For those of us not involved in television or movies, the reigning stereotype of the Hollywood pitch meeting is of a striving young writer scoring a one-on-one with a producer and launching into “It’s X meets Y.” Lifetime TV’s new “comedic drama” series Drop Dead Diva is a veritable JDate of collisions: Heaven Can Wait meets Legally Blonde meets Shallow Hal meets Brother From Another Planet . With all those ingredients (and more!), the show could’ve been a murky goop; instead, it’s a refreshing summer cocktail.
The plot seems ridiculously convoluted, but thanks to good writing, the conceit was established early, and by Episode 3, which aired this weekend, viewers have no problem accepting that Deb Dobson, a self-centered and air-headed aspiring model, ploughed her zippy red sports car into a fruit truck, and after a disagreement at heaven’s gate, ended up in the body of Jane Bingum, a selfless, zaftig lawyer. Jane kept her intelligence-and, more or less, her grasp on the rules of evidence-but Deb’s consciousness is very much alive.
The combination of Jane’s big heart and smarts and Deb’s style and sassiness adds up to an entertaining courtroom drama of the kind not seen since L.A. Law went off the air. (Yes, yes, Boston Legal tried to go there, but it was far too full of annoying tics and tricks.) Drop Dead Diva is also sweetly poignant: Jane moves in with Deb’s best friend, Stacy, another blonde model, but they can’t do the things they once enjoyed: Plus-sized Jane would never get into the clubs where they used to party, and besides, she’s got a lot of lawyering to do. (When Stacy asks why Jane has to work so much, it’s hard to come up with a good answer.) And by an only-on-television coincidence, Deb’s grieving fiance Grayson just got a job at Jane’s law firm, which leads to all kinds of lingering looks across the conference table. Oh, and Kim, Jane’s rival at the firm, also appears to be gunning for Grayson.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been quite so amusing if the show’s big issue-the way that big women are desexualized, taken for granted, and generally treated shoddily-were mishandled. But so far, at least, it hasn’t been. Overall, the tone is light and fluffy, but Episode 2’s subplot about a woman fired from a Hooters-type bar after she put on 50 pounds tackled fatophobia head on, and winningly so. (Less convincing was the notion that the woman would want her job back, rather than a hefty settlement and the chance to yell “screw you” at her boss.) And perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems like the casting director has hired more full-figured bit players than is typical for television.
The show’s success is mostly down to the actress playing Jane: Broadway veteran Brooke Elliott . (Many of the cast have stage experience-is an all-singing, all-dancing episode too much to ask for?) Elliott has her own winning formula: charm meets vulnerability meets clever meets cute.
(You can watch full episodes of Drop Dead Diva at Lifetime’s website . )
Photograph of Brooke Ellison as Deb Dobson courtesty of Lifetime.