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Published: Monday, 6/28/2010

ABC Family's new 'Huge' centers on kids at a fat camp

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

If you're a fan of quality television - and smartly written coming-of-age stories, in particular - news that Winnie Holzman is writing a new TV series is reason to cheer.

Holzman, who also wrote the book for the Broadway musical Wicked, is best known as the writer of ABC's 1994 series My So-Called Life, which introduced viewers to the world of Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a Pittsburgh teenager grappling with assorted teen issues, including an unrequited crush on bad boy Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).

In that series, Holzman struck a truthful nerve in her writing for Angela, revealing the insecurities, vulnerabilities, and occasional nastiness that's part and parcel of adolescent life.

Her new series about kids at a fat camp seems unlikely to have a similar cultural impact. But like MSCL, Huge (9 tonight on ABC Family, Buckeye CableSystem Channel 35) gives voice to a segment of the audience that often does not see itself on TV, or if it does, it's as a secondary character or sidekick. Here the overweight kids are front and center.

That's a fairly bold move for a television network, considering many teen characters on the most popular teen-targeted shows (Gossip Girl, 90210) are wafer-thin.

Based on a novel of the same name by Sasha Paley, Holzman wrote Huge with her daughter, Savannah Dooley, and her husband, actor Paul Dooley (Grace Under Fire), plays the camp cook. Huge does not have the revolutionary feel of MSCL, lacking a painful-because-it's-true vibe. Rather, it seems like a typical, sometimes plodding teen soap.

It doesn't help that the first character introduced is the unpleasant Willamina (Nikki Blonsky), who does not want to be at Camp Victory and butts heads with the well-meaning camp director, Dr. Rand (Gina Torres).

"I'm down with my fat," Wil says, refusing to take the camp seriously. "My fat and I are BFFs."

Wil also comes into conflict with the more optimistic Amber (Hayley Hasselhoff), who is admired by many of the campers for her comparatively slim waistline. Wil also becomes the camp dealer - instead of drugs, she deals in Ding Dongs and candy, contraband that is against the camp rules.

The Huge pilot becomes more watchable as more characters are introduced. One area where the script excels is showing that there are popular and unpopular kids everywhere, including in fat camp where cliques and status concerns are just as prevalent as in high school.

Huge will likely reassure some young viewers that they are not alone. If it can find a way to do that in a better manner in future episodes, all the better.

Debuting Tuesday after the season premiere of Rescue Me, FX's Louie is an odd little show.

This comedy (11 p.m. on Buckeye CableSystem Channel 46) stars comedian Louis C.K., who some viewers may have a love-hate relationship with. I liked him this past season as a love interest for Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) on NBC's Parks & Recreation, but I was not a fan of his one-season-and-out 2006 HBO series Lucky Louie.

This new Louie falls somewhere in between. In this show, Louis C.K. plays a version of himself, a divorced 42-year-old standup comedian with two daughters. Each episode offers two vignettes. In Tuesday's pilot, Louie goes on a field trip with his daughters, then has an uncomfortable date.

Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louie traffics in comedy of the uncomfortable as the sad sack Louie gets into one pathetic scrape after another. The show is more of a tragicomedy than an out-and-out comedy.

In one episode, Louie looks up on Facebook a childhood friend he had a crush on. In another, guest star Ricky Gervais appears as a doctor friend who razzes Louie during a medical exam.

Credit the show with busting through political correctness in some episodes for surprisingly frank discussions on hot-button issues, including political extremism (liberal Louie and a conservative comic argue about the election of President Obama) and the impact of an epithet for gays (that comes in the same episode as a Louie standup routine on bestiality, which is an unfortunate pairing of topics).

Often profane and occasionally offensive, Louie won't be to every viewer's taste, but it's a more interesting show than many with a definitive point of view.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.



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