'Starved': New Comedy Not Hungry for Laughs

Day to Day television critic and Hollywood Reporter editor Andrew Wallenstein reviews Starved, a new comedy on the FX television network. Wallenstein calls the series a "nasty, brutish" comedy — and one of the best shows of the season.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And changing channels now, a new sitcom raises the question: Can eating disorders be funny? The makers of the FX comedy series "Starved" thinks so. And so does DAY TO DAY TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN reporting:

"Starved" is a nasty, brutish piece of work. But it's also one of the most promising comedies to come along in a while. The show was created, written and produced by Eric Schaeffer, an indie filmmaker who also stars in the show as Sam, an anorexic bachelor with some serious body-image issues. His life revolves around his quest to be thin, from the moment he wakes in the morning to weigh himself. But don't go feeling sorry for Sam just yet. He's also a shallow, jealous womanizer who subjects the opposite sex to the same high standards he imposes on himself.

(Soundbite of "Starved")

Mr. ERIC SCHAEFFER: (As Sam) In a sense it's so weird. Now I can look really quite devastatingly handsome and thin--like, you know, borderline male supermodel--and also extremely fat and almost semiphysically retarded all at the same time.

Ms. LAURA BENANTI: (As Billie) Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night screaming in terror, realizing that you are you?

WALLENSTEIN: That voice of reason is Billie, a fellow anorexic played by Laura Benanti. She and two more friends of theirs form a combative but tight-knit support group that provides plenty of laughs, although little actual support. The fact that all four of them never seem to be anywhere near recovery might have something to do with the hilariously masochistic therapy group they attend.

(Soundbite of "Starved")

Unidentified Woman #1: Belt Tighteners is not affiliated with any 12-step group or dieting program. We believe we need a more radical solution to arrest our eating problem. By creating a community of accountability and shame, we don't act out. Let's check in quickly starting at my left.

"ADAM": I'm Adam and I'm bulimic.

Therapy Group: (In unison) It's not OK.

"ADAM": I ate 212 almonds last night really fast and then puked them back up.

Unidentified Woman #1: You're repugnant and weak and I'm this close to calling a group conscience to vote to kick you out. You lack commitment. You've been warned.

WALLENSTEIN: Now I'm not going to soft-pedal "Starved" for you. It has repelling characters doing repugnant things. But at its best, "Starved" will remind you of another TV comedy about four friends who are self-absorbed Manhattanites screwing up their lives. That's right. "Starved" plays like an R-rated version of "Seinfeld."

What makes "Starved" so great is two of its central characters. Schaeffer plays so well off Benanti. They have an undeniable chemistry complicated by the fact her character claims to be a lesbian. And then there's all of Sam's problems. He may seem less a man than a reptile walking on hind legs. Still, Schaeffer pulls off quite a trick by making him a sympathetic figure to root for.

No doubt the National Eating Disorders Association would prefer "Starved" focus on saintly victims. But that's not interesting and what's worse, it's dishonest. Anorexics and bulimics are three-dimensional flawed human beings like most of us. Depicting them with humor does not amount to ridicule. If anything it makes them more relatable.

CHADWICK: Andrew Wallenstein is DAY TO DAY's TV critic and he's also an editor of the Hollywood Report.

I'm Alex Chadwick. More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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