During the summer press tour "Mike & Molly" (CBS, 9:30 tonight) executive producer Chuck Lorre (also creator of "Two and a Half Men") insisted the show wasn't all fat jokes. The show, he said, was about the beginning of a relationship with people who just happen to be fat.
I can't say he lied; the first episode is perhaps 80 percent fat jokes, with the rest of the material featuring stereotypes about Africans, random crudeness, and some sweet moments. Maybe the percent changes in later episodes.
But the first episode of "Mike & Molly" made me sad. That's mostly because the two leads are actually quite good. Billy Gardell ("My Name Is Earl") is Mike and Melissa McCarthy ("Gilmore Girls") is Molly; both are completely likable and have a nice chemistry. He's a beat cop, she's an elementary school teacher (Working and lower class people are big this TV season). They meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.
Besides the leads, there's Mike's partner Carl, (Reno Wilson); Molly's pot-smoking, boob-exposing sister Victoria (Katy Mixon); Molly's mom Joyce (Swoosie Kurtz -- I blame ABC for her having to slum and take this part because they canceled "Pushing Daisies") and diner waiter Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi), whose role seems to be to remind us that Africans are starving and that's another reason to mock fat Americans.
"Mike & Molly" pretends to be treating fat people like everybody else by showing the couple in a relationship, and making them the kindest, smartest people in the room, while it also undercuts all that by making them the brunt of jokes, having them mock themselves, and be sad and dateless and a little desperate. But, of course, just by making their girth a focus of the show, the show makes "Mike & Molly" them, instead of us.
As I suggested, Gardell and McCarthy do the best they can, squeezing the 'comedy' out of the situations (there's a bizarre scene with a broken finger that seems to come out of nowhere), and their coming together is sweet. I'm just not sure their charisma is enough to get you through the dreck.