I'll be honest, when I first saw the trailer for Rebel Wilson's new show, Super Fun Night (premiering on Wednesday), I thought it looked hilarious. Sounds like I was wrong. The show has been a disappointing mess for critics.
It's hard not to root for the likable Australian comedienne. After her breakout roles in Bridesmaids, Bachelorette, and Pitch Perfect, the TV world was excited for her sitcom, produced by Conan O'Brien, to succeed. However, despite the initial excitement for Wilson's unique brand of self-deprecating humor, reactions to the pilot for Super Fun Night have been unfavorable. The number one cause? Too many fat jokes. Though she's always made jokes about her body type, Super Fun Night fails to deliver the same caustic awareness of social norms that made her previous comedy so successful.
Wilson's new show follows the adventures of three quirky female friends in New York City who have decided it's finally time to ditch their usual Friday night tradition of staying home and start going out and meeting people. According to all the previewers, Super Fun Night's original pilot was a litany of fat jokes. One reviewer commented that, "fat people can be riotously funny. But there is nothing funny about fat, per se, any more than skinny, tall or short."
It's an interesting point. Often, it's easiest to make fun of something immediately apparent to the viewer, such as physical appearance. And Wilson hasn't shied away from 'fat jokes' and strong self-deprecating humor in the past. In fact, her willingness to play the self-aware, awkward, every-girl who is willing to laugh at herself is part of what's made her such a success. For instance, in Pitch Perfect she calls herself "Fat Amy" as a way to preempt other women who might call her that behind her back.
Jokes about body issues aren't new to sitcoms and movies. Think Chris Farley's classic "Fat Guy in a Little Coat" scene in Tommy Boy, Melissa McCarthy in Identity Theft, John Candy in Uncle Buck, Lena Dunham's Girls, or The Mindy Project, which hasn't shied away from quips about body type. There's no doubt that a lot of fat humor is lazy writing that accomplishes nothing except for being offensive and perpetuating negative stereotypes about weight and physical appearance. Yet most of the aforementioned examples aren't considered lazy — many are outright hilarious. Good fat humor relies on the ability to make us a little bit uncomfortable while still allowing us to relate to the body issues and insecurities that we all have. The same questions apply to racial humor, sexist commentary, and rape jokes: When is it funny? And when is it causing damage?
The answer is simple. These jokes succeed when a reversal of societal norms is the goal. These jokes succeed when the focus is on revealing how wrong the mocked social custom or viewpoint is. Then, they can be brilliant and hilarious (though yes, sometimes just hilarious)
But Super Fun Night doesn't necessarily make its jokes with such awareness. Super Fun Night, while having a great leading lady, doesn't have the most original plot. It's about three young single women living in New York City, but all the other successful takes on that subject had something to help them stand out: Sex and the City had amazing fashion and quippy sex scenes, Girls has the sad hilarity of their anti-hero realism, and The Mindy Project has a smart and silly doctor as the main character. So what does Super Fun Night have besides Wilson? Just fat humor? Hopefully better things are yet to come. Better things like Wilson has always delivered.