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Roly-poly rom-com 'Mike & Molly' wears a bit thin

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010; C05

There's something blandly nutrition-less and sugary about "Mike & Molly," CBS's new Hostess Twinkie of a Monday night sitcom. As you've probably been made aware, it stars two fat people. Quite fat. Every other joke in it is a fat joke -- of the safe, self-deprecating variety.

"You're always going to be the big-boned girl," remarks Molly Flynn's mother while Molly huffs away on a stair-climbing contraption in the family room of the house they share.

"Bones don't jiggle, Mom," snaps Molly, played by Melissa McCarthy.

Now see, you only thought the "Cathy" comic strip was dead. "Mike & Molly" springs forth from a similar, Guisewite-like headspace -- a realm where birthday cards come with bathroom scale jokes and feature kitty cats who like chocolate cake.

A tiny bit more edge peeks out of the show, here and there: "You've just got to accept that you've got your daddy's genes. I mean, if you had a turkey leg in one hand and one hand down your pants, I'd swear he was risen from the dead," remarks the mom (who is played by Swoosie Kurtz, slumming here).

Molly, who teaches fourth grade, goes to her first Overeaters Anonymous meeting. When she walks in, one of the OA members is standing before the group and giving a comic spiel on his own fatness. He doesn't want to be one of those lonely old fat people living alone with "six or seven cats who happened to wander into my gravitational field."

He's Mike Biggs (played by comedian Billy Gardell), a Chicago cop whose latest diet attempt came from the pages of a Modern Bride magazine. "You better get married quick, then," snarks his patrol partner (Reno Wilson), "because you're starting to show."

Love is actually the working theme here -- falling in love with someone else who loves you for the fat person you are, in an American culture that at once acknowledges its obesity-related health issues and then wishes them away with hugs and jolliness. Therefore, learning to love yourself is a subtext. The writers give Mike and Molly ample (no pun) opportunity to let us know that they are content with their respective sizes but unhappy about the lack of control they have with food. In other words, it's a show about fat people that shies away from the health issues. "I know I'm never going to be a size 2. I just want to learn to control my eating," Molly says. "I'd love 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."

Smitten, Molly invites Officer Mike to come speak to her class. After that, he fumbles around, trying to get the courage to ask her out. Instead, chatting her up at the coffee urn at the next OA meeting, he leans against a table and it falls over. Because he's so fat!

Gardell and McCarthy are fine (you may remember her from "Gilmore Girls" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), but the show is . . . will you kill me if I say too thin?

And I know exactly what it's missing: "Mike & Molly" should borrow some of the suspense of all those highly rated weight-loss reality shows, such as "The Biggest Loser." We shouldn't wait around for Mike and Molly to fall in love without the promise of a weigh-in for the actors at the end of each episode. (What if one lost weight and the other did not?) We need some cruel skeletal trainer in the Jillian or Bob mode, disguised as Cupid, barking the three-sets-of-10-reps commands of tough love.

Mike & Molly

(30 minutes) debuts Monday

at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.

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