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TCA: 'Mike & Molly' - is Fat Funny?

The cast and executive producers of CBS’s new comedy Mike & Molly sat down this morning for a Q&A at the CBS portion of the TCA press tour.One of the few shows on television today to openly address being an obese American, Mike & Molly holds potential to portray life in American culture better than most reality shows. But for a comedy pilot that had, as one critic described, “a sweet retro feel,” is a series full of fat jokes inevitable?”I broke a chair before I came over here. I’m not kidding. It happens. I’m heavy,” said a deadpan Billy Gardell, who stars as Mike alongside Melissa McCarthy.The show’s creative team seemed pretty adamant about Mike & Mollynot being a fat-centric series. When one critic asked if the show’s fate depended on the stars’ weight–i.e. is the series doomed if Mike and Molly reach their goal of losing weight?–Executive Producer Chuck Lorre maintained that the comedy is centered, above all, on a couple’s evolving relationship.”They go to [Overeaters Anonymous] because they’re on a journey, they want to make a change in their lives,” he explained. ”I think that speaks to a lot of people of who are unhappy with the status quo in their lives. These are people who are alive. They’re in process. They’re not at the end of the journey, they’re in the journey. And we can write about that forever.”McCarthy echoed that sentiment. “It’s not about weight for me either…if we lose or if we gain, it’s just not the axis that the show revolves around,” she said.Nonetheless, the bulk, so to speak, of critics’ questions were focused on the lead characters’ weight. At times, these inquiries made the panel seem more like a spectacle than an industry Q&A.What about Molly’s clothes? What will she wear? someone asked.”She’s a teacher, she has to dress like a teacher,” McCarthy said. “She’s a young woman, she still wants to dress nice. We keep it realistic to her budget. We’re not gonna say, oh ‘teacher’s budget,’ then she comes out with Marc Jacobs.”Are you happy with your weight? Do you want to lose weight? another critic inquired. Gardell shrugged. “Of course I’d like to lose some weight. Everyone wants to be a little bit better. But when you’re not great at dealing with emotions, sometimes you deal with it by pushing down a piece of cake. Others do it with gambling, or booze…I just hope people can look at [the show] and get something from that, say ‘Yeah, I’m like that.’”One critic finally ventured to address the fat-focused discussion, asking “There’s been a lot of discussion about weight today; we didn’t ask the Big Bang guys [in the preceding panel] about being nerds…what do you think about that?”The cast believes the show’s humor is independent of the weight issue.”I dunno, we’re fat. The show’s funny. Not much else to say,” Gardell said.A respectable response, but Gardell went on to admit that he joked about his weight (among, however, other subjects, like his dysfunctional family) as a “defense mechanism” while growing up. This points to a larger issue - that in American culture, fat is funny. That is, it’s still funny. And it’s this fact that indicates the tenuous territory Mike & Molly faces as it attempts to be the next big comedy by separating “big” from “comedy.”