According to Jim, it's perfectly reasonable for a gut-shaped guy to be married to a younger, thinner, physically impeccable woman. The laws of sitcom land decree: it's a man's job to represent the attainable and a woman's to be the aspirational. The spate of chubby-guy, hot-girl sitcoms of the past 10 years, from "Yes Dear" and "King of Queens" to "Still Standing", allowed a guy to just be a guy. But a woman? Yikes. She can wear jeans, but let's not go too far.
Enter "Mike and Molly", a new CBS sitcom, about a couple who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. It's a major breakthrough in the TV genre, whether the show is a hit or not. Not since Roseanne has there been an overweight woman in the lead role in a sitcom. The series that was ahead of its time on everything from homosexuality to George Clooney, was the first and last to feature a heavyset star as a happily married leading lady. You'd have thought the hit show would spawn a dozen copycats, but quite the opposite happened. Literally.
The idea of a married couple who looked alike became a thing of the past, perhaps because it relied too heavily on a team of talented writers. Instead, the pitch was: a free spirit and a down-to-earth lawyer ("Dharma and Greg") or a loud-mouthed nanny and polite British billionaire ("The Nanny"). The obstacles were at first their socio-economic differences. Then, their differences became purely physical. He's overweight, she's not. At the root of this was the fact that shows were driven by male comics: Jim Belushi, Mike O'Malley, Kevin James. All, like Rosanne Barr, were the comedic backbone. But, unlike John Goodman's Dan Connor, the female spouses became mostly decoration. The straight men, to the fat men. Perhaps more than body type, what made the physical imbalance so infuriating was the way it was subliminally qualified. Within five minutes of watching "Yes Dear" or "Still Standing", it was obvious how the overweight, bald guy landed such a babe. He's funny. And she's kind of a stick in the mud.
The problem was less about body types and more about the fact that women weren't taking the comedic starring roles. Especially in shows centering around a couple. There were some comediennes in leading roles, but they certainly didn't have men in their lives. "Grace Under Fire" followed a single mom. "The New Adventures of Old Christine"? Single too. Funny women weren't happily married. And happily married women certainly weren't fat.
Men on the other hand were just more-to-love types. Rotund, sweet-faced, and pleasantly plump from watching loads of sports. And if there was any doubt about a man's attractiveness, his wife would suggest they go up to the bedroom while the kids are at a sleepover. Usually that was met with a "can we wait until half-time?" Someone get Leah Remini's character a divorce lawyer, stat.
But the difference in body types, or the sluggish nature it was born from, never seemed to bother the svelte wives or the viewers. In fact, we came to expect that married men looked like Mr. Potato Heads. It was a function of marriage. And usually, it was explained away in an episode where you learned that the couple met in high school, when he was a star quarterback. In some backhanded way, then, the loafing lard the middle-aged man has come to be was his wife's fault. And now she has to live with it. And love it.
Rarely would a plot be about a guy's weight problem on these family sitcoms. Instead you'd see him shoveling food into his maw when his wife was, on a rare occasion, freed from her kitchen post. A plot-line here or there may involve "losing a few extra pounds", but the weight difference never surfaced in the show's log-line or original pitch.
In "Mike and Molly" comes a new scenario. The couple meets not at prom, but as adults, with developed identities. Plus, they're brought together during their attempt to tackle their health woes. They're pro-active, unlike some people (cough, Jim).
Unlike the original pitch of "According to Jim", which was likely "Untitled Jim Belushi average family man project," "Mike and Molly" was sold on the overweight couple premise. At least now we're talking about men and their bodies. On the other hand, the only reason weight is a topic at all in this series, is because a heavyset woman is the co-star. If the pitch was simply about an average couple, and the female co-star was incidentally overweight, the show would never get made. Roseanne, come back.
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