A HUGE Breakthrough for TV: Nuance Trumps Vapid Vixens Aplenty

August 12, 2010 In part one and part two of my posts about ABC Family’s Huge premiere, I hoped to see the show evolve from the hope and promise of some stellar scriptwriter ‘attachments’ to actually being ‘attached.’

I’d like to say they ‘had me at hello’ but frankly they did NOT.

I’m not an ABC Family ‘teen soap’ fan of the shallow sniper-fire of frenemies and sexcapade shenanigans of the usual tripe, and to complicate matters, I’m a wellness advocate for kids’ physical, emotional, and social health. (more on why that juxtaposition isn’t a disconnect in part two)

As the summer winds down, it’s interesting to see how I’ve warmed up and ‘attached’ to this show like beach sand clings to a sunscreened bod.

Hearty applause to Huge for looking at the shallow signals of using weight as social currency in our collective psyches. (Our own Shaping Youth adviser, Dr. Robyn Silverman has a book coming out in October along these lines called “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It”)

The media maverick in me LOVES dialog snippets like this week’s pushback from lead character Will at the ‘weigh in’ scales, “I just don’t want to be infected by this crap!” (good luck with that in our media culture, baby) But as a writer, my HUGE hurray is for getting inside the skin of characters and creating a solid, relatable piece of work.

I’m thrilled to see Huge has taken the risky road of taking their TIME to develop characters that aren’t flat cardboard cutouts to be crammed into :42 timeslots with tidy resolutions and a cliffhanger seeded for the next week.

Quel surprise, they’re even 3D bodies too…

In one way refreshing given the popsicle stick painted ladies who weave in and out of teen soaps aplenty with ‘will s/he or won’t s/he’ (insert xyz solvable formulaic moral dilemma) leaving many teens wondering how these screen lives are so ‘hot’ and theirs are so ‘not’…

It’s a different vibe that for once favors substance OVER form, and fearlessly dips into the teen emotional tank to tap into self-doubts, life stories and situational baggage that each one of us carries through the world as HUGE parts of our personality, regardless of our appearance.

Reminds me of that old adage, “when you point a finger three are pointing back at you”… whether it’s about word choice, attitude, hurt feelings, friendship, rejection, romance, or appearance, it’s all jumbled into a poignant snapshot of the human condition universally.

Don’t get me wrong, it can be infuriating too. I have some ‘huge issues’ …

The advertising surrounding the show has improved steadily, but it tweaked me initially, as did the eyeroll when I thought it was going down the ‘who likes who’ hormonal path, and ‘mean/ popular girl’ dynamic which has since righted itself from superficial ‘hottie’ factor to dig deeper, thank gawd…Now:

It’s quirky and almost coy in leaving you dangling and on edge that ‘something’s up’ beneath the surface of core characters, especially leads like the camp enigma, “Dr. Rand” (at left) who projects hardshell calm on the outside and is a gooey self-questioning mess on the inside that I want to bark, “physician, heal thyself.”

The show’s pace is a refreshing shift from the ‘over the top’ antics and stereotyped personas…it’s more like a titillating page-turning novel that makes you jump ahead to the next chapter just when you promised the light was going out for the night.

They reveal just enough about a character to engage, but leave you guessing…Sometimes I want to reach through the screen and give ‘em a good shoulder shake ‘what’s is UP with you, hmn?!’

Likewise, characters that perpetually annoy me like the abrasive drill sergeant-like trainer, Shay make me realize archetype doesn’t match the show’s whip-smart ability to add depth and complexity to a character so I KNOW there’s ‘stuff’ bubbling beneath the surface.

Sure enough, just about when I’m ready to write off a character as a ‘loud-mouthed loser’ or spiteful meanie, there’s a softening of the edges and a window on their world wiped clean. I’ve learned to just ‘hold’ as we say in yoga, and ‘wait it out’ without fast-forwarding to judgment.

Now the question is, will the network do the same?

As this Open Letter to the network stated so well, these things take TIME to flourish and need nourished beyond a quick ‘slap it up there for the summer and see what sticks to say we tried it’ TV executive approach.

I’ve seen this happen all too often with shows that try to create something different…that try to challenge our heads and hearts with compassion, humor and tolerance of the human condition in raw and real ways.

The character development in Huge reminds me of shows like Once And Again (axed) or the new Parenthood (a hit ensemble cast so far) that portray families with internal landscapes where you cheer for their growth over time, see bits and pieces from your own reflection, and learn about life’s foibles, injustices and triumphs along the way…that’s what makes for solid, engaging entertainment.

