Brook D’Orsay, David Denman
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Reviewed by Will Harris
am of the suspicion that when a network with a predominantly female demographic is on a quest to find a show that women can watch with their significant others, there are two thoughts that come to mind: “How much action can we include without alienating our core demo?” and “What kind of sci-fi spin can we put on this concept?” An example of the former would be “Army Wives,” of course, but what of the latter? SoapNet successfully imported an awesome Canadian series called “Being Erica,” about a woman who finds herself able to travel back in time and re-live key moments of her life that have always nagged at her, and if you’ve never seen it, you’re really missing out. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m convinced that it was the reason why Lifetime decided to also offer a drama which revolved around a fantastic plot element.
“Drop Dead Diva” definitely fills that void, offering a premise which revolves around a shallow, svelte model named Deb (Brook D’Orsay) who dies, goes to Heaven, and finds her soul promptly returned to Earth and placed in the body of a pleasantly plump attorney named Jane (Brooke Elliott). It’s an amusing little series, to be sure, but unlike “Being Erica,” it’s definitely not trying to court any male viewers – or, at least, not any straight ones, anyway.
No, there’s no homophobia lurking in that comment: we’re talking about a show which has Margaret Cho as one of its regulars and a list of Season One guest stars that includes Tim Gunn, Rosie O’Donnell, Delta Burke, Paula Abdul, and Liza freaking Minnelli. The only way Season One could’ve been more gay-friendly is if they’d had Barbra Streisand perform a song while straddling the graves of Joan Crawford and Judy Garland.
But, really, who cares about a show’s target audience? Ultimately, the only thing that matters is if it’s entertaining, and “Drop Dead Diva” certainly is.
In the early episodes of the series, we watch as Deb gets the hang of her new surroundings, a.k.a. Jane’s body. Here’s the situation: Deb has her own memories as well as all of Jane’s intelligence and legal expertise, but she doesn’t have Jane’s memories, which is a major problem, given that she now is Jane. In a moment of panic, she goes to Deb’s best friend, Stacy (April Bowlby), and manages to convince her of what’s happened, thereby providing her with a confidant. This is something she desperately needs when she learns that the latest addition to her law firm is none other than Deb’s former fiancée, Grayson (Jackson Hurst). She’d like to tell him the truth, too, of course, but her guardian angel, Fred (Ben Feldman), is absolutely not going to allow that to happen. Then again, he’s got a major crush on Stacy, so he’s kind of distracted.
In its early episodes, “Drop Dead Diva” focuses far more on the interpersonal relationships of its characters than the goings-on in the courtroom, with Jane trying to figure out who she was before – in no small part thanks to her assistant, Teri (the aforementioned Ms. Cho) – and who she is now. She’s also coming to grips with the fact that she’ll never forget her old life as long as Grayson works for the firm and struggling with the realization that there’s a spark between Grayson and the bitchy Kim Kasswell (Kate Levering), which is absolutely a worse-case scenario as far as Jane’s concerned. As the season progresses and the characters are further fleshed out, the series begins to expand and focus more heavily on the members of the firm as they try their cases, which allows for some other great guest stars, including Ray Wise, Elliott Gould, Gregory Harrison, Gina Torres, Diedrich Bader, and – wait for it – Chuck Woolery. The cases might not be up to “Boston Legal” standards, but they’re not bad.
As Jane, Brooke Elliott is a sparkling presence who drives “Drop Dead Diva” through occasionally ridiculous territory through her cuteness and charisma, but it helps that she’s surrounded by a strong ensemble. Ironically, she’s so adorable that it almost comes across as insulting when there’s a storyline which focuses on her size, so here’s hoping they phase out much of the fat-centric material in Season Two.
Guys, we understand if you never admit to watching “Drop Dead Diva,” but if your wife or girlfriend watches Lifetime, then we know that you’re probably going to get stuck sitting through it at some point. When you do, don’t be surprised if you actually find that you like it.
Special Features: The back cover assurance that this set is “loaded with extras” isn’t entirely accurate, since you can blow through the sum total of the bonus material in about half an hour, but fans of the show will probably find the inclusions rewarding. In addition to a trio of so-called “dreamisodes” and a six-pack of deleted scenes, there’s also a behind-the-scenes featurette (“Dropping in with ‘Drop Dead Diva’”), seven episodes of “Cho & Tell” (Margaret speaks her mind, basically), and a clip entitled “Rosie’s Rap” which is so short that it’s hard to imagine that even diehard O’Donnell fans will do anything but shrug after watching it.