Sunday, October 24, 2010

So, this is huge

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of television. I have in fact written an ode to television.

I have also written about the problems of television - the ways how it is produced limits what we can see

For one brief shining moment this winter I was proved utterly, utterly wrong as I watched 10 episodes of Huge.

Then I was proved right again, when they cancelled it.

But I thought I'd write about Huge anyway. For a NZ audience who probably won't have seen it - so no spoilers - just general raving about awesomeness. This is how it begins:

Huge aired on ABC Family a US cable network that I hadn’t even heard of until a few months ago, that apparently makes a TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You and sells airtime to Pat Robertson when it doesn’t have enough programming of it on. It’s set in a fat camp – where teenagers are supposed to lose weight.

So far so avoidable right? But it’s by the Winnie Holzman, the creator of My So Called Life (New Zealanders of a certain age may remember My So Called Life’s run on IceTV), and her daughter Savannah Dooley. (who I know next to nothing about, but think is unbelievably awesome – she is threatening my decade long commitment as a one-showrunner woman).

I want to explain what's so amazing about Huge, because I think it's important. It is the most closely observed show I've ever watched. This is not a show where the main character has to stab her boyfriend to save the world - this is the world we live in, or close to it.

I've always loved bangity-flash big moments on TV. But there is another way, instead of metaphors Huge delivers us the fine details of people's life.

The show appears not to take a side. For weeks the big question as I was watching it was - what is this show saying about fat? Will, played by Nikki Blonsky was fierce about not hating her body. But she was surrounding by people who normalised dieting. Where did the show stand? And it didn't appear to stand anywhere. Then at the 8th episode the kids had a weigh in and it showed, without judging, the effect that had on them. That's when I realised that standing nowhere can be a much more radical place to put the camera

Many things that are normalised in the world are shown on Huge without the appearance of judging: slut-shaming, body-hatred and adults bullying children. But in this light they appear as grotesque as they actually are.

While things that we are treated as something to be ashamed of like fat, but also asexuality, anxiety, live action role-playing, disability, queerness and many other aspets of the character, also appear differently when observed closely and without judgement. The things we're supposed to be ashamed of are not the same, so they don't appear the same on Huge. But collectively they are seen as ordinary, joyous, ok, real and a source of strength.

That is, in the end, what made Huge so beautiful.

It's been cancelled in America (because American TV executives enjoy stabbing anything that is beautiful or true to death). At the moment it is only available on youtube (or through other even less legal means), although it will come out on DVD.

I really do recommend that you watch it, and if you have older kids, show it to them. Because I think they'll probably get something they need out of it.

1 comment:

  1. I miss this show! I'm glad that it's coming out on DVD, as I have the feeling that it's the kind of thing that will hold up well to repeated viewings. I hadn't conceived of it in terms of it providing a close, neutral take on things, but I think that's a great way to describe it. It's much easier to realize how much commentary and judgment *we* heap on situations when the screen is resolutely, quietly, refusing to support or refute those opinions.