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Published: Thursday, 8/4/2005

Only one of FX's new series may make viewers hungry for more

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's a regular meeting of the "Belt Tighteners," a take-no-prisoners self-help group for people with eating disorders, and the members are going around the room introducing themselves and mentioning their particular problems. ("Hi, I'm Jill, and I'm anorexic ")

Instead of a warm welcome from other members, though, each is scolded with a harsh chorus of "It's not OK!"

Or worse.

When one hapless guy describes how he gorged on 212 almonds the night before, then purged himself, the leader of the group lays into him mercilessly.

"You're repugnant and weak," she snarls, "and I'm this close to calling a group conscience vote to kick you out."

Welcome to Starved, a dark new comedy series from cable network FX. The half-hour series, which premieres tonight at 10 as part of FX's first-ever hour-long comedy block, chronicles the lives of four thirtysomething friends - three men and a woman - each of whom is battling one or more eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating.

After each of their support-group meetings, the friends gather at a nearby diner to compare notes on their miserable lives - and to eat, sometimes in large quantities.

It's not only food that tortures the four friends, though. It's dealing with the world around them, particularly spouses, dates, and relatives. One guy resents his wife for inviting him to bed while there's a pro football game on TV, while the woman, a singer-songwriter, pretends to be a lesbian because "my fans like me better gay."

FX's tagline for the peculiar new series is "a shamefully funny new comedy," and much of its humor is scatological, including disquieting scenes of vomiting and colonics. The show, which has a vaguely sad tone underlying its comedy, definitely won't appeal to everyone.

You could look at Starved in one of two ways. You could be disgusted by the whole premise of crassly making light of a real problem that afflicts countless people. After all, laughing at other people's pain is pretty insensitive, and it's no surprise that the National Eating Disorders Association is already urging viewers and advertisers to boycott the show.

On the other hand, you could see the series as a good way to raise awareness of our society's ridiculous obsession with food and its unrealistic concept of body images. If it gets people thinking and gives them a chuckle or two along they way, what's wrong with that?

Either way, FX is taking a risk with a comedy that is probably very much an acquired taste.

The second half of FX's comedy block, premiering at 10:30, is considerably brighter thanStarved, both in tone and title.

Called It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this one also focuses on four friends - again, three men and a woman - but these are twentysomethings who run an Irish bar in South Philly. The three guys own the place, and the woman, who is sister to one of them, is the bartender.

To make their business work, and to have any chance of hooking up with members of the opposite sex - a single-minded pursuit for the guys - they are forced to overcome, or at least disguise, their obvious self-involvement. Unfortunately for them, though, they're just not very good at it.

The series is breezy and clever, and most of the characters are pretty likable, despite their personal flaws. It somehow manages to touch on topics such as racism, absentee fathers, underage drinking, and molestation without trivializing them or getting preachy.

Sunny is already a success story for the show's creator and one of its stars, Rob McElhenney, who shot the pilot for just $200 before selling the concept to FX. The network tinkered with it very little before reshooting its own version of the pilot - for $400,000.

The series is not exactly Cheers, but then again, it's not Showtime's Brothers either. (If the latter program doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because you never saw it. Don't feel bad; nobody else did either.)

Belly up to the bar and enjoy this one.

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade

or 419-724-6131.



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