But networks are notoriously impatient, particularly in recent years…breakthrough shows of yesteryear like Norman Lear’s All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, Sanford and Son, or sitcoms like Murphy Brown, The Golden Girls or the ‘Huge’ success of Roseanne depicting working class worlds took time to get their footing so they wouldn’t be perceived as ‘contributing’ to a problem, but instead using media as art to open dialogs that need to transpire. Still, I worry…

Anyone remember the Verb Yellowball campaign for kids launched by the CDC for a body positive approach to active play, seeding fun through fitness virally so kids wouldn’t know what hit ‘em? Well, hey, it WAS working just fine until they pulled the plug just as it was reaching critical mass to catch on. Hope there aren’t parallels here. Just sayin’…

I’ll save the rest for part two where I ‘interview myself’ on what works and what doesn’t for me in terms of the whole body image/nutrition/obesity equation…(btw, two of my favorite characters shown below, Becca & Will)

I realize it’s a Huge uphill battle this show faces,  as Time magazine pithily conveyed:

“In truth the series can go only so far because a real sanctioning of teenage obesity would feel like a renewed condoning of the subprime mortgage market.”

That’s a myopic media view but an understandable statement. The over-arching ‘hurray’ here for me is that the show carefully draws you into an inner circle at Camp Victory where it’s like being a fly on the wall hearing about issues that you may or may not be able to relate to in your own personal challenges. (weight or otherwise)

Time magazine is correct though that it’s a misunderstood, multi-layered media conundrum with perceptions that runs deep. One of the most telling moments came for me when a friend said,

“You watch Huge? That’s not even your issue! How are YOU gonna write about that?”

I was kinda stunned. Not my issue?

That’s like saying I can’t understand racial discrimination because I’m white and blonde. (there’s an added trick answer to that; I was raised as a minority—Hawaii, Japan, D.C., go figure)

Huge is pushing the envelope to get traction en masse, but mainstream media is stuck in the mindset that it’s a “fat camp.” Really, people? That’s like saying the TV show MASH was about the military, or the film Cocoon was only for senior citizens.

Let’s be clear: The show is a universal snapshot that all ages and stages can relate to on some level at any given point in time.

It’s a vehicle for ‘issues’ to slowly eke out, and the camaraderie among the campers AND struggling staffers appears to be unified in an unflinching ‘us vs them’ representation of a world outside the camp in our larger culture that’s demanding, harsh, stressful and unyielding with expectations.

Who are those ‘thems?’ Well …they’re US.

Everyday people in society projecting the shoulds and coulds onto others, whether it’s via one to one glances or mass media blasts of appearance-based cues.

Are YOU contributing to the toxicity of that landscape?

Do you bodysnark or show disdain for ‘too’ _______ (thin/fat/tall/short/perky/quirky/freaky/geeky/dumb/smart) insert judgment du’ jour?

Think on it. Back atcha with Part Two.

Meanwhile here are some of the video clips and talking points to prompt you to give it a view and chance. You may be surprised how fast you see yourself in this pop cultural mirror.

Opening Up a Huge Conversation: via Huge Actionist (TM) Jess Weiner

See her site for the full list of questions for great talking points with kids about different aspects of the show that get them thinking critically about media messages embedded in the show and in our culture. Here are just a few of my favorites:

“…Ian expresses his fear of disappointing his parents because they seem to have high expectations for him to change his body.

Who puts the most pressure on you when it comes to your body image?

Is it  your family? Friends? Media? Whose voice do you listen to the most when it comes to your health? Why is weight such an emotional issue for teens?”

Another:  “When arguing about the merits of a weigh-in, Will makes a statement to Becca ‘There’s no pressure as long as you are trying to shrink to an acceptable size.’ What do you think she meant by that?”

“Chloe and Amber sign the Seventeen Body Peace Treaty” (Amy’s note: cough, cough, VERY strategic product placement)…

“Why do you think it’s important to declare peace around your body image? What could accepting your body and looks help you achieve more of in life? Will it make you happier? Will it help you feel more confident?”

“Ian decides NOT to find out how much weight he lost and tells Alistair he doesn’t “want to let a number decide who he feels about himself.” What do you think about that choice?”

“Becca is really happy with her weight loss progress. Is it OK to celebrate small changes in your health like when you are able to walk further or feel stronger? Could celebrating small moments help you feel more confident if you have a lot of weight to lose?”

Jess Weiner is an author, self-esteem expert and lives a HUGE life by helping girls around the world feel more confident.

