Welcome to this week’s exercise in irresistible-fat-joke TV, courtesy of Lifetime and “Jersey Shore” producer Sally Ann Salsano. Once you get past the risible title, though — “Love Handles: Couples in Crisis” — there’s nothing particularly new on this docuseries’ menu, which blends the relationship show and diet/workout makeover together into one high-schmaltz-content entree, where talk about BMI (or Body Mass Index) flows as freely as tears. Despite its corny elements, in a country fighting and often losing the battle of the bulge, “Handles” seems destined to latch onto an audience, filling a flabby niche “Oprah” successfully explored.
Granted, this is one of those no-cliche-unturned reality concepts, constructed around the “It takes a village to fix a couple” theory. Focusing on two tandems in each hour, the participants (including two same-sex couples out of 16 featured) are put through a regimen that involves sessions with personal trainers and therapists as well as meeting with a doctor.
By offering self-contained episodes, the show doesn’t have a lot of time to waste. In fact, following each duo’s multi-week journey from introduction to conclusion — the whole arc of a relationship, and its potential salvation, in less than 22 minutes — requires a lot of shorthand. It’s an approach that feels rather ironic — peddling instant gratification, storytelling-wise, within a series that promotes the merits of patience, hard work and commitment.
In a way, the producers have taken relatable problems that could assail any couple, and magnified them (sorry) through the filter of obesity. “I would love to have romance back in our marriage,” one woman, Tyese, laments in the premiere, citing how long it’s been since she and her husband were intimate. (Thin couples can be unhappy, too, but don’t get to visually demonstrate their ordeal via painful sessions with personal trainers.)
To more cynical eyes, the counseling sessions can be unintentionally funny in their melodrama, as one woman shrieks, “I deserve to be loved!” in a kind of primal scream. Still, the bottom line is that “Handles” shrewdly taps into areas of widespread concern generally associated with daytime TV — weight loss and relationships — and repackages them into an hour.
“Failure could destroy their relationship,” the narrator intones dramatically at the outset.
True, but the struggle could sustain the show, demonstrating that America’s appetite for cheesy junk doesn’t end at the fast-food counter.