Producers want viewers to care about 'Babes'


September 13, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Babes" is the kind of show folks are going to disagree about.

Some are going to love it, some hate it. Some are going to think it enlightened, some exploitative.

The bottom line on the pilot for the new Fox television show about three sisters, each of whom weighs more than 200 pounds, is this: By the end of the half hour, it is clear that the producers have tried to make viewers care about the women as individuals. And for a show to do that -- in a culture and an advertising environment that lives by the expression "you can never be too thin" -- is a lot.

The sitcom, which airs at 8:30 tonight on WBFF-TV (Channel 45), stars Wendie Jo Sperber, Susan Peretz and Lesley Boone as the Gilbert sisters -- Charlene, Darlene and Marlene, respectively. Darlene's the oldest; Marlene's the youngest. Tonight's pilot explains how they all come to live inCharlene's tiny apartment and deals with Charlene's search for a job.

The coming together business is mainly played for laughs. Darlene's husband left her for a woman who lost 120 pounds on a diet. Marlene lost her job as a toll taker to automation. They both show up at Charlene's apartment just as she's about to get romantic with her boyfriend, Ronnie (Rick Overton).

It's mostly physical humor: Charlene's trying to strike a romantic pose for Ronnie on the back of her couch and falling over it, the pullout sofa bed collapsing as the three sisters settle on it for the night. It is not real funny stuff. But it is not knucklehead city, either.

The pilot changes speed with Charlene's job search. It is played more for tenderness than laughs, as Charlene deals with bias and put-downs because of her weight.

A theatrical agent's callous dismissal of her as an applicant for a job as his assistant is especially affecting -- and revealing, too. In a flash, viewers are shown raw discrimination. Because she is overweight, the agent sees Charlene as less human, not an individual with feelings. That, too, is a lot for prime-time television attempt.

Overall, "Babes" does have a sense of fun. The tone is set in an opening number with the three sisters dancing around the stoop of Charlene's apartment house.

But it is with the serious business of helping us see the world through the eyes of these women that "Babes" is going to distinguish or embarrass itself. So far, it looks like a show that just might have a big and brave enough heart to make us laugh and care.

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