Alibi V.14 No.11 • March 17-23, 2005 

Idiot Box

Fat Chance

“Fat Actress” on Showtime

I'm always a little amazed at whom the tabloids choose to make their lifelong rumor fodder. Take, for example, former “Cheers” star Kirstie Alley. For more than a decade, the C-list actress has been haunted by The Star, The National Enquirer and the like, all of whom seem to delight in speculating about the woman's weight gain. Frankly, there are few topics I could care less about, but apparently the average housewife in the checkout stand at Wal-Mart disagrees with me.

Ultimately, Alley owes those scandal rags a huge debt of gratitude. They've managed to keep her named in the headlines a full five years after her last, poorly rated sitcom, “Veronica's Closet,” vanished off the airwaves. Now, Alley has decided to add a further layer of silver lining to the scandal rags' obsession. Alley has teamed up with Showtime to produce a self-referential, partially improvised sitcom about the actress' attempts to lose weight and gain her career back.

Believe it or not, “Fat Actress” is even more obsessed with Alley's weight than the tabloids. Every single joke (at least in the pilot episode) seems to revolve around the fact that Alley is now fat. Alley wallows in chubby misery, binges on cheeseburgers and turns down her only job offer (for Jenny Craig). She's coddled by a couple of assistants, receives assorted celebrity visits (John Travolta, Kid Rock, Carmen Electra) and pitches her new sitcom ideas to disinterested network executives--all of whom can't seem to muster up much dialogue beyond “God, she's fat!”

The show tries (strains?) to be a freeform “adult” series along the lines of HBO's scabrously funny “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Unfortunately, Alley and the few actors she's surrounded herself with don't seem to have a knack for this sort of improvisational comedy. Occasionally, the show hits on a rudely entertaining bit (as when long-celibate Alley concludes that black men like girls with big butts and goes hunting for stud at an L.A. soul food restaurant). Even in such seemingly fertile situations, however, the principals can't seem to work up much good material. For a show that clocks in at under 30 minutes, there's a lot of awkward dead space.

There's the occasional inside joke that works (a bimbo actress played by Travolta's real-life wife, Kelly Preston, wondering aloud, “Did I f*&# John Travolta? I think I f*&$#ed John Travolta.”), but HBO's “Entourage” has a much sharper and funnier take on modern-day Hollywood. (Compare Alley's forgettable talent agent, played by Michael James McDonald, to the scene-stealing shark work done by Jeremy Piven in “Entourage.”)

Ultimately, you have to admire Alley for letting it all hang out. She is an endearing actress (fat or not), and it would be nice to see her in a good comeback vehicle. I just wish “Fat Actress” had more going for it. There's a fine line between self-effacing and utterly shameless, and “Fat Actress” frequently tramples that line, inviting viewers to laugh at its star, rather than with her.

“Fat Actress” airs every Monday at 11 p.m. on Showtime.