Raised to a higher standard than your usual ABC Family series on the strength of its performances and writing, Huge took a tricky, even controversial, premise and made a clever hour of it. Just when you thought pop culture had fallen in line with the socially-correct stance toward obesity — roughly speaking, that would be “Shed the pounds or be the Biggest Loser!” — along comes Huge to suggest that the so-called “fat acceptance” movement makes a good point.

Huge has a great asset in its star, Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray), who plays Willamina, or Will, a teen sent by her parents to a summer weight-loss camp. Nikki doesn’t want to be there; resents the rah-rah, burn-calories positivism of Camp Victory, and started running a black-market in hard candy and chocolate. Like a lot of TV teens, Will is sullen and sarcastic. Unlike a lot of TV teens, she’s given a motivation for her mood: Will has been forced by most of the people around her to think of herself as a loser when, she knows she’s not. That would make anyone angry, and Blonsky has the delicate skill to make Will’s anger take the forms of both sincerity and a funny sarcasm.

Early on at Camp Victory, everyone had to strip down to bathing suits; it was the show’s audacious idea to get viewers accustomed to something rare in scripted TV: a screen full of actors with rolls of fat who aren’t there to be frowned-upon as freaks. Nikki’s ironic-rebellious strip tease in front of the camp’s director, Dr. Rand (Firefly‘s Gina Torres), told you everything you needed to know about Nikki’s character, and about the brisk irreverence with which Huge was going to approach its subject.

Written by the mother-daughter team of Winnie Holzman and Savannah Dooley, based on Sasha Paley’s book, Huge finds Will’s opposite number in blonde, perky Amber. Because she’s just that much thinner than the average camper here, Amber becomes this mini-society’s sex symbol, and Hayley Hasselhoff plays her with just the right combination of pride and gnawing self-doubt. (Based on this episode, I’d say Hayley is a better actor than her dad, David Hasselhoff.)

Writer-producer Holzman created the great My So-Called Life, and Huge is nowhere near as good as that show. As I said at the top, this is an ABC Family show, and as such it has to conform to the channel’s basic notion of sending out positive messages and keeping the proceedings family-friendly. The meanest person around is probably the camp cook (“No seconds!”), played by the always wonderful Paul Dooley (Holzman’s husband and Savannah’s father, but if you don’t know Dooley himself, go get a copy of Breaking Away immediately).

But as summer entertainment with a tangy after-taste, Huge was good stuff. I’m all for its plus-size message, and even more for the talent of its lead actors.

What about you?

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