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Reviewed by Will Harris
f there’s one thing on which both viewers and critics can agree, it’s that television, with very few exceptions, tends to populate its series with an inordinate amount of perfectly sculpted individuals. Their argument, of course, would be that they’ve done countless studies which clearly prove that no one will watch a show unless its lead characters are pretty people. “After all,” the less politically-correct network executives would argue, “who would want to turn on the TV and see a bunch of fatties?”
Uh, well, how about people who’d like to see some semblance of themselves portrayed on television for a change?
Granted, Lifetime is kind of doing this already with “Drop Dead Diva,” in which a shallow, self-obsessed model dies and returns to life in the body of an overweight attorney, but as noted in Bullz-Eye’s review of the show’s first season, star Brooke Elliot is “so adorable that it almost comes across as insulting when there’s a storyline that focuses on her size.” The big difference with ABC Family’s “Huge,” created by former “My So-Called Life” mastermind Winnie Holzman and her daughter, Savannah Dooley, is that virtually every character on the show believes they can be described by the adjective that gives the series its title.
It’s also possibly why the series only lasted for ten episodes, but more on that in a bit.
In the pilot for “Huge,” we’re welcomed to Camp Victory, a summer weight-loss camp for teens, where we meet Willamena Rader (Nikki Blonsky). She prefers to be called Will. She also prefers to be just about anywhere else besides where she is at the moment. This is Will’s first time at Camp Victory, and she spends every waking moment clarifying to her counselors and fellow campmates just how little interest she has in being there. Really, though, no one’s what you’d call thrilled to be there. Even Amber (Hayley Hasselhoff), who paid her own way to the camp, is there because she feels like it’s in her best interest and not necessarily because she wants to be. Still, some campers are back for their second summer, including Becca (Raven Goodwin) and Chloe (Ashley Holliday), whose friendship from the previous year has fallen by the wayside due to Chloe’s interest in being popular rather than simply being a good friend.
It’s not strictly a chick-fest at Camp Victory. Ian (Ari Stidham) is a fledging musician who harbors a fierce crush on Amber, which utterly infuriates Will, who’s developed a crush on Ian herself. There’s also Alistair (Harvey Guillen), easily the most eccentric fellow in the camp, who – we discover a few episodes into the series – is actually the twin brother of one of the girl campers. (We won’t give away that camper’s identity, though, just in case you haven’t watched the show yet.) Finally, there’s Trent (Stefan van Ray), who’s a jock, and Dante (Jacob Wysocki), who’s a bit of a prankster.
Hang on: we haven’t even mentioned the adults yet.
First and foremost, there’s Dr. Dorothy Rand (Gina Torres), who’s found her dedication to the camp by way of being a longtime member of Overeaters Anonymous herself, but she’s still struggling to find a way to bond with the counselors, let alone the campers. It’s proving hard for her to forge a connection with them while still being an authority figure, and she’s coming off gruffer than she’s intending to be. Mind you, it doesn’t help that she’s also trying to reconnect with her estranged father (played by Paul Dooley, who played Molly Ringwald’s dad in “Sixteen Candles”), as well as see if there’s any chance for romance existing in the vicinity of the camp. Speaking of romance, there’s also a plotline involving an inevitably hunky counselor named George (Zander Eckhouse) finding a mutual appreciation society with Amber, something which most certainly goes against the rules. Other counselors include Poppy (Zoe Jarman), who’s indefatigable of spirit, and Shay (Tia Texada), whose raring-to-go attitude is so in your face that she practically puts Jillian Michaels to shame.
“Huge” is certainly praiseworthy for offering up a cast of actors and actresses who don’t fit the traditional Hollywood mold, and there are some surprising strong performances here, particularly Guillen, who’s easily the most complex character of the bunch. Hayley Hasselhoff all but glows whenever she’s on the screen, and although her character is accurately described by a fellow camper as not necessarily needing to have come to the camp in the first place (most would argue that she’s more full-figured than truly fat), we learn a great deal more about her reasons for coming to Camp Victory when we finally meet her mother.
It’s not entirely surprising that “Huge” only lasted for ten episodes, but before those aforementioned politically-incorrect network executives start congratulating themselves for being right about the body types that America wants to see, the reason for the show’s failure is likely less because the characters were overweight and more because they tended to do an awful lot of whining. There were certainly funny moments scattered throughout the series, but they were regularly supplanted by someone moaning about their family, their friends, their inability to find love, and so forth. Interesting plot developments abound, such as Alastair and his twin, the odd romantic rectangle between Will, Ian, Amber and George, and Dr. Rand’s attempts to be a good daughter and a great camp counselor, but after a few episodes, even when the show is at its cheeriest, you have the sneaking suspicion that another moan-a-thon is almost certainly on the horizon.
ABC Family deserves kudos for putting “Huge” on the air and letting it stand or fall on its own merits, but…well, geez, it would be wrong to suggest that the show’s producers should’ve fallen back on the old cliché about fat people being jolly, but, seriously, they could’ve spun things in at least a slightly more upbeat direction.
Special Features: Not as chock full of bonus material as some Shout Factory DVDs, but for a series that only lasted for 10 episodes, it’s still pretty darned good. There’s a trio of audio commentaries from the Dooley family – mom-and-daughter co-creators Holzman and Dooley, along with Savannah’s dad, Paul – as well as a few behind-the-scenes featurettes, a blooper reel, a pair of music videos, and extended segments from “Phantasma” and “Love Handles,” the faux film and TV series which respectively parody “Twilight” and Fox’s awful overweight dating show, “More to Love.”