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Drop Dead Diva can, well, drop dead

22nd January 2009

Drop Dead Diva can, well, drop dead

Lifetime announced this week that it has picked up the Fox reject show Drop Dead Diva, described in a press release as “a spirited new comedic drama series that puts a uniquely compelling twist on the age-old battle between brains and beauty.” Created by Josh Berman, a writer for Bones and CSI , and guest starring funny woman Margaret Cho, the series is set to premiere this summer.

The plot revolves around a model whose soul comes back after her untimely death to inhabit the body of an unattractive female attorney. The press release has more:

When beautiful-but-vapid model wannabe Deb has a fatal car accident, she suddenly finds herself in front of Heaven’s gatekeeper, Fred, who declares her a self-centered “zero.” Outraged, she attempts to persuade Fred to return her to her shallow existence but is accidentally relegated to the body of the recently deceased Jane Bingum (Brooke Elliott). …Jane has always lived in the shadow of her more comely colleagues whereas Deb has always relied on her external beauty. Now, by a twist of fate and a bolt of divine intervention, both personalities must learn to coexist in Jane’s plus-size frame in the ultimate showdown between brains and beauty.

According to Berman, Drop Dead Diva is “about deconstructing the beauty myth,” an attempt, no doubt, to ride the Ugly Betty coattails. But there’s a big difference between America Ferrara’s character and Berman’s plain Jane.

Betty is “ugly” because makeup and costume artists go to great lengths to make her appear unattractive by adding in bushy eyebrows, thick glasses, metal braces and multi-colored ponchos. Guess what makes Jane the unattractive attorney so unattractive? Wait for it… She’s fat. No really, that’s it. The simple fact that Jane is plus-sized is somehow supposed to make viewers think that the otherwise gorgeous Brooke Elliott is unattractive. C’mon… just look at her.

Brooke Elliott Drop Dead Diva

Berman isn’t deconstructing the beauty myth; he’s perpetuating it. By conflating fat with unattractive, Berman’s simply reinforcing the stereotype that plus-size women aren’t and can’t be beautiful and that the best they can aspire for is to be beautiful on the inside. If I should die and be given a second chance at the Pearly Gates, I can think of a far worse fate than being relegated to the body of a smart, thoughtful and successful attorney whose inner beauty is rivaled only by her outer beauty.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 at 9:00 am and is filed under Arts and Music, Fat Bias, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 41 responses to “Drop Dead Diva can, well, drop dead”

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  1. 1 On January 22nd, 2009, Aurora Erratic said:

    Since when is there an age-old battle between brains and beauty? Who wouldn’t love to have both? Geez louise, the premise itself is stupid.
    Also, whenever Hollywood offers us an “unattractive” woman, it always turns out to be someone who would turn heads on the street, but is not as skinny as the Hollywood ideal. I’m thinking Janeane Garofalo in The Truth ABout Cats and Dogs.

  2. 2 On January 22nd, 2009, meerkat said:

    Aww! It sounded like an interesting premise, but one they were bound to screw up sooner or later. And they went with immediately.

  3. 3 On January 22nd, 2009, Piffle said:

    Yep, the idea has such promise; but they had to flub it by making her young and gorgeous. Now, I do believe that being beautiful makes life easier for both men and women, and a show exploring that could be a lot of fun and insightful too.

  4. 4 On January 22nd, 2009, ChloeMireille said:

    Aurora, the concept is called “Hollywood Homely”. Women like Janeane Garofalo, Tina Fey, and so on are considered average or unattractive by Hollywood standards. However, the average guy who drools over the Scarlett Johanssens of the world on a daily basis wouldn’t pass up a date with Tina Fey.

    The advantage, though, lies in the fact that these women will be relegated to comedic roles which keeps them from spending their careers “resting on pretty”.

  5. 5 On January 22nd, 2009, Richard Mullen said:

    Looks boring to me but I can see where many will want to watch it. Of course the stereotype of being beautiful = self centered vapid idiot is quickly overlooked but inferring a plus sized women is unattractive gets attention. How terribly selective. The fact that most U.S women look like her should attract a large following and make the show money.

  6. 6 On January 22nd, 2009, Bree said:

    Not surprising at all. In the minds of Hollywood writers, women like Brooke Elliott are considered plain and unattractive, but in reality this is the average American woman, one that a lot of men are dating or marrying.

  7. 7 On January 22nd, 2009, Rachel said:

    Of course the stereotype of being beautiful = self centered vapid idiot is quickly overlooked but inferring a plus sized women is unattractive gets attention.

