In Defense of: ‘Drop Dead Diva’

| Cadenza Reporter

A shallow blonde aspiring model dies in a car crash with a truck full of grapefruits. Then in heaven, she learns she’s a “zero,” having done no good deeds and no bad deeds. Impulsively, she pushes a button hoping to bring her back to her body on earth, but instead is transported into the body of an overweight attorney. Yes, the premise is far-fetched, but the execution of this absurd scenario works both poignantly and wittily in Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva.”

The show premiered in July, and its season finale aired last week. Though Lifetime renewed it for a second season, this under-rated show has not received the praise it deserves. While many have heard the phrase “A thin woman trapped in a fat woman’s body,” “Drop Dead Diva” puts it into context. When Deb (Brooke D’Orsay) the model wakes up in Jane (Brooke Elliott) the attorney’s body, she first utters, “You sent me to hell?” Though Deb retains her effervescent personality, she also inherits Jane’s intellect and knowledge of legal terms. Jane comes to resemble a version of Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde” with her signature strut, the “booty bounce” that amounts to “shoulders back, show the rack.” Jane also gains Deb’s confidence, which is refreshing considering it’s rare to find a strong, confident overweight woman in today’s television landscape. Deb’s vast knowledge of fashion and her sense of ingenuity serve the new Jane well, as she is able to recall facts about the fashion industry and pop culture that help win her cases.

Aside from Jane/Deb, there is a plethora of entertaining characters. The incomparable Margaret Cho plays Terri, Jane’s super-supportive assistant and friend, who encourages her, provides her with her favorite snacks, and reminds Jane of facts from her life when she doesn’t seem to know who her own mother is, essentially because this is still Deb. Stacy (April Bowlby) is Deb’s best friend and the only person aside from Jane’s guardian angel who knows the truth about Jane. Their friendship picks up where it left off, aside from the fact that Deb is no longer a model but rather a successful lawyer. Kim (Kate Levering) is a nasty associate of Jane’s, who has always looked down on Jane for her looks but is actually jealous of her professional success. Grayson (Jackson Hurst) is Deb’s fiancé who also works at Jane’s firm, and while the two grow close, Jane cannot reveal her true identity to the man she still loves. There has also been an all-star cast of cameos ranging from Paula Abdul, Rosie O’Donnell, Liza Minelli and Nia Vardalos to Tim Gunn and Delta Burke.

The show manages to take an outlandish trading-spaces concept and instill it with a real sense of heart. When Deb’s parents come to the firm to get a divorce, Jane tries to represent her mother, but finds it too difficult. Jane becomes a woman who redeems Deb’s “zero” by taking on cases that are ethical rather than lucrative, and even sues a clothing company on her own behalf when she learns they don’t make clothes in her size. Brooke Elliott shines in every episode with a convincing yet playful performance.

“Drop Dead Diva” obviously falls in the entertaining category and not the brilliant one. But if you can suspend your mind and avoid dwelling on the preposterous concept and the obvious plot conventions, this show has wide appeal.

It should serve to remind us that television doesn’t always have to be serious. It’s a spirited dramedy that teaches the valuable lesson that one’s inner beauty is the only one that truly counts.

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