If I had to describe Drop Dead Diva in one word, it would have to be winning. From the bright and cheerful sets, to the lighthearted court cases, to the bubbly musical dream performances, everything about it seems pitched to engender maximum warmth from its audience. No, it’s not the deepest show in the word, nor the most original, or sometimes even the most interesting. What it is, though, is something kind of nice to watch on a warm Sunday summer night to pass the time until you are forced to start the drudgery of your week all over again the next day. There’s something to be said for this particular kind of nice.
For those unfamiliar, Drop Dead Diva is the story of shallow aspiring model Deb, who one day dies in a car accident and is brought back from the nebulous beyond in the body of plus size lawyer Jane. Her transformation graced her with automatic and extensive knowledge of the legal system, but put her in the awkward position of working with former hunky fiancé, Grayson, who has no idea Jane is actually Deb in a different meatsuit. She is guided through her newly transformed status with the help of “guardian angel” Fred and ditzy but sweet best friend Stacy, who is the only person from her old life who knows what happened.
Stupid? Sure. Not for everyone? Definitely. Once you look past the trappings of the hokey premise (and the often generic legal proceedings) there is a central emotional core of reinvention and emotional growth to the show that easily sucks you in. None of it would work, though, without Brooke Elliott’s fantastic lead performance as Jane, who makes you believe with every ounce of her soul that she’s Deb trapped in someone else’s body, a body she might not have ever even given a passing glance in her former life. (It also must be said that Jane is quite the knockout in her own right, as evidence by the numerous men in the past two seasons who have been interested in her, never once knowing Deb existed.)
Although Jane has dated as her new self since the show began, she’s never truly been able to get over former fiancé Grayson, and the season two finale revolved around her decision to finally tell him she was actually Deb. Because this show has never met a cliché it didn’t embrace wholeheartedly, before she could make her confession he blurts out one of his own, that he’s asked his girlfriend Vanessa to marry him. Immediately after, he manages to get himself hit by a car and maybe even see Deb in Jane’s body, which is where the third season premiere picks up, with him in a coma and Jane by his side.
Nothing that happens next is surprising. He remains comatose – and that sexy kind of comatose where you don’t have any breathing or feeding tubes jammed down your throat – until Jane tearfully confesses how much she misses him and of her true identity as Deb. Of course, he immediately responds to this revelation with retrograde amnesia, and likely a groan from everyone in the audience.
Listen, it’s hard to defend this, so I am not going to try. It’s cliché, lazy and unimaginative, and if I hadn’t been forced to watch the rest for review purposes I might have simply turned the channel. Having continued, I’m glad I did. What Drop Dead Diva consistently gets right, and what ultimately saved the utter banality of this story turn, is the perfectly tuned emotion of its cliché moments. Part of this is the tone, but most of it is credit to Elliott and her ability to make you truly understand and feel for the character, even when the writing all but begs you to turn your back. Once again, Elliott nailed Jane’s utter devastation upon learning that once Grayson’s memory did return, he had no recollection of their last conversation and the wedding to Vanessa was back on in full force.
It’s obvious the rest of the season is going to revolve around Jane’s growing discomfort at watching Grayson and Vanessa’s impending nuptials unfold as she sits by and observes with some sort of slow-motion horror. I don’t expect the writers will find any groundbreaking new way to tell this story, but as strange as it sounds I do know watching it will be a pleasant experience despite that fact. This is a show comfortable living within the confines of cliché, and if you can accept this, all of the good things surrounding those clichés make Drop Dead Diva more than worth your time.
- Yes, there are random musical numbers. You’re already watching a show about body switching, so accepting musical dream sequences should be a cinch!
- Justin Bieber Grayson was a nice touch, and got a laugh out of me.
- I didn’t mention the cases because the legal stories on this show are slight to the point of not necessarily needing to exist other than to give the rest of the (admittedly likeable) ensemble something to do. They’re also highly laughable as examples of any sort of realistic grasp on how the law works, but I’m not a lawyer so that’s a bit easier to overlook. I can’t imagine an actual attorney could even stomach them, however.
- This show always has the most impressive roster of guest stars not necessarily famous for acting. The premiere alone has Wendy Williams, LeAnn Rimes and Paula Abdul (who has a semi-regular guest starring role as herself!) If they’ve done reality television or graced the pages of US Weekly, Drop Dead Diva casting is all over it.