    I see your point, Richard, and I agree that the show is being stereotypical all around, but I also see a bit of distinction between the two stereotypes. Deb is considered to be self-centered and vapid on the basis of how she acts; Jane, on the other hand, is deemed unattractive solely on the basis of how she looks. For example, it’s similar to making a stereotype that someone is a criminal on the basis of their past criminal history and making a stereotype that someone is a criminal based solely on the color of skin. Both are value judgments, but the former gives more legitimacy to the stereotype because of the criminal’s actions, whereas the latter stereotypes on the basis of outward appearance alone.

    This show doesn’t sound like my cup of tea anyway, but I wouldn’t write it off just yet. I can see it redeeming itself by presenting it as a case that while Jane Bingum is no doubt a beautiful woman, she feels unattractive simply because of her weight insecurities. And Jane’s character is made ironic simply because of Deb’s own insecurities with body image and weight. Hopefully that made sense; I’m trying to both post and concentrate on a graduate lecture simultaneously.

  8. 8 On January 22nd, 2009, O.C. said:

    I agree with what y’all are saying about the stereotypical idiocy of this situation. But now I’m wondering, what you’d have here is a character who is presented as “Hollywood homely”, AND with a bad personality? Where’s the fun in that, even if you subscribe to all of the limiting and stupid stereotypes that back the premise of the show? Isn’t the fun of “Ugly Betty” supposed to be that she’s a really cool person? So this character is a jerk AND “unattractive”? I don’t get it.

  9. 9 On January 22nd, 2009, Rachel said:

    What it sounds like to me, O.C., is that the newly revived Jane Bingum will have split personalities between herself and that of Deb — hence the “age-old battle between brains and beauty.”

  10. 10 On January 22nd, 2009, Twistie said:

    This show premise sounds like a great reason to turn the television off.

  11. 11 On January 22nd, 2009, CuteBruiser said:

    …Berman’s simply reinforcing the stereotype that plus-size women aren’t and can’t be beautiful and that the best they can aspire for is to be beautiful on the inside.

    This comment seems to be in direct conflict with many of the opinions you’ve expressed regarding New Moon Magazine and their inner beauty contest.

  12. 12 On January 22nd, 2009, Rachel said:

    How so, CuteBruiser? I’m not knocking inner beauty; I’m knocking the stereotype that the only kind of beauty achievable by fat women is that of inner beauty.

  13. 13 On January 22nd, 2009, Alyssa said:

    I just posted a comment about this on BigFatDeal, and it was a bit of a rant.
    Suffice to say I used to be an actress in Hollywood. And, yes, their idea of fat, nerdy, ugly, etc. has NOTHING to do with reality.
    Because they don’t ever deal with reality. They are surrounded by anorexic wannabees, and rarely, if ever, venture out of the confines of their rareified (sp?) atmosphere.
    ‘Cause, um, Brooke Elliott is a MAJOR babe!

  14. 14 On January 22nd, 2009, ItsTheWooo said:

    It is presumed deb acts like a vapid idiot because she is beautiful, and there in lies the stereotype. A better analogy would be a man who has a past history of criminal behavior and ALSO has dark skin; this is the equivalent of the focus being on the dark skin, and the behavior is merely a symptom of it. Deb is stupid mean and shallow because she is beautiful; a black man commits crimes because he is black. These are illogical stereotypes.

    Also I disagree that Jane is ugly exclusively because she is fat. Behavior is also ugly and frumpy, much like behavior can be stupid and shallow and narcissistic. Part of the reason Jane is ugly is because she behaves in an ugly way. I have not seen the show but I can assure you that her character is meak, passive, and does NOT behave as if she is worthwhile and beautiful. I agree Jane is stereotyped because much like Deb’s behavior is presumed to come from her body, it is also presumed that Jane’s unattractive personality is caused by her weight.

    All in all it is a stupid sexist show, and I don’t expect anything more from television or the majority of people in this society for that matter.

  15. 15 On January 22nd, 2009, Karen said:

    This sounds typically horrifying. Men writing about what it’s like to be a woman because the industry is so incredibly sexist and afraid of women.

    No one has mentioned how weird this is for Cho to be taking part in. One of her famous routines had to do with how, on TV, if you’re not a size zero you’re thought to be this sexless wildebeast character and how her attempt to be thin for her TV show almost killed her (her routine was funnier than how I just said it). Well, if her career wasn’t over before, it will be after this.

    Yuch yuch yuch.

