Heavy debuts tonight on A&E at 10 p.m. Eastern.
In terms of content, there isn’t much that separates Heavy from its televised weight-loss brethren. In the premiere episode, two morbidly obese 37-year-olds, Tom and Jodi, essentially agree to A&E’s form of weight rehab. They live at a “facility” for a month where they work out, hardcore, in the manner of Biggest Loser, and then return home for five more months to see if they can continue to lose weight on their own. The main difference between Heavy and other shows like it is that there is no prize or goal weight for them to hit: It’s mostly a question of how much weight can they lose, how much insight can they gain in the six months we’re with the subjects per episode
Where the show does deviate from the weight loss show formula is in tone. Unlike Dance Your Ass Off, Heavy treats its subjects with dignity. Unlike Biggest Loser, it’s not full of awkward product placement. Unlike Losing it with Jillian, it’s not about being horse-whispered at by a Christlike personal trainer. Unlike Discovery Health shows, it doesn’t treat its subjects like sideshow acts. And unlike most other weight-loss shows, there’s no big reveal. In fact, the side-by-side photos of the contestants “before” and “after” don’t look that dramatically different, except that losing a third of your body weight is incredibly significant when it comes to one’s life expectancy.
The network behind Intervention and Hoarders, despite its sensationalist programming, knows how to treat its subjects with respect, letting Tom and Jodi speak for themselves, occasionally with input from their experts or a title card explaining, for instance, what a lymphedema is (the localized fluid retention and tissue swelling that inhibits Tom’s mobility). Tom is never coached to weep and tell us how much his life is hindered by his weight: It’s all there in the heavy wheezing we hear just from his efforts to walk from his house to his car. There are no host or big flashing scale, no screaming audience to applaud the makeover. It’s a respectful show, shot beautifully at times (the shot of Jodi pulling her personal trainer across the screen is a memorable one).
The show manages to be engrossing, too, without feeling exploitative. Tom’s weight (over 600 pounds) is clearly a disability, while his appealing personality leads you to root for him through his setbacks, especially since it’s so obvious that his scenario is literally do or die. Jodi seems slightly obnoxious and is a bit of a crybaby, so you do want to see if she’s able to sob through her workouts without giving up. (For some reason, one scene of her weeping onto a Bosu was unintentionally amusing to me.)
There are some unanswered questions in Heavy. For instance, it’s unclear how Tom and Jodi became aware of the show (did they volunteer themselves?), where the facility is, or even what they eat while they’re there. And while I was glad for Tom and Jodi’s successes at the end of the episode, I couldn’t help but wonder what came after their six months. Were they able to maintain their losses and keep going, or did they put the weight back on? But I have to commend the show for not giving the impression that everything will be great for Tom and Jodi from here on out, that they lost the weight and their journey is complete. The somewhat bittersweet, uncertain ending may not be entirely satisfying, but it’s more real than what we often see on these types of shows.
But do these respectful qualities necessarily make Heavy recommended viewing? Not in my opinion. I don’t think the show adds anything that was missing to the television landscape (I’ll always stand by Ruby as the original show that shows what it’s like when a real person tries to lose real weight, the real, tedious, old fashioned way.) While I found the pilot engrossing and touching, I didn’t feel a tug to see more. However, A&E has found a formula that appeals to people, and if you’re the type who can’t help but watch Intervention and Hoarders, then Heavy may provide that same level of intrigue.
I expected Heavy to be depressing or irritating, and it was neither, but I feel conflicted about it, as I do with Intervention. It’s not a bad show, but it feels strange to call it “good” when it’s predicated on examining someone who’s in a desperate situation. Heavy is stronger than most shows that do what it does, but I don’t think that I’ll be adding the overweight along with the addicts who seek weekly salvation on my DVR. Still, for what the show is, it’s respectful and muted.
- I thought it was interesting (and apt) that Jodi mentioned several times the similarities between being addicted to food and addicted to drugs. I wondered if this was encouraged at all by the producers to remind you of the similarities between Heavy and Intervention.
- One other thing I liked about the show was that while we saw a bit about what stressed Jodi and Tom out at home, unlike the Jillian Michaels moments, the show never suggested that that was what made Tom and Jodi fat, that once they fixed their relationships at home, everything would be hunky-dory.