Review: Drop Dead Diva

Drop Dead Diva is a TV show about a skinny girl trapped in a fat girl’s body. News-breaking? No. Offensive? Maybe.  Intriguing? Funny? Heart-warming? Yes, yes, and yes.

Not since Friends and Sex and the City has a TV show captured my heart with its story of a beautiful but shallow model trapped in the body of an intellectual, dessert-loving, plus-sized lawyer. Sure, the plot sounds trivial, but sit through just one episode – one laugh-out-loud, easy-to-watch, filled-with-very-relatable-issues episode – and you’ll be charmed by the lead character as well.

drop dead diva

The Lifetime Channel’s new comedy-drama revolves around the life – or after life – of Deb (Brooke D’Orsay), a gorgeous but ditzy model. The first episode set the plot for the show: Deb was living a fairy-tale life, with her equally gorgeous best friend Stacy (April Bowlby) and her hunk of a boyfriend who was about to propose. It was an enviable life, until Deb got into a fatal car accident and ended up at the gates of heaven. There she met an angel named Fred (Ben Feldman) and persuaded him to send her back to Earth.

Deb then woke up in a hospital room, with dull, dry skin, and feeling extremely… bloated. To her horror, she realized she was put in the body of another woman: the recently deceased, plus-sized, fashion-challenged Jane. Deb’s first thought: “Did Fred send me to hell?”

Drop Dead Diva then tells the story of how Deb lives as Jane, who is likeably played by Brooke Elliott, interacting with the other characters in the show like Jane’s loyal assistant Teri (played by the ever-entertaining Margaret Cho) and her co-worker Grayson (Jackson Hurst) who – surprise! – is actually Deb’s boyfriend. Of course no TV sitcom is complete without a villain. In this case, it’s Kim (Kate Levering), who is Jane’s competition not just for a job promotion but also for Grayson’s affections.

Most of the scenes take place in Jane’s office, where there is a lot of witty dialogue and pop culture references. In an episode where Jane was trying to persuade her boss to pursue a lawsuit, she babbled on with an American Idol analogy: “Remember when Simon Cowell told Jennifer Hudson she was no good, and then J-Hud went on to win the Oscars, and Simon said, ‘I’m sorry Jennifer Hudson, I was wrong.’ You don’t want to be Simon.”

Jane also debates whether to tell Grayson that she really is Deb. The show candidly illuminates not just her internal struggle about her new identity but also the everyday challenges she has a fat woman. In today’s society, the word “fat” has such negative connotations that I admire how the show tackles the issue head-on. In one episode, Jane tries to go shopping for a new dress but is heart-broken to realize that her favorite designers do not carry plus sizes. In another, she defends a waitress in court who was fired for gaining 50 pounds. In all the episodes where weight is an issue, Jane never wavers in her commitment to be true to herself and to enjoy life as much as she can – in essence blooming into a fabulous, more confident version of the old Jane.

In one episode, Jane is getting ready to go to a high school reunion and is aghast at the dress that the old Jane picked: a dowdy, black, long-sleeved number. With the help of Stacy, she ends up altering the dress into a figure flattering sheath, with a shorter hemline and accessorized with a scarf. Plain Jane becomes Inspiring Jane, a role model for real women everywhere.

Not everything on this show is about women’s plus sizes, though. This is Lifetime, after all, and in spite of the network’s makeover (remember that Project Runway now considers Lifetime its home), its bread and butter is still emotionally heavy TV.  In one episode, Grayson visits the grave of Deb with a client who also lost a loved one. His breaking voice and tearing eyes are enough to make any viewer feel his pain; yet, it was reeled in just enough so that the scene wasn’t cheesy or melodramatic.

And there are funny scenes, too. In fact there are lots of funny scenes, such as Jane’s recurring dreams of being on American Idol judged by Paula Abdul, or episodes with Rosie O’Donnell playing a cynical judge. In another episode, Jane, usually so self-conscious, shows another side to her and belts out “Love Is a Battlefield” while having dinner with her mom and a new date.

Of course Jane almost always wins her law cases. The Jane-Grayson-Kim love triangle is an expected plot twist. The show undoubtedly targets women, the kind of women who love chick flicks and rom-coms, but in all its frilliness, Drop Dead Diva hints at bigger personal and societal issues.  Getting a second chance at life always makes for a good story. The show declares before every episode that “life looks different the second time around,” and that is indeed what keeps me tuned in – I want to witness Jane live the fabulous life that she deserves. And while I’m watching it, I imagine letting out my inner diva as well.

Season 2 premieres on June 6. Do you watch Drop Dead Diva too? What are your other favorite TV shows?


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