  16. 16 On January 22nd, 2009, Rachel2 said:

    …The reason why I don’t have cable television…

  17. 17 On January 24th, 2009, Misty said:

    [quote]“Berman’s simply reinforcing the stereotype that plus-size women aren’t and can’t be beautiful and that the best they can aspire for is to be beautiful on the inside”[/quote]

    For my part, I absolutely agree with this point (i.e., that this is the major detriment of the show). No doubt the producers will defend the show as being in praise of “inner beauty” — which is incredibly demeaning, because it presupposes that a full-figured woman cannot be physically beautiful.

    Worst of all, the show will have to reinforce the lead character’s supposed unattractiveness by having others make depricating remarks about her appearance, undoubtedly focussed on her weight — and have HER make self-depricating remarks about her own appearance, focussed on her weight. And you KNOW that the lesson that most viewers will take from this show won’t be, “I want to be a smart ugly lawyer” but “There but for the grace of God go I — where’s my diet book?”

    Paradoxical as it may seem to some of the readers of this blog, a show that posited that full-figured women ARE and CAN BE be physically beautiful, and presented full-figured women as physically beautiful, would actually be the most constructive thing that Hollywood could ever do for women’s size-acceptance. And I find it telling that even though there has been a steady increase in the number and power of female producers in Hollywood, such a show has not yet been created.

    Face it — there is a far deeper and more insidious prejudice at work here than the old bugaboos about “sexism” and “patriarchy,” and it’s not being perpetuated solely by men alone (and certainly not solely by straight men).

  18. 18 On January 25th, 2009, Alyssa said:

    Amen, Misty!
    The female producers are often WORSE than the men, when it comes to not only exacerbating the stereotypes but in the way they treat actresses.
    They’re in a very male world, and I guess they feel they have to be even more “ballsy” than the guys in order to feel accepted.
    (I wish they had the balls, or I guess the OVARIES, to go their own way and not buy into all the bull.)

  19. 19 On June 5th, 2009, MARJE said:

    I SAW BROOKE ELLIOT AND SHE LOOKS MUCH HEAVIER ON THE SHOW THAN IN THE PICTURES I SEE ON THE INTERNET. DID THEY ADD MORE PADDING AND MAKEUP TO HAVE HER LOOK OVERWEIGHT?

  20. 20 On August 5th, 2009, New fat TV shows a plus? » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] I blogged about “Drop-Dead Diva” before it aired and was pretty critical in my review of the show’s concept.  Other [...]

  21. 21 On August 16th, 2009, Gabs said:

    I love the show, and I am plus sized..

  22. 22 On August 18th, 2009, Zambatriste said:

    I am plus-sized. I love this show! Having read the January comments (before the show even aired!), I am mystified. Where is it presented that Jane is unattractive? Or that Deb is mean (vapid – yes…mean – no)? I see women that are women, that have been treated certain ways because of how they look which has in turn modified how they see themselves. Deb’s had it easy because of her looks and has taken that for granted, perhaps at the cost of developing other aspects of herself. She’s having a new and enlightening experience that is testing her belief system. Jane has developed herself (her mind and talents), but judges herself unworthy based on her weight. I see Deb and Jane as having a synergistic relationship. It gently (and with humor) challenges the audience to examined their own perceptions. What’s wrong with that?

  23. 23 On August 18th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Where is it presented that Jane is unattractive? Or that Deb is mean (vapid – yes…mean – no)?

    @Zambatriste: That was presented in the press release issued by Lifetime. My commentary was based solely on how the press release portrayed the series and the comments of the creator and director. Some body acceptance activists have viewed the series and they agree that it deserves a second chance.

  24. 24 On August 18th, 2009, Zambatriste said:

    Thanks for the response, Rachel. I’m glad to hear the show’s getting a second chance from it’s detractors. I’ll continue watching it – with my fingers crossed that it continues to exhibit the intelligence and compassion it has shown so far.

  25. 25 On August 18th, 2009, MARJE said:

    I LOVE BROOKE AND I LOVE THE SHOW. I DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT
    HER LOOKS ONE WAY OR THE OTHER. WHAT I FOCUS ON IS THE STORY LINE AND I HOPE SHE GETS TOGETHER WITH HER LOVE. NICE TO SEE A SHOW NOT ALL ABOUT SEX LIKE FRIENDS WAS. THEY SURE SLEPT AROUND ON THAT SHOW. MAYBE THIS ONE WILL BE ABOUT LOVE FOR A CHANGE.

