Plus-size 'Love' focuses on inner beauty but also celebrates a weighty societal ill


Ten days ago I broke my wrist, so instead of (OK, in addition to) wallowing in self-pity, I found that just about the only activity I could safely indulge in was wallowing in summertime TV viewing.

Right now the small screen is awash in just three things: reruns, reality and a lot of yakking about Obama's health care plan.

Because I've seen almost all the episodes of "Law & Order" and "CSI," and I was getting my own update on the state of health care via the emergency room and the hurry-up-and-wait ritual of trying to see a specialist, I decided to tune into reality.

Actually, it was hard to avoid. The folks are still, in swift alternation, embracing, arm-twisting and tossing chairs on "Maury" and "Jerry." These intractable yakkers air interminably on those wall-mounted monitors in hospital waiting rooms, perhaps to make patients feel that their own lot is not really so bad.

I thought it best to tune to something more upbeat. So eventually, arm in sling, I settled down to the comforting title "More to Love."

This latest Fox foray from the envelope-pushing producer Mike Fleiss is a twist on dating games, an amalgam of his own concoctions "The Biggest Loser" and "The Bachelor."

It was hard not to applaud the public-service element of the former when it launched. But the thing that always turned me off about the latter was not the titillation such shows traffic in -- who didn't enjoy watching CNN's Anderson Cooper break the unspoken code the other morning asking the latest Bachelorette how many of the contestants she had slept with? -- but the inability of the contestants to articulate anything about their inner lives or the object of their attraction that wasn't cliched or cloying.

"He was really so cute, and I thought he saw inside my heart," one discarded young woman told "The Bachelor" cameras last season. "She has a great personality and a sense of humor, and I can imagine spending the rest of my life with her," one of the male claimants confided in "The Bachelorette." And on and on into vacuity.

Why can't a participant say something remotely specific or suggestive -- not sexually specific or suggestive, just indicative of minimal mental acuity: "I was taken with the curve of her wrist, and when I found out it was due to her incessantly having played pickup sticks as a child, my heart just melted," or "I accidentally dropped my champagne glass, and without missing a beat, he bent to make sure I wasn't cut, then picked up the pieces himself rather than call for help from the crew. That was the moment."

If these shows are "scripted," the writers need to be throttled; if they are, as we are supposed to believe, the spontaneous, heartfelt revelations of the contestants, then no wonder relationships fall apart.

In the decade or so since "Survivor" and "Big Brother" established the template, reality has become as ubiquitous a genre as sitcoms or dramas, with its own conventions and variations and occasional breakthrough innovations.

Judging from the one episode, I wouldn't say that "More to Love" is a breakthrough but rather a heightened -- and yes, "widened" -- hybrid.

On the plus side: However contrived and predictable, the personalities of the contestants and their willingness to subject themselves to rejection on camera (as well apparently as in their daily lives) dignified to me, at least fleetingly, the predicaments of this ostracized (and rarely televised) segment of our population: the overtly overweight.

As a group, the 20 contestants vying for a diamond ring from an equally rotund real estate agent named Luke were more likable -- and more vulnerable and relatable -- than their skinnier counterparts on so many other shows.

Melissa from Baton Rouge -- 25, 5-foot-6, 220 lbs. -- had never even been on a date. Another said this was her last chance for happiness and that if eliminated she'd be going back "to her old life," the desperation on her face speaking volumes.

Not that these women weren't all glammed up and spunky. As Mandy put it, "A lot of people take care of themselves but aren't a size 5." Another named Kristian said she was proud of "the junk in her trunk," as it were.

Sympathy for syrupy surfeit, however, can only go so far in a series. Fleiss and company made sure to slip a note of nastiness, and harbinger of bitchiness to come, into the opening episode.

When one contestant flung herself, party dress and all, into the pool in order to attract the attention of Luke, one of the other contestants dismissed her as "an otter." (And dare we put it past the producers to play at some point on that lubricious, fetishistic appeal that fatties have for some folks.)

In any case, the producers made sure that the centerpiece connection Luke enjoyed on camera this first elimination evening was with yet another Melissa: very blond and not too plump, who had just returned from, of all things, studying abroad in Spain and got to share the only beso with the bachelor.

"Love doesn't," the carefully appealing Luke assured the ladies, "have a shape or size." But what woman, however buxom or bulimic, would ever fall for that line?

Back to the hospital and Obama and my mixed feelings about "Love."

There is an obesity epidemic in this country, and the severely supersized -- even, as doctors all aver, the moderately overweight -- are weighing on the health system disproportionately. While emphasizing inner beauty is always a good thing, I find it hard, as "More to Love" ostensibly does, to celebrate the concept of outsized. Such folks were all around me in the hospital and quite possibly hurting more than I was.

Maybe Fox already has accounted for this reaction of mine too, and as soon as Luke gets his girl, the duo will be whisked away for a season on "The Biggest Loser."