There’s no finer testament to the qualitative breadth of TV drama than seeing the most endearing show of the summer pop up on ABC Family. The setting is oddly appropriate, inasmuch as “Huge” is a bigtime family affair — co-created by mother-daughter team Winnie Holzman (“My So-Called Life”) and Savannah Dooley, with husband-dad Paul Dooley in a supporting role and Holzman’s brother manning the camera. Sensitively done and consistently touching, this is a series any network could proudly include on its roster — one that appeals to anyone who’s ever thought twice about eating a bear claw.
Based on Sasha Paley’s book, “Huge” focuses on the kids at a summer fat camp, where they are shipped off to slim down. Not surprisingly, the recidivism rate is high, with several referring to past visits and shed pounds that quickly returned.
Refreshingly, there are no truly bad kids at Camp Victory, which they ruefully refer to as an escape from “the real world,” and which holds its share of unwelcome moments for the plus-sized. The program initially centers on a surly new arrival, Willamina, or Will (“Hairspray’s” Nikki Blonsky), who objects to the concept of such a camp as a not-so-subtle rejection of not just her but of overweight kids everywhere.
Will’s rebellious nature puts her at odds with the camp administrator (Gina Torres) and Amber (Hayley Hasselhoff — yes, David’s daughter), a bunkmate who posts pictures of skinny models as motivation. Despite being an object of lust for many, Amber sets her own sights on a handsome, well-built trainer (Zander Eckhouse).
In short, “Huge” is one big circle of adolescent longing, and Holz-man and Dooley manage to find the pathos in the situation without condescending or going for cheap laughs at their characters’ expense. It helps that they have done a phenomenal job in casting the series — there’s not a weak link in the bunch.
The elder Dooley, meanwhile, plays the camp’s new chef and delivers a priceless line, surveying the campers and deadpanning, “No seconds.”
The third hour, also made available for review, may be better than the first, featuring a new girl whose overprotective parents won’t leave her alone, while the other residents write letters home.
Holzman helped establish the standard for angst-ridden teen drama in “My So-Called Life,” and “Huge” brings another dimension to it — and demonstrates how a first-rate drama can be more satisfying than a similarly themed documentary effort like MTV’s “Fat Camp.”
ABC Family has already made significant inroads into original series, but due in part to its demographic focus, nothing thus far has approached this level of quality. One or two more shows like this, however, and the channel could find itself in an unusual position — turning even cranky critics into happy campers.