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Divas, Lawyers, and Why “Drop Dead Diva” is the Best Summer Show You Are Not Watching

In body politics, Drop Dead Diva, Lifetime on June 28, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Recently, Jennifer Lynn Jones and Phoebe B. got together over a Google Doc to discuss one of their favorite summer shows, Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva (DDD). Read on for thoughts on why DDD is the most awesome, the recent season, and much more!

Jane, KK as Nikki , and Stacy (courtesy of Lifetime)

What made you start watching the show? Why do you keep watching it?

Phoebe B: Honestly I can’t quite remember what made me start watching it, but I am SO glad that I did. It is perhaps one of my favorite Summer shows on TV. I keep watching it for a variety of reasons but I think one of the things I like most is Jane (and Brooke Elliot who plays her is so amazing). She is such a badass lawyer and such a great friend (I kind of wish we were friends). But perhaps most importantly, in a TV landscape that is often unkind to women as we’ve seen in Lena Dunham’s recent treatment, DDD celebrates women of all shapes and sizes.

Jennifer: I started watching it because it seemed like it might have some connection to my dissertation, which is on fat stars. I remember it started in the summer of 2009, right around the same time as Fox’s reality dating competition More to Love, so that moment seemed to present a potential zeitgeist for larger-sized characters sans makeovers on television. At first I’d be hard-pressed to say I was a fan of either, but DDD definitely won me over by the end of the first season. I think the hardest part for me to swallow was that the most winning characteristics of Jane’s personality seem to come from Deb, so that the traits of the “thin model” seemed to remain the most significant parts of the character. Over the next few seasons though, it felt like the specter of Deb sort of “thinned out” in the character, and what remained was Jane as this unique, large, lovely character, who yes, I would also very much like to be or know in real life!

How would you describe it to people who haven’t seen it?

Phoebe B: Deb, a super skinny model dies on her way to a Price is Right audition, goes to Heaven’s processing center, pushes the return button, and finds herself back on earth in the body of Jane, a plus size braniac lawyer. Deb, now Jane, has to learn to live in and love her body while also learning how to be a lawyer and grieve the loss of her fiance. There are love triangles, there are musical numbers, and fabulous guest judges. Jane, as she struggles with Deb and learns to navigate her new life, becomes a truly compassionate, complicated, and delightful character.

Jennifer: Yes, that exactly! I often call it an updated version of Ally McBeal, with Jane being a combination of Legally Blond’s Elle Woods and The Practice’s Ellenor Frutt.

Phoebe B: Oh my goodness, that’s PERFECT. Jane’s hair flip often reminds me of Elle.

Jennifer: Yep, that flip from this week is definitely an Elle trait, as well as the “toe tap booty bounce” from the first episode.

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Update: Patti Stanger is “Toxic” on Drop Dead Diva 

In gender, Lifetime on August 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Last night I turned on the television (okay so actually it was the DVR, as I watched Leverage pre Drop Dead Diva) and lo and behold there was Patti Stanger on one of my favorite shows, Drop Dead Diva. Given that last week I wrote about Patti and her matchmaking for millionaires and that I have also recently written on Drop Dead Diva (DDD), I thought an update was in order after I watched my TV worlds collide.

Patti Stanger as Marcie on Drop Dead Diva

On DDD there have been a parade of famous female guests, from Rosie O’Donnell and Paula Abdul in Season 1, to Wanda Sykes in Season 2, and last week Kathy Griffin (which was hilarious). Thus, I suppose Patti’s appearance should not come as such a shock to the system, but for some reason (to be fleshed out shortly) it did. On DDD last night’s “Toxic” episode, Patti played Marcie LaRose, a rather snarky mean girl and Terri’s (Margaret Cho) high school and present day nemesis. Marcie is very much a Patti Stanger type character and we meet her as she asserts to a crowd of single ladies that women should not just give it away. Otherwise, you’ll never get married or so she says.

The major action comes in the midst of Marcie’s lunchtime talk (which Terri’s mother has insisted she and Jane (Brooke Elliot) attend), when Terri and Jane get in a bit of a verbal brawl. Marcie shouts at Terri, Jane defends Terri, Marcie sues Terri for “defamation, per se.” That is, Marcie sues her for slandering her chastity, a suit Marcie ultimately loses at the hands of Kim, Jane’s rival and another firm attorney.

For me the most interesting thing about this episode is that for a show like Drop Dead Diva that most certainly passes the Bechdel Test, and is also, on its best days, about smart, capable, and driven women, Patti Stanger seems an odd fit. So in a show where episodes rarely seem off, this one did and I think it was because of Patti Stanger’s ethic does not quite fit on DDD. For example, Patti is all about women losing weight to get the guy (as indicated by her recent break-up and subsequent weight loss), where DDD seems definitively anti-this line of thought. Instead DDD insists on many different kinds of beauty and that there is no one size fits all way of looking or model for dating. So as the script tried to make fun of Marcie (Patti Stanger) and did paint her as unsympathetic (for example, she ultimately loses her lawsuit against Terri), it also seemed to tread lightly around her.

Patti Stanger on DDD seemed to me like putting a square peg into a round hole: awkward, forceful, and mostly strange. If the show made too much fun of Marcie/Patti and their requisite but similar businesses, then DDD might risk offending the real Millionaire Matchmaker. But if DDD didn’t present some problem with her character on the show, then DDD would have also have felt even odd. So the show toed the middle line and it was weird.

