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Why Are Critics So Squeamish About Rebel Wilson's Weight?


In one scene from Rebel Wilson’s sitcom “Super Fun Night,” which premiered last night on ABC, Wilson’s character—an attorney named Kimmie Boubier—careens screaming down the hallway as if fleeing a fire. “What’s the rush?” a colleague asks her. “Someone just tweeted there were jelly donuts in the break room,” she replies. “You’ve got the heart of a lion, in the body of a much larger lion,” Kimmie’s skinny co-worker tells her in another scene. There are countless body-related gags in last night’s episode alone. In one scene Kimmie gets her skirt stuck in an elevator and is left half-naked sipping a smoothie in front of her crush as the skirt unravels.

“Super Fun Night,” for all Wilson’s charms, is not a very funny show. But more entertaining than the sitcom itself has been seeing so many critics contort themselves into pretzels of political correctness while trying to review it. The Washington PostThe Star Ledger, and Flavorwire steered clear of any mentions of Wilson’s weight, the Post opting instead to diagnose "the unsettling, split-personality narrative of today's post-feminist young women." The New York Daily News got euphemistic: “A steady flow of easy body-parts jokes...distract us.” The Miami Herald referred only to “a plucky band of size 16s.”  The Denver Post dropped in one tentative reference to “over-size Kimmie.” The AV Club called Wilson and her co-stars “less conventionally attractive women.” Variety seemed to be tripping over itself to not to say the one thing on its mind—“she finds herself in a vehicle that isn’t as big and buoyant as her personality”; “the material is relatively slight”; “it’s a slim conceit.”

Clearly there were notable exceptions, like Willa Paskin's thorough review in Slate. But it was surprising to see how many critics handled Wilson’s unapologetic emphasis on her own weight by avoiding the subject entirely. This feels like the opposite effect of what Wilson wanted. Part of the reason why the show is a tough one to review is that there is not much else like it; it is subversive as network sitcoms go—genuinely off-putting and aggressive in its abuse of Kimmie (the pilot, to be aired next week, even more so). “Super Fun Night” is broadly a comedy about a band of misfits embracing their own awkwardness, but it is also definitively about weight. The premiere ends with a long scene in which Wilson attempts to put a pair of Spanx on.

But assessing the merit of jokes about women and weight still feels weirdly like a critical taboo. “Mike and Molly,” which premiered in 2010 and stars Melissa McCarthy, could hardly be a more different show: sweet and sensitive where “Super Fun Night” is brash. It prompted groan-inducing puns to the tune of “Mike and Molly Displays a Healthy Appetite for Humor" and "In love, one size fits all." But for a show about a couple that meets at Weight Watchers, many reviewers were surprisingly coy in their criticism. (Entertainment Weekly summarized the plot as “a Chicago cop and a fourth-grade teacher falling in love despite their own insecurities,” which seems like a willful omission.)

Granted, the flip side to the critical evasiveness is often even squirmier. Newsday titled its “Super Fun Night” review “Livin’ Large.” The Associated Press wrote: “Too often, Rebel Wilson flashes a huge, embarrassed grin that eerily recalls another portly comedian, the late John Candy.” Its headline? “ABC’s new sitcom ‘Super Fun Night’ Fun? Fat Chance.”