Drop Dead Diva -- TV Review

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But life dumps a truckload of lemons on aspiring model Deb -- whose worst fear is having fat knees -- and she ends up transported into the body of recently deceased Jane, a heavy-set hotshot lawyer.

Thus merged, body and soul, Deb must readjust to life as a gal who wears Lane Bryant clothes and is constantly hot, though not in the way Deb's used to. Occasionally, Jane's big brain leaks through, which means Deb doesn't get laughed out of depositions and trials. Convenient.

Not every show would risk killing off both key protagonists in its first 10 minutes, but Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" is, well, something different. And it's hard not to be of two minds about it: On one hand, "Diva" has a crisp, lively "Ugly Betty"-style sense of humor, and the tone effectively balances the loss of self while trying to assimilate in a foreign land -- Fatstania. There are genuine laughs, as when one model can't seem to pronounce "chocolate" unless it's followed by "martini."

Lead Brooke Elliott (as Jane; inside is Brooke D'Orsay's Deb) is spot-on as a woman literally at war with herself, and executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have hefty experience thanks to the feature "Hairspray." (Creator-writer Josh Berman at least has death nailed, having worked on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.")

But despite all this talent and potential, stereotypes about body image -- fat and skinny -- are layered on so thick that it's hard to see this show as changing anyone's minds. Models are pretty, eat air and are dumber than a sack of doorknobs; fat people can't dress or wash their hair, scarf down donuts and are brilliant. What might have been an intriguing lesson in self-perception turns into parody rather than perceptive insight, and "Diva" cuts itself off at the (fat) knees.

Still, as long as the series sticks with its cute premise and delightful cast of characters and doesn't try to realign the world, it's a pleasant diversion. Beyond that, take it with a grain of low-sodium salt. Anyway, experts always say that change comes from within, not from your TV set.

Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Sunday, July 12 (Lifetime)
Production: Sony Pictures Television
Cast: Brooke Elliott, Margaret Cho, Jackson Hurst, Kate Levering, April Bowlby, Josh Stamberg, Ben Feldman, Sean Maher, Brooke D'Orsay
Executive producers: Josh Berman, Alex Taub, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron
Creator-writer: Josh Berman
Producer: Robert J. Wilson. Director: James Hayman
Director of photography: Dermott Downs
Production designer: Victoria Paul
Costume designer: Ha Nguyen
Casting: Susan Edelman, Shay Bentley-Griffin
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