(Amy’s note: She’s also an amazing role model who has prompted me to explore the “body positive” movement with a different lens, while keeping my healthy/mobility/balance reasoning intact working with kids on the nutrition and obesity intervention front…This is not a show about ‘fat is where it’s at’ nor is it a ‘thin is in’ aspirational message, it’s about diverse bodies, minds, and media. Brava and encore! Huge Actionist (R)

Here’s Jess Weiner’s interview with Nikki Blonsky (clearly her statement about getting invested in the characters rather than the weight focus holds true for me, mission accomplished) I’m not the only one pleased with the direction so far, here’s a roundup of reviews from mainstream media on MetaCritic.

Posts From the Actionist Network (R)

Am I Promoting Obesity? Are You? (Dr. Robyn Silverman 7-29-10)

A Body Positive Approach to Exercise (Julie Parker)

PigtailPals: Huge, Week 6 w/video of teen ‘girl gang’ (follow her ongoing covg)

PigtailPals: Huge Week 5, Week 4, etc.

The Illusionists

Jess Weiner

Claire Mysko: 5 Resolutions for Real Beauty

Julie Parker: Beautiful You

About Face.org

Huge May Look Extreme, But That Could Be A Good Thing (Jess Weiner)

There’s Something Huge Coming Our Way (Elin Waldal)

A Huge Step Forward or Back? ABC Family On Weight Loss Camp (Dr Robyn)

Huge: A New ABC Family Original Series/Action Alert (Chenese Lewis)

Huge is Coming (Andrea Owen/Life Coach)

Voice in Recovery/Huge on ABC Family (Kendra S/Eating Disorder Activist)

16 Y.o. Emily-Anne Rigal aka Schmiddlebopper Interviews Nikky Blonsky

HUGE List of Recent/Related Resources

Madame Noire: Raven Goodwin’s Huge Breakthrough (7-13-10)

Teenage Stars of Huge TV Series Aren’t Just Acting Overweight (Washington Post)

Nikky Blonsky: It Doesn’t Matter That I’m Plus-Size (CNN)

Nikky Blonsky Talks to TV Fanatic

A Close-Knit Team on a Plus-Size Show (NYT)

Mother/Daughter Team Create New TV Show (Women in Hollywood)

Huge Preview: ABC Family Summer Series (CinemaBlend)

Huge Difference/Drama At Fat Camp, It’s Real People Who Carry the Weight (Sign On SanDiego)



  1. Amy – thank you as always for your thoughtful and valuable insight.

    I promise you I had nothing to do w/ that Seventeen strategic placement BUT can I just say – that it was a lovely moment for me – screening the episode in advance (while flying on a plane) and realizing that I WROTE that Body Peace Treaty the characters were signing and now I am involved w/ a show that is featuring those characters signing the BP treaty.

    I had no one to share it w/ in flight but I was so super excited to see my little hand on this piece of pop culture. It’s the small steps of change that lead to big results. XO Jess and PS – I too hope the network gives this it’s fair shake and greenlights season 2!!

  2. Well, now see, Jess?

    That’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog…where I ASSUMED (first three letters obviously) that you may have had a hand in same since you are what I honestly consider to be the token “bright light” of a much needed sea change at Seventeen and all those glamorama mags…

    Sorry bout that, chief.

    It’s kinda like looking at the product placement in the LadyGaGa video and assuming it’s all PAID/marcom (actually, much is, but some was her own artsy stmt evidently: http://www.newser.com/story/83253/lady-gaga-video-has-lots-of-product-placement.html

    Anyway, my bad.

    btw, for your bemusement, lest you think I’m hatin’ on the fashion mags (well, kinda, yah, but…it’s a ’twas ever thus/teen/developmental thang)

    *I* (yep, unbelievable, I know) was actually a Conde Nast ‘collegiate/guest editor for Mademoiselle’ back in the day. Yah. Go figure.

    I even flew out to NYC to see what it would be like to work for “the magazines” and literally recall a ‘turn on the heels and run’ moment bolting out the door.

    Kind of like Mary Tyler Moore/Murphy Brown meets Ugly Betty’s Willamina/Devil Wears Prada…

    I was sooooo starry eyed and journalistic hoping to be an ‘agent of change’ and to this day recall the massive logos on each floor and the slam shut metaphor with the wham of the elevator door closing.

    So hat’s off to ya, for being a glimmer of nutrition in a sea of junk food; I just couldn’t stomach it. (granted, working virtually vs. face to face is an altered state from what I was facing heh)

    Regardless, you have boldly surfed the waves of a very powerful distribution channel, and I’m so proud of you for stirring up your own pop culture tsunami of sea change as an Actionist (R) (Love that word) You are truly using the power of media for positive change…

    Deep yoga bow. And banzai! 🙂

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