz and Melissa McCarthy speak at 'Mike & Molly' panel during 2010 Summer TCA Tour Day 1 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 28, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

I was a bit nervous when I sat down to watch the premiere of Mike & Molly, the new CBS sitcom about two average folks who fall in love at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

Would the show rely on strings of fat jokes or one-note storylines focusing on dieting and eating? Or would it treat us to Roseanne Barr/John Goodman-style characters who are, yes, large, but who have other complexities in their lives? Would the show be hateful or accepting?  A freak show or a decent sitcom featuring a mushy romance and likable characters who happen to be plus-sized?

As the Boston Globe describes:

The potential for cringeworthiness is high, and the pilot sometimes falls on the wrong side of the line between self-deprecatingly comic and just plain mean. But there’s a real sweetness to the tentative romance brewing between Mike, the beat cop played by comic Billy Gardell, and Molly, an elementary school teacher (Melissa McCarthy).

I watched the pilot, and I saw the sweetness between the characters.  Mike is played tenderly and appealingly awkwardly, and I found myself rooting for Molly. She's the type of person I'd love to meet for a coffee to hear about how it's going with Mike -- and then I'd take her shopping to buy new clothes to replace the droopy sweaters the crappy wardrobe department makes her wear.

Unfortunately, I also heard a lot of mean-spirited fat jokes, and the show just wasn't funny.  It was a jumble of messages: Fat is funny, but also hard, but really funny, and we can laugh and eat cake because they're going to be in love, which is good because they're otherwise losers surrounded by losers, and isn't it funny how fat people exercise and eat and starve and break tables and stuff? But it's okay to laugh because they are fat but that's okay because they want to lose weight! Plus, they're finding love! Yo momma is so fat!  Ha! Ha! Ha!

Comedy can either make us all feel united by the follies of the human condition, or it can poke at one group and dehumanize and exploit their differences.  Plenty of fat-based humor falls into the first category.  Sadly, despite a sweet premise, I think Mike & Molly falls into the second category, with fat, gay and race gags dominating the offerings.

Some of the dull, dehumanizing bits from the pilot included:

  • After embracing Mike, his beat partner says, "It's like hugging a futon."
  • After taking food away from Mike, his partner says, "You may never have sex that you don't pay for, but you're still on a diet."
  • Molly's mother, overplayed by Swoosie Kurtz, tells Molly's pothead sister (a female version of Charlie from Two-and-a Half Men) to help Molly's love life.  She says, "Take her to a lesbian bar.  They like beefy girls."
  • Molly says her goal is "to be able to walk into a nightclub without having every queen in the room leaping on me like I’m a gay-pride float.”
  • Mike shares at his OA group that he lost 3 pound but then found them flapping under his arms, that he had a hard time saying "plastic" with his mouth full of fun-size Halloween candy while binging at the store, and that he kneels to pray for relief from overeating and then prays to God that he can stand up again.

A laugh track can only help so much.

Danielle at Daemon's TV says the show has heart and to give it a chance, but agreed that the premier was too heavy-handed on weight and food jokes:

Since tonight’s premiere was the first time we were introduced to the characters it would seem all any of these adults could talk about was eating or not eating food.

Jo Curtis at Unreality Shout found the show funny but felt awkward about both laughing at the expense of fat people and about minimizing the severity of obesity:

All in all, though this was most definitely funny, I think it’s humour that could wear thin fairly rapidly. I mean really, who wants to hear fat jokes over and over? They’re ok for a while, but ad infinitum?

Big Fat Deal looks at some of the mainstream reviews of the show and says:

It’s great that the critics seem to be calling the show out on its fatism, and pointing towards some of the show’s possibilities for a positive representation of fat people.

I think I'm better off with reruns of Roseanne and the The Drew Carey Show for well-written shows featuring average Joe, fat characters who have complex lives.  I'll consider the encouragement to give Mike & Molly a few more shows to grow past the awkward first date of the pilot, but I don't have a lot of confidence.  Something tells me that unless new writers are found, Mike & Molly is going to be like crappy off-brand cookies: kinda sweet, mostly artificial and ultimately just not worth the calories.

Mike & Molly airs on Monday nights on CBS.  Did you see it?  What do you think?


Contributing Editor Deb Rox blogs at Deb on the Rocks.  She greatly admires Roseanne Barr though she's still pretty bitter about those we-won-the-lottery-it-was-all-a-dream shenanigans. It wasn't John Goodman's fault, though, so don't blame him.

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