Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva has a ludicrous but slightly intriguing premise: aspiring model Deb dies in a car accident and is sent to heaven, where she accidentally gets sent back to Earth because she hits a “return” button. But she winds up in the body of Jane, a plain, zaftig lawyer (cue the scream from the show’s credits), who conveniently works at the same law firm as Deb’s fiancée Grayson. Yes, ridiculous, but this show also opened up some promising developments in the first season, as Jane/Deb had to navigate her new life in an entirely different body (in an early episode, she surveys her new brassiere and comments, “I’ve worn entire outfits with less fabric”). She now has to work as a lawyer (in another far-fetched but necessary plot element, her brain retains all of Jane’s previous legal knowledge) and she’s afraid to tell Grayson who she really is because he loved her as a beautiful blonde, but will he love her as Jane?
The show transcends all of this murky plotting due to the fortunate casting of Broadway actress Brooke Elliott as Jane. Elliott somehow steers Deb’s bubbly personality into Jane’s lawyer persona, and the result is pretty winning. Thanks to Deb’s fashion and beauty knowledge, she is soon able to transform Jane from a drudge into a beautiful, stylish woman with a higher BMI than a fashion model. Since you don’t see too many lead drama characters in her size, the best part of DDD is when Jane is exploring these avenues, such as suing a dress store for not having fashionable larger-size frocks, investigating a faulty weight-loss program, or skillfully deflecting barbs from a cruel colleague who has never invited her to lunch because “I assume you didn’t want anyone to see you eat.”
DDD soon developed into a legal procedural, with mostly light-hearted cases of the week, and kind of a soap, as Jane, in love with Grayson, had to endure his succession of post-Deb dating partners. She then developed new relationships of her own, including The Office’s David Denman, and Owen (Lex Medlin), a judge who is now a partner at her firm. Her roommate and best friend, Stacy (April Bowlby), represents the “Deb” part of her personality and is the only person who knows her true identity. Margaret Cho adds a needed snarky element as Jane’s assistant, Teri. DDD has also featured a long lineup of stunt-casted guest stars, like Rosie O’Donnell as a judge, Sharon Lawrence as Deb’s mom, Serena Williams, and even, God help us, Kim Kardashian. It’s not a show headed for anyone’s best-of lists, but it’s a pleasant, good-natured legal romp for a Sunday night. (Those looking for headier legal cases should just head straight for The Good Wife.)
The most problematic parts of the cast have been on the male side, especially the character of the guardian angel (I know), whose job is to guide Deb/Jane through her new life. The original angel Fred (Ben Feldman, who has since transcended to loftier cable pastures on Mad Men) had some appeal, as he also was trying to figure out life on Earth, and fell in love with Stacy. Since his departure, though, his followups (Carter MacIntyre as Luke and now Justin Deeley as Paul) have brought very little to the mix. They now seem like a shoehorned attempt to continue the Deb side of Jane. The other problem is the casting of Jackson Hurst of Grayson, who just does not command the kind of long-term devotion Jane seems to be set on.
Drop Dead Diva was canceled after its fourth season, which ended on the major cliffhanger of Jane kissing Grayson just as she’s about to marry Owen, causing Owen suffer a heart attack. But just like the show’s title character, DDD was brought back to life for season five. As Owen recovered from his heart attack, Jane was so filled with guilt that she had to reject Grayson, who now loved her as Jane, not just as Deb. When she finally, after eight episodes, felt ready to tell Grayson how she felt, she then saw him kissing Nicole, another worker from their office. Not much of a cliffhanger, but that’s where we begin in tonight’s episode, which is being billed as a “midseason premiere.”
Besides Jane’s romantic trouble, this episode’s Case Of The Week is the kind that DDD does best: Grayson has to defend Kieran, a young man who got kicked off an airplane. He hissed at a flight attendant who tried to open his window shade because he’s a vampire, and the sunlight would burn his skin. DDD excels at this type of case, as it’s fun (vampires!) but then ties in to bigger issues, as Kieran was bullied as a kid and took on the vampire persona to get people to leave him alone.
In the worst, most far-fetched storyline, Stacy has decided she wants to have a baby, and has asked Owen to be her sperm donor. As this episode ends, she’s pregnant, and she and Owen spontaneously kiss to celebrate. This is not a development anyone is looking forward to.
In Jane’s big case, she appears to blow the case of a Paris Hilton-type socialite, but it turns out to be an elaborate legal ruse to get the socialite access to her trust, and get Jane to be partner. But the end of the episode finds her crying on the outside deck at her promotion party. Only her new angel Paul seems to get what Jane’s going through, as she’s still without her true love and her best friend is going to have her ex-fiancee’s baby (again, out of all of DDD’s outlandish developments, this has to be the worst). Paul reminds her how far she’s come: “A model who made partner, that’s something to celebrate.” But after five seasons, is Deb even still Deb any more? Isn’t she mostly Jane? And keeping Jane and Grayson apart after four and-a-half seasons just seems ridiculous at this point. The show would do well to wrap up these open-ended storylines and concentrate on the show’s main asset, which is Elliott, winning delightful cases of the week and showcasing a different size of TV beauty.
- It looks like the writers have given up on Grayson as well, as here are a few of his first lines this season: “Pigs in a blanket are awesome.” “You look hot.”
- Had to laugh when Jane came home to a depressed, ice cream-eating Stacy: “Two quarts of fudge ripple! Did you watch Marley and Me again?”