I just watched the pilot show for Drop Dead Diva. The series revolves around a confident but superficial blonde model named Deb Dobson, who is killed in a car crash. As her soul enters the pearly gates, she begs for a chance to return to Earth, gets her wish, only to be bought back to life in the body of a recently-deceased, smart, plus-size lawyer named Jane Bingum. Jane has always lived in the shadow of her prettier colleagues, whereas Deb has always relied on her external beauty. Now, by a twist of fate, Deb must learn to deal with inhabitating Jane’s chubby bod. The plot has been described as a cross between Freaky Friday and Heaven Can Wait. Brooke Elliott is Jane, and Margaret Cho is glowingly understated as her gal Friday – so much so that I was not sure it was Cho until I looked it up. Cho blogs about the show here.
I thought I was just going to mindlessly watch a tv show. Like that happens anymore. I’m a sucker for hidden messages and am always delighted when a smart and fun new show comes on the scene. A show that has a lot of insights and messages, without being overt and preachy about it. I missed the first 8 minutes of Drop Dead Diva, but I knew the plot: hot, dumb chick dies; smart, fat plain Jane dies; swap bodies/brains, fat chick lives. Hilarity ensues.
Brooke Elliott as the plain Jane Bingum reminds me in looks of a younger Camryn Manheim. It’s an easy overlay in my mind to project Camryn’s character in the Practice into the background for Jane’s history as a lawyer struggling with issues related to her weight, appearance, and relationships. As a gimmick, it’s clever casting. They also give her hot flashes, and Jane is mega frustrated that her high rise office does not have a window she can open.
One repeated bit in the show is someone talking to Jane about some legal matter and you can see confusion start to cross her face as the inner Deb’s brain struggles to take it all in. Brooke Elliott is a massive talent with expert timing. Then suddenly she will blurt out the right answer or a brilliant court manuever, clearly delighted that she had it in her. Deb gives Jane the confidence she needs. Jane gives Deb, well, a purpose.
Deb, in Jane’s body, shows up at her former best friend’s house and convinces her that it is really her, Deb, inside Jane’s body. A quick stroll down memory lane reminds Deb how shallow and superficial her life was. She attends her own funeral and hears “friends” talking about how selfish she was, attention getting, man stealing. It’s a big a-ha to her, as is her chance to do it differently this time in this new body of Jane’s. Knowing who Deb used to be also gives Jane insight into a conniving co-worker, Kim, since she used to be her. A spicy touch is that Kim is now flirting with the newest lawyer at the firm, who happens to be Grayson, Deb’s boyfriend at the time she died. And Jane gets to watch as Grayson enters the web of pretty Kim, and as he distances himself from plain Jane.
Jane’s snarky boss gives her a case of a plain jane insecure client who won’t stand up for herself, telling Jane he thought she could relate, what with all her own fears and insecurities. “I am not the person you think I am,” she says to him, as she negotiates a better settlement, thanks to Deb’s inner cheerleading. “You are who you are” a line later used as an insult to her client from a cheating husband. Jane counters with “You are who you want to be,” thus empowering the client and winning the case. Deb’s getting the hang of this self help stuff.
At the end of this pilot show, the triumphant Jane, again being stifled with hot flashes in that cooped up office, hurls a paperweight from her desk, breaking the window and letting in the great outdoors so she can breathe. Great metaphor. She tells her trusty assistant, the quirky Margaret Cho, to get a window installed that she can open. The final scene is a pull away shot from inside her office, to outside looking at her brand new window, to looking at her entire office building, where she’s just one window in a huge skyscraper in a city full of skyscrapers.
I loved the breaking free metaphor. I love that ditzy Deb gets to give some confidence and cheerleading to insecure Jane. I love that Deb is seeing the shallowness of her ways and that Jane is understanding why shallow people do what they do.
Fear and insecurities make us behave in strange ways, and it’s different for everyone. I know when I am afraid of something or unsure of something, I can act a little neurotic about it. I know there are other areas I have strength in, so I never feel “less than” when I find an area of vulnerability. I always appreciate when someone wants to cheerlead me on, and that’s something I do for others as well. It lights me up to light them up.
Rumi says, “When someone asks what there is to do, light the candle in his hand.”
To me, that’s what the cheerleading and encouragement does.
It lights us up to see our own way.
And there’s nothing more freeing than that.