Alley is 'Fat Actress'
recent one-panel New Yorker cartoon shows three middle-aged men
parked at a bar as daylight seeps in through a window.
matters: Kirstie Alley's new show skewers stereotypes along
One guy looks up from his drink to surmise: "Why
doesn't Ken Burns make a documentary about this?"
A simple inference is that we're beyond bored with
the current era of reality television and ready to turn things back
Enter Kirstie Alley.
"Fat Actress," Alley's new 30-minute series
on Showtime, uses her own over-sized reality as a semi-autobiographical
backdrop for skewering tons of stereotypes and herself.
Art imitates life imitating art imitating life when
a former TV superstar gains 60-some pounds and can't get a job except
to pitch Jenny Craig.
The first episode quickly zeroes in on a primary target.
Alley, in her car, chows down on a huge hamburger while kvetching
on the cell to her agent.
"Is it so much to ask if I have my own television
show again," she pleads, "since that's what I do for a
The agent informs her that she'll need to lose some
"John Goodman's got his own show and Jason Alexander
looks like a friggin' bowling ball," she replies. "And
how about James Gandolfini? He's, like, the size of a whale. He's
way, way, way fatter than I am."
The agent gets Alley a meeting with NBC by promising
that the weight has already been lost. Soon three glad-handing execs
are telling Alley she looks great as they ply her with vague network
Alley is barely out of earshot before things take
a telling turn.
"What the fuck was that?" says head of NBC
Jeff Zucker, playing himself. "Did you see how huge she is?
She's fatter than ever."
|Is it in
the stars?: Travolta plays the Good Samaritan neighbor.
The first episode, obviously over the top by design,
covers a lot of ground.
John Travolta plays himself, the Good Samaritan neighbor.
Michael McDonald from "Mad TV" is the agent. The rest
of the supporting cast is decent and upcoming guests include Carmen
Electra, Connie Stevens and Kid Rock.
But really, it's all about Alley as she fearlessly
explores dating (winding up in bed with a black NBC executive who
thinks she's "bootylicious") and dieting (ending the opening
show by contemplating, then deciding against, creative bulimia)
all with a refreshing feel for self-deprecation.
Too bad the first episode isn't very funny.
But at least it offers potential. Alley's wise-ass
personality can be grating and whiny, but she's ultimately likeable
and convincing. And the show, by definition, has set itself on an
interesting, uncharted course. It's a bloated exercise on the economies
TV: potential and an uncharted course.
It seems even more promising when compared to what
competes for airtime: a vacuous parade of contests and freak shows
often semi-scripted and re-shot on the sly for dramatic purposes
and almighty ratings that routinely passes itself off as
The premium channel unscrambled the show's premier
episode for anyone with cable to see. With no commercials, each
episode is a full half hour. And, since it's Showtime, the f-word
and adult situations run rampant.
Which all somehow brings to mind the lamest party
I ever was at.
Prior to each Thanksgiving in the '80s, a bunch of
college friends and a pre-screened handful of newly acquired acquaintances
maybe two dozen in all would pick a Saturday to squeeze
into the same guy's tiny basement, then sit down to potluck turkey
It always was great and hilarious noon-until-after-midnight
Then came the year the gang's auteur brought his video
camera not a common occurrence back in the day. Maybe it
was just an off year for the party. Maybe it was the camera's invasion.
Maybe a combination of reasons made that year's party an unprecedented
off bowling: The first episode of "Fat Actress" isn't
That by itself wouldn't have been so bad.
The real problem was that by the time evening rolled
around, sure enough, there we all were nodding off and watching
ourselves on television, reliving the same lame party.
Which hammered home an obvious truth that sticks to
this day: Just because something is on TV doesn't make it good.
We'd have been better off going bowling.