  26. 26 On August 18th, 2009, PlusSizedFeminist said:

    As I said in your other post about fat people in the media, WHATEVER. I will not be watching this. Once again it’s pretty much a show that gives the stereotypical notion that beautiful = thin only. “OMFG I got reincarnated as a fat woman!!! This is the worst punishment EVER!!!!” *rolls eyes*

  27. 27 On August 19th, 2009, Rita said:

    I LOVE THIS SHOW!!! It’s heartwarming and fun to watch Brooke balance the characters of Jane and Deb. After 50+ years of being fat, I’ve had my share of prejudice. Yet, I take absolutely no offense at this show. If one looks deeper into the characters you find Jane acting skinny in a fat girls body. By the same token, you also see her struggling with her food addictions when stressed…hence Margaret Cho who is great as the assistant, tempting Jane with sweet delights. This program is not ‘fluff.’ It is great entertainment sending a subtle message. And if anyone who has truly struggled with weight issues, I believe they can see the heart and soul of this show. I know I have. At least once an episode, I find myself teary eyed because of Brooke’s brilliant performance.

  28. 28 On August 19th, 2009, Zambatriste said:

    “OMFG I got reincarnated as a fat woman!!! This is the worst punishment EVER!!!!” *rolls eyes*

    I think this is the gauntlet. What skinny model-type wouldn’t think this in the same situation? There goes her career, there goes her “image”, “the hunter beciomes the hunted” so to speak. It sets the audience up. From here, Deb grows and (hopefully) the audience grows with her. I am all in favor of anything that promotes growth, however subtle. In fact, maybe especially subtle.

    I’m just loving the relationships in this show – Stacey and Fred are a treat, the Jane/Grayson relationship is developing nicely, even Kim has been given depth. Parker is the only one without any real depth yet, but I anticipate we’ll see some before long. I think that’s what this show is about – looking deeper….. weight is obvious and out there, but many people are judged by their appearances whether that is how they look or how they act. I can’t wait to see what the future holds in this show.

  29. 29 On August 19th, 2009, Rachel said:

    I’ve seen only the last few minutes of the series premiere, so I still can’t fully evaluate the show. But from the promising comments I’ve heard about it, I am so, so glad that Margaret Cho did not sell out.

  30. 30 On August 19th, 2009, Zambatriste said:

    Rachel, You can catch up if you go here: http://www.mylifetime.com/video . Just look under “full episodes”…they’re all there.

    I’d be really interested in hearing what you think once you’ve seen the show and can see how it’s developing. I ADORE Margaret Cho!!!

  31. 31 On September 10th, 2009, bob bennet said:

    I think Brooke Elliot is sexy as Hell. This is what a woman should be like not the Ditzy Blonde Bimbo thats her best friend on the show.

  32. 32 On September 22nd, 2009, Drop Dead Diva: Reality TV » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] I first heard of Drop Dead Diva via a press release, I was skeptical.  A thin woman reincarnated in a fat woman’s body?  So, cliche.  But then a few other fat [...]

  33. 33 On September 26th, 2009, lilly said:

    I LOVE this show. Sure, it’s a “lifetime” show.. the plot is cutesy, the firm wins every case they take on and all the authority figures are women! :) But, the ACTING IS FANTASTIC!!! I LOVE all the characters – Brooke Elliott, her best friend, the secretary, even the snarky associate is played fantastically! This show is so much fun to watch. And, at the heart of it, of course, is Brooke Elliott. She’s simply dynamite! She has so much energy, so much charisma! In my opinion, she carries the show, plain and simple. I think she has the skill of a phenomenal, seasoned pro!!

    But, has anyone checked out her imdb credits??? This is basically the first project ever listed!!! most actors build their way up to a leading role like this – starting with small appearances as a bit-part day-player here, a “party-girl 3″ there, moving on to a guest-star role on year, maybe another the next, while trying to develop their skill and ability in the process. Brooke Elliott has the skill of a seasoned pro but none of the tv/film creds! To me, the reason seams obvious! How often are there real, fun, cackling, dynamic roles – or for that matter, bit-parts – for full-figured women?? not very often. Ellenor from the practice, way back when. and… that’s about all I, personally, can think of.

    I love the show. I love the way it portrays women and issues important to women. It’s great when a show actually addresses stuff like that!
    But, I also thinks it’s phenominal simply because it is what it is. Any show – law and order, the closer, whatever you want – can do an episode that would, for instance, deal with weight issues by introducing a guest star that has them. But, this show actually gives an amazing actor a character to inhabit LONG TERM! though that character is fat, she is also a REAL PERSON and gets to confront and experience so much more than just problems connected to that!

    I think thats what sets drop dead diva apart.

  34. 34 On September 26th, 2009, lilly said:

    and.. by the way, it seems pretty obvious to me that “jane” isn’t ugly or perceived as mouse and frumpy simply because of her size. she starts out as the butt of that other woman attorney’s snide remarks because she USED TO BE a shy, unconfident push-over. But, now she’s stylish, outgoing and vibrant. No, she’s still not the kind of bombshell that instantly catches every man’s eye – and I think that’s the truth in life. But, she has a beautiful face, she has a charismatic, fun personality, and, as I think is also the truth in life, it won’t take long for people to start realizing how attractive she is!

  35. 35 On September 28th, 2009, Zambatriste said:

    You don’t see a lot of previous work for Brooke Elliott on imdb because they don’t list stage credits and she’s primarily a stage actress. All the best actresses seem to come from solid stage training. It’s the trial by fire for anyone that calls themselves an actor.

  36. 36 On May 26th, 2010, Redskin said:

    Well I guess all you naysayers have egg on your faces. Not only is DDD a great show , it’s coming back for another season. Its success is the magnificent combination of beauty and talent that is Brooke Elliott.

  37. 37 On May 27th, 2010, MARJE said:

    I ENJOYED THIS SHOW AND HAVE HAD MORE THAN MY SHARE OF WEIGHT RELATED PROBLEMS. I DON’T TAKE IT AS THE WHOLE WORLD SEES HER AS A FAT PERSON AND THEREFORE NOT ATTRACTIVE. I SEE IT THAT SHE SEES IT THAT WAY. HAVING BEEN A MODEL, SHE IS SHOCKED TO BE IN THIS BODY. I LIKE THAT THEY DO HAVE A VERY NICE LOOKING MAN CRAZY FOR HER IN THE SHOW. THE GUY SHE LOVES NOW AND LOVED AS DEB LOOKS AT HER LIKE HE COULD LOVE HER JUST THE WAY SHE IS TOO. I THINK IT WILL COME TO THAT BY THE LAST EPISODE. IF YOU JUST WATCH IT AND NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY, IT IS A GREAT SHOW WITH A WONDERFUL STAR. I WOULD BE GLAD TO SEE IT COME BACK.

  38. 38 On May 28th, 2010, Willow said:

    I actually found the skinny Deb incredibly sick-looking and unattractive, whereas I drool to this day over Jane. I can’t help but think Grayson is shallow for having been in love with the skinny Deb, who was shallow, dull, insipid – she reminded me of the cheerleaders from high school, whose overheard conversations bored the shit out of me. I keep hoping that something HORRIBLE will happen to Kim, because a) she’s a bitch to her overpriced heels, and b) I am not merciful about bitches, having encountered WAY too many in real life. Finally, this show still buys into the omnipresent concern over how women look – “Is fat equally as attractive as skinny?” How about “Women are women, and let’s not obsess over a perfect body type” (whether fat or skinny)?

  39. 39 On May 29th, 2010, jennifer said:

    so, how many of you people dogging this show wound up watching it? me too… love it! get over your qualms, your judgments, yourselves, and just watch the damn thing. it’s cute as hell, brooke elliott is a total goddess, and even her jane’s sidekick stacy has some very healthy input into the show. if you noticed, she sees her friend, not the size of her friend, and that’s what we should be doing ladies and gents. it’s not the package or the wrapper we’re supposed to love, it’s the thought, the personality, the real gift behind it.

  40. 40 On August 14th, 2010, Melinda said:

    I love the show!! and i am not overweight! I work out every day to look the way i do! It is not easy, and who cares what her body type is, the ace is she is a beautiful woman and her size should not matter!! i think that everybody needs to be treated with respect no matter if they are a size 0 or a size 20!! Not to mention Paris Hilton has a great body, but you never hear anyone talk about her bird nose and clown feet!! Brooke Elliot is so much more beautiful than most Hollywood woman.. chubby or not!!

  41. 41 On August 16th, 2010, MARJE said:

    I AM STILL WATCHING DDD. I STILL LOVE THIS SHOW. WHY PICK IT APART. IT IS A JUST FOR FUN SHOW. I HAVE BEEN VERY OVERWEIGHT AND DON’T TAKE OFFENSE AT ALL. I LOVE WHEN BROOKE SINGS. WOULD LIKE MORE DREAMS OR ANYTHING THAT GETS HER SINGING. ONE THING I AM TIRED OF IS JANE SOLVING THE CASE FOR GRAYSON AND HIS THANKING HER. LET HIM SOLVE IT HIMSELF. HE CAN JUST TALK WITH JANE ABOUT IT AND BOUNCE IDEAS OFF OF HER. I HOPE IT COMES BACK AGAIN NEXT SEASON.

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