Why Fat Sitcom Husbands Have Great-looking Wives
Matt Feeney attempts to answer the vexing question, “Why are fat sitcom husbands paired with great-looking wives?”
In two decades of TV acting, Courtney Thorne-Smith has never stopped looking like a cheerleader. She has the kind of large, startled eyes that suggest school spirit (this look of bug-eyed alacrity grew to almost supernatural intensity during her starvation years on Ally McBeal) and a sturdy jaw that appears custom-tooled for the cheerleader’s main task of spelling out inspirational words very, very loudly. But for Cheryl, Smith’s character in the ABC series According to Jim (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET), it’s as if her cheerleaderly aspirations have suffered a perverse cosmic scramble and she ended up married not to the equally simple and beautiful quarterback everyone expected her to marry, but to the boorish, buffalo-faced center who puts his hands between his expansive ass cheeks on every play. Cheryl is married to Jim, and Jim is played by Jim Belushi.
It’s tempting to register a feminist complaint about the message these shows conveyÃ¢€”that they perpetuate the view that women shouldn’t expect autonomy or fulfillment in romance and marriage. They do, after all, play to a certain male fantasy: living the gluttonous, irresponsible, self-absorbed life of an infant and basking in the unconditional love of a good-looking woman.
But it’s not just men watching these shows, and, as Alessandra Stanley suggested in a review of the country western sitcom Rodney, it’s not just a male id they express. As the bitter, recent book The Bitch in the House and the extreme popularity of the delightful, tendentious Desperate Housewives seem to indicate, the war of the sexes has shifted from the workplace back to the household and the bedroom. In portraying husbands as lousy parents, marginal breadwinners, and repellant sexual partners, the fat-husband sitcoms convey a persecution fantasy that rises from the same swamp of resentments as these books do: “Yes, I’m supercompetent and I even look great, despite all the crap I have to deal with, and, yes, that’s my husband over there, the fat, useless one scratching his nuts.”
If family sitcoms really are a Rorschach blot for their male and female viewers, then we’re either in really bad shape or coping surprisingly wellÃ¢€”in the same scenarios in which women perhaps identify their own desperation and martyrdom, men seem to find sweet, elemental fulfillment.
Or, it may just be that the male leads in these shows are chosen primarily for their ability to be funny while the women are chosen for their wholesome appeal. The increasing trend is for the stars of these shows to rise from the ranks of stand-up comics, which does not tend to prize physical attractiveness in the same way as acting.