Monday, ‘Huge‘ was officially canceled by ABC Family. The news was not unexpected. The critically acclaimed show was watched by far fewer people than the network’s other summer shows, ‘Pretty Little Liars‘ and ‘Melissa & Joey,’ losing about half of its ‘Secret Life of the American Teen‘ lead-in. Worse, its premiere attracted a healthy 2.53 million viewers, but ratings declined throughout the season. Only 1.53 million people watched the August 30 season finale.
‘Huge’, which chronicled the lives of teenagers at a weight loss camp, was heralded for its sensitive portrayal of teen obesity, its three dimensional characters, and quietly daring writing that explored such unusual for television subject matters as asexuality and LARPing. It was executive produced by Winnie Holzman, the beloved creator of the cult classic ‘My So Called Life‘ and writer of ‘Wicked,’ the most profitable musical of all time. It seemed to have everything going for it. So why didn’t more people watch?
‘Huge’ was part of a wave of scripted shows featuring overweight protagonists including CBS’s ‘Mike & Molly‘ and Lifetime’s ‘Drop Dead Diva.’ ‘Mike and Molly’ is one of the more successful new shows of the season, in part due to a protected time period. ‘Drop Dead Diva’ was recently renewed for a third season. Obviously, there is an interest in shows about people who are bigger than a size two. Tonally, the shows could not be more different. ‘Mike and Molly’ is ostensibly a romantic comedy, but there are a lot of meanspirited fat jokes. ‘Drop Dead Diva’ has an inherently unrealistic reincarnation premise, a barely plus size star, and a simplistic upbeat message that everyone is beautiful.
‘Huge’ delved deeper, exploring body issues with far more complexity than any of the weight loss reality shows. Virtually every cast member was medically overweight, not a size ten that is standard Hollywood fat. Will (Nikki Blonsky) did not want to lose weight at all because she wanted to fight mainstream beauty standards and her parents’ expectations. Amber (Hayley Hasselhoff) was beautiful and relatively thin, but thought of herself as ugly and worthless. The show explored the teens difficult family lives that led them to overeat, and highlighted low self-esteem issues without presenting weight loss as a cure for all their problems. There were even daring non-weight related storylines that touched upon issues rarely addressed on television, like the episode when camp counselor Poppy came out as asexual. In the finale, the camp’s director, Dorothy (Gina Torres) tells Will that after losing weight and living her life according to the strict precepts of the Overeaters Anonymous program the end result is that she,”hates herself less.” That’s not exactly the happy picture painted by the season finale of ‘The Biggest Loser.’
The characters may have been under 18, but the sophisticated stories ‘Huge’ told appealed mainly to adults. This was problematic from a marketing standpoint. Most of the people who would have enjoyed it would never think to watch a teen show, particularly on a network that targets teenagers. The thoughtful writing was appropriate for an upscale adult cable network like AMC, which would never greenlight a show about teenagers. The teens who enjoyed the escapism of the rest of ABC Family’s line up were less excited by a show that challenged them to think. ABC Family seemed to struggle with marketing a show about characters that were not conventionally sexy. There was nothing glamorous about the show since the camp setting had everyone running around in shorts and sweatshirts. The network settled on billboards of Nikki Blonsky looking uncomfortable in a swimsuit, though the premiere featured Will doing a confident striptease. Coupled with the name ‘Huge,’ many people thought the show looked like it was making fun of overweight people — the very opposite of the show’s actual tone.
The show was not perfect. There was too much attention devoted to the struggles of forty-something Dorothy, who seemed like she belonged on a different series. The show vacillated between being about teenagers who happened to be overweight and about their struggles. But the cast of mostly unknowns was great. For a show with only ten episodes, there were a lot of memorable scenes, including the epic, hilarious LARPing sequence and the cringe inducing scene when straight Trent (Stefan Van Roy) kissed gay Allstair (Harvey Guillen) on a dare. This was a show about awkward, ordinary people not the ostracized but phenomenally talented ‘Glee‘ club or the rich, gorgeous characters who populate ‘Gossip Girl,’ ‘90210‘ and ‘Pretty Little Liars.’ Perhaps that’s why ‘Huge’ was destined to fall into the same brilliant but canceled category as ‘My So Called Life’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ who also chronicled the lives of the average and the uncool. Maybe thoughtful shows about realistic young people are just too small a niche to sustain a significant television audience.
Jezebel has started a petition to revive the series. “The characters juggled dilemmas relating to crushes, self-confidence, popularity, rumors, toxic friendships, sexual urges, family drama, jealousy, embarrassment, sexual orientation, creativity, lying, cheating, rebellion, body odor, nerdiness and body image. In other words, it reminded us that fat people are people. Humans,” writes the author of the petition, Dodai Stewart. If you’re interested in getting ABC Family’s attention, sign the petition here.