However, the name of the episode is “Toxic,” which at once refers to a case involving toxic dirt and a school (the other storyline from last night), so could be read as having nothing to do with Patti Stanger. But here is where I think the show is quite smart: I choose to read the episode’s title as reflecting the show’s take on Patti (perhaps I’m projecting a little bit). By pairing a toxic dirt story-line and the danger it poses to a group of people, with a story-line about Patti Stanger as a mean girl signals to me a parallel between the two. Thus, the saving grace of last night’s episode and my take away from “Toxic,” is that the show subtly signals that Patti and her dating philosophies are indeed toxic and harmful, just like the bad toxic dirt.

Drop Dead Diva & Lifetime’s Modern Makeover

In Lifetime on July 11, 2011 at 8:02 am

Phoebe Bronstein

I have always thought Lifetime was for the older ladies, but these days something is afoot in their programming with shows like summer hit Drop Dead Diva, the sexy women of Army Wives, Project Runway, and the premier of a new show with Ally Walker, The Protector. I must admit I have never seen Army Wives as it never appealed to me and I haven’t seen Project Runaway since it moved to Lifetime. However, I just watched the first two episodes of The Protector, and it isn’t too bad thus far; then again I am a total sucker for any and all crime oriented television shows.

But my favorite Lifetime show and one my favorite summer shows is Drop Dead Diva. Not only am I a big Drop Dead Diva fan, but I feel like it is a show particularly necessary for the current television landscape. Last summer ABC Family canceled Huge (which made me really sad) and then Marie Claire published Maura Kelly’s upsetting and disrespectful response to Mike & Molly on their blog (read here). That is, the current TV climate is not one that welcomes weight differences and is at times downright cruel. Enter Drop Dead Diva, a show that features and celebrates a brilliant, sexy, and plus size woman as its central character. The show is now in its third season and going strong.

Jane (Brooke Elliott)

So here’s the basic plot: Deb, a skinny model in love with a lawyer, Grayson, dies in a car accident. Deb goes to heaven, presses the return button, and comes back in the body of Jane (Brooke Elliott), a plus size, workaholic lawyer with Margaret Cho as her secretary (Margaret Cho is so awesome). Deb, now Jane, goes to work at the law firm where her now grieving fiancé, Grayson works. Drama ensues as Jane/Deb tries to win back Grayson’s heart, balance her new life in her new body, and all the while rocking her lawyer socks—a feat she accomplishes amongst a myriad of celebrity cameos from Paula Abdul and Wendy Williams to Wanda Sykes. And just in case you thought the show couldn’t get better, the show is sprinkled with fantasy song and dance sequences which showcase Brooke Elliott’s incredible voice and talent. So good!

But here is the thing, in a climate where most of the women of television and particularly those that have their own shows are somewhere in, around, and under a size 2, Jane is an awesome anomaly. She is sexy and the show believes she is sexy. But the show and Jane also struggle (particularly in the first season) with the social pressures surrounding her body although the show is definitely not about weight. It is interesting to note here too, that the last time Margaret Cho was on television she was forced to undertake some serious weight loss, which we all know is really bad for your health. Now Cho is on Drop Dead Diva, a show that celebrates her curvy body.

Margaret Cho as Terry, Jane's awesome assistant

While this is all true and awesome, Lifetime’s own homepage features diet tips for women and the network also airs a show on weight loss geared at women: Cook Yourself Thin. And while roaming around Lifetime’s site, I came across pictures of celebrities who have lost weight, some healthier than others. This photo essay does not appear critical of the Hollywood super skinny aesthetic or interested in weight loss for health purposes. And it seems odd to me that something like this photo essay can coexist on Lifetime with Drop Dead Diva’s emphasis on beauty in all different shapes and sizes. But I guess it all makes sense given the bodies that are front and center on Lifetime’s other shows, such as Army Wives, Project Runway, and The Protector (ie some very thin and fit women).

So yes, Lifetime has definitely gotten a face lift of epic proportions—from made for TV women’s films, which they still show, to snazzy new programming like Drop Dead Diva and Army Wives. The promo picture for Army Wives clearly seems to be looking for sex appeal—something I never thought I would see on Lifetime. As an aside, if Lifetime is a network targeted at women and they are selling the sex appeal of the Army Wives (in their marketing at least), might they in fact be targeting women who love women? As that would be cool. But if not, who are they appealing to? And why doesn’t a network that markets itself towards women have more appealing and strong women like Jane? Also note: the Lifetime website has astrology tabs. Interesting and perhaps a little odd.

This is all to say that Drop Dead Diva is a serious breath of fresh air in a TV and larger media landscape that does not embrace weight differences. Jane is a hardworking and bad ass lawyer, but she also happens to be sexy, sassy, and flirty and sometimes struggles with her confidence (be honest, we all do at times). And she is even, unlike the women of many crime shows, pretty decent at dating and has friends (seriously, lots of friends). So clearly I am a fan and perhaps not as critical as I could be here, but this girl would love to see more shows like Drop Dead Diva. And I will probably now watch anything with Brooke Elliott as she is awesome.