It’s a genius idea, the notion of incorporating the shock effect of Kirstie Alley’s recent substantial weight gain into an autobio sitcom about a substantially heavier Kirstie Alley. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for Alley? She’s always had that appealing, curvy, broad-out-of-the-1940s thing going on, distinguishing her — even when she was thinner — from the gaggle of more boyishly constructed comediennes who tend to prosper on TV. She is historically as good (Cheers) or better (Veronica’s Closet) than anything she’s in. And as she points out to her agent in a desperate phone call on the premiere episode of Fat Actress, Alley has won two People’s Choice Awards — which means she’s the people’s choice, dammit.
For that matter, who doesn’t love foulmouthed, semi-improvised, self-referential showbiz deconstruction as a comedy specialty of cable programming? Curb Your Enthusiasm defines it, Entourage tweaks it, Comedy Central aspires to it nightly on The Daily Show — the format for people so hip, they enjoy the joke behind the joke more than the joke itself.
But while the premise is genius — I hope it’s fulfilled someday — the huge problem with Fat Actress is that it isn’t about a fat actress at all: It’s about a crazy woman and her enablers. Honestly, avoirdupois has little to do with the miseries this ”Kirstie Alley” imposes on herself — and us — in the comfort of her highend L.A. home, with her assistants, Eddie (Bryan Callen) and Kevyn (Rachael Harris), close at hand. (Eddie is her gofer, her ”bitch,” and at one point her pimp; Kevyn, named after the late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, is her girlfriend-side-kick and her hair fusser.) This Kirstie whines, she weeps, she schemes (to pick up a black man since they all, you know, love big butts), and she stomps her Ugg-encased tootsies. She also sucks burgers down her maw with the power of a Dyson vacuum cleaner.
None of this, please be advised, is a weight issue with which real humans can identify; it’s a spoiled-nutcase issue, cushioned by wealth and people willing to play along. John Travolta shows up, as John Travolta, and comforts Kirstie after her agent suggests she lose some heft. (Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston, makes guest appearances as a collagen-lipped diet guru who counsels Alley to induce vomiting by sticking something really ”beautiful” down her throat.) NBC chief Jeff Zucker drops by as himself to listen to Kirstie in a pitch meeting. Comedian Mark Curry arrives as the black guy who gets lucky, in a painfully under-edited bedroom scene.
To call Fat Actress an insult to fat actresses may be extreme. But the coarse, overwrought comedy, cocreated and written by Alley and 7th Heaven creator Brenda Hampton, is certainly no gift to an extremely likable star — she’s the people’s choice, dammit — more in need of solid direction, apparently, than great improv freedom. Given the chance to joke with bitter wisdom about the tyranny of looksism (in an industry where even svelte sitcom women like Calista Flockhart and Jennifer Aniston shrunk their shapes over time), a star who uses that freedom instead to announce ”I’m going to f—Kid Rock” doesn’t appreciate her fat luck.