FX puts comedy back on table

Source: USA Today
Date: August 3, 2005

FX carved a name for itself with edgy dramas. Now it’s ready to push the comedic envelope.

The network, known for such attention-grabbing series as Nip/Tuck and Over There, is launching an hour-long sitcom block with two series Thursday: Starved (10 ET/PT) and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (10:30 ET/PT). They’re FX’s first attempts at comedy since the short-lived John Corbett sitcom, Lucky, in 2