Lifetime's 'Drop Dead Diva' a featherweight charmer
None of that was necessary, as "Drop Dead Diva" is a lot of fun to watch, with the bonus of introducing TV audiences to Brooke Elliott, a stage actress with fabulous comic timing and enormous dramatic flexibility.
Oh, and she weighs a bit more than 100 pounds, which may explain all that "women's group" nonsense.
"Drop Dead Diva" -- created by Josh Berman, who has written for "CSI" and "Bones" -- answers the age-old question: What would happen if a dippy but beautiful woman woke up one morning with a brilliant mind but a dumpy body? OK, maybe it's not an age-old question, but it certainly is an interesting twist on the worn pretty-and-witless-meets-schlubby-and-smart narrative that fuels so much of chick lit.
All this and heaven too. "Drop Dead Diva" opens with two very different women about to meet their doom. Jane (Elliott) is a driven drudge of a lawyer who wears brooches and finds what little joy she experiences in work and carbs. Lots of carbs.
Deb, played by Brooke D'Orsay, meanwhile, is a tight-bodied, empty-headed model-actress (guess which one is blond; go ahead, guess) on her way to audition for a job Vanna White made famous.
Both are tragically killed, and we meet up with Deb as she enters the Great Sorting Room in the Sky, where Fred (Ben Feldman), her celestial concierge, informs her that though she has never done an evil deed, she has neither done a good one, making her his first "zero, zero." Stung, she manages to get sent back to Earth, but via the tragically imperfect body of Jane.
With a setup like this, it would be very easy to fall into a veritable showcase of sexism -- How dumb was Deb? How fat is Jane? -- but Berman produces a deft juggling trick of heart and humor, balancing Deb's shallowness with some solid common sense and Jane's inadequate self-esteem with kindness and legal brilliance.
Almost impossibly, Elliott manages to embody both personalities in a way that, far from some tedious "Inside the Actor's Studio" lesson in character assimilation, is just delightful to watch. She is aided in this wacky scenario by a serviceable if predictable diagnosis of semi-amnesia and, more important, by Margaret Cho as Jane's trusty assistant, Teri, and April Bowlby as Deb's equally shallow but still loyal best friend, Stacy.
There's a bunch of cute guys, of course: Fred has been demoted to guardian angel and gets a job at Jane's firm so he can keep tabs on his runaway soul. Deb had a boyfriend, Grayson (Jackson Hurst), who has also, as luck and narrative need would have it, just joined the staff (the economic slowdown has not, apparently, hit this portion of Los Angeles).
Certainly, the show falls more in the fun category than the brilliant, and it's not going to change television as we know it, but with any luck, it will remind us not to take everything, including TV shows, so darn seriously. There is joy to be had in a doughnut; beauty can radiate from a face not made entirely of cheekbones and Botox.
But that's not the point. Deb's zero, zero has nothing to do with looks but with deeds, and in its own light-hearted and sentimental way, that is what "Drop Dead Diva" makes clear.
On second thought, it may indeed change television as we know it.