- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

Sigmund Freud never asked what men wanted. He didn't need to. The answer has been obvious for centuries: They want to let themselves go in the looks department and still attract fetching women.
Welcome to the fantasy world of several TV sitcoms, including CBS' "Still Standing" and "The King of Queens," ABC's "According to Jim" and "The Drew Carey Show," and Fox's "Andy Richter Controls the Universe."
These shows are fronted by portly lead males who are regular Joes with healthy circumferences and wives or girlfriends whom Leonardo DiCaprio wouldn't kick out of his hotel room.
The current fat-guy trend has a long pedigree, one that stretches to television's earliest years, when shows such as "The Honeymooners" and "Life of Riley" were hits.
Before delving into what is behind this vogue, here is a quick overview of the latest crop of distended TV tummies:
There's Mark Addy of "Still Standing," a sitcom about the travails of former high school sweethearts raising three kids in blue-collar Chicago. Mr. Addy: pudgy, with thinning hairline. His wife, played by Jami Gertz: sultry brunette, chiseled facial musculature.
In "The King of Queens," set in the blue-collar New York City borough, a character played by Kevin James (the hefty stand-up comedian) is married to a character played by Leah Remini (exotic brunette, beautiful feline features).
"According to Jim" stars Jim Belushi (balding, thick in the neck and paunch) as a design firm contractor who is married to Cheryl, played by former "Melrose Place" vixen Courtney Thorne-Smith.
"She's champagne and strawberries to Jim's beer, nuts and bratwurst but they're in love," says a synopsis of "According to Jim" on ABC's Web site.
Jim likes to play rock music with buddies in his garage. Cheryl got tired of dating rich corporate types and plumped for a simpler, a plumper, life with Jim.
There is plump aplenty on "The Drew Carey Show," starring the bespectacled doughboyish comedian of the same name. A recent addition to the "Drew Carey" cast, Cynthia Watros (cute blonde, former daytime soap hottie), stars as Kellie Newmark, who has had a lifelong crush on Drew.
In one episode of "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," starring the chunky former Conan O'Brien sidekick, Andy has a steamy affair with a gorgeous babe who was out of his league in high school. But now he's a writer of technical manuals so, of course, she's head over heels for him when they meet again.

Notice a pattern here?
"There's a combination of being portly, being male and being macho," says Murray Pomerance, a pop-culture and media expert at Ryerson University in Toronto, in a triptych that could aptly summarize the beloved HBO gangster, Tony Soprano.
He recalls the example of the charmingly combative Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners." Jackie Gleason's famous character, he says, was "the epitome of the working-class boor."
Mr. Pomerance says there are broader sociological factors behind television's celebration of the winning fat guy: an appeal to a lower-middle-class audience under increasing financial stress; an obesity epidemic; the popularity and inexpensiveness of high-carbohydrate diets among the working class.
"To eat to keep slender, you have to spend money," he says. "The high-carb diet is also a cheap diet."
What shows like "Still Standing" and "According to Jim" are doing is turning the couch-potato paradigm on its head. They are trying to transform the average, overweight guy into an "ad for success."
"You don't have to think of yourself as a loser," Mr. Pomerance says. "You can be a winner."

TV audiences are not as accepting of pudginess if it is attached to women, says Jerry Mosher, a media studies professor at California State University at Long Beach. The working-class mother played by Roseanne Barr on her self-titled ABC sitcom was, at the time, a shocking sight.

Mr. Mosher points to "All In the Family's" Archie Bunker (the late Carroll O'Connor) as the epitome of post-World War II "blue-collar patriarchs," a dying breed of working-class guys giving way to the svelte, well-educated "organization men."
Before World War II, fat was a sign of wealth and privilege in America, he says. The term "fat cat" was a literal description of rich businessmen.
Archie Bunker was a stark contrast to "lean corporate patriarchs," such as the architect Mike Brady (the late Robert Reed) in "The Brady Bunch" and the aviation engineer Steve Douglas (the late Fred MacMurray) in "My Three Sons," he says.
Mr. Mosher says the fat-guy trend has an upside: "Fat is becoming kind of cool. In a culture where there's so much value placed on being rebellious, what could be more rebellious than being fat in a culture that celebrates thinness?"

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