Kirstie Alley is overweight and makes no excuses. What’s engaging and ultimately worthwhile about her new reality show, “Big Life” on A&E, is that despite her crazy lifestyle (a home zoo including lemurs, dogs, cats and Hollywood assistants), Alley has a way of seeming like the eccentric girlfriend down the street. Whereas her 2005 Showtime series “Fat Actress” was satirically fictional, “Big Life” is satirically realistic. Still, with whimsical music, Alley’s voiceovers and an irreverent tone, the result is more like an episode of “Arrested Development” than a reality show.
Alley addresses what shows like “The Biggest Loser” don’t: The weight often comes back. With her considerable resources and a cadre of assistants — along with the staggering statistics regarding overweight Americans — it’s pretty obvious that the process is a little more complicated than simply calories in, calories out. (And it isn’t accidental that the show coincides with Alley’s launch of a new weight-loss program.)
Love her or hate her, you gotta give Alley props for honesty, even if she does have quite the potty mouth. Few would fess up so matter-of-factly about drug use and other bad choices, all of which led to a 75-pound weight gain. Alley lost the weight very publicly, only to gain it all back and then some.
While “Big Life” is no grand march into Alley’s psyche, it does have its “Being John Malkovich” moments. She insists on converting her weight into British stones just because it sounds better. She holds a meeting in the lemur cage and uses the home intercom system to terrorize assistants. Despite the wisecracks, though, her loneliness is palpable and her reactions to numerous unflattering pictures captured by the ever-present paparazzi, heart-wrenching.
“Big Life” isn’t a weight loss or fitness show in the genre’s strictest sense. There’s no talk of calories or strategies — and the exercise scenes, at least in the first two episodes, are minimal. The second episode, airing in tandem with the premiere, focuses more on the process of hiring a trainer than the actual training.
Also featured are her kids Lillie and True, and tubby handyman Jim. And while being a child reality TV star seems just as much of a health risk as being obese, the paparazzi are a daily presence anyway, hounding the family and shouting questions like, “what did you have to eat today?” Next to that, reality TV cameras almost seem like stability.
The saying goes you can never be too rich or too thin, and that appears especially true for Hollywood. In Alley’s own irreverent, eccentric way, though, she’s also proven you can’t be too fat: She’s turned her weight problem into an act of defiance — and a pretty entertaining half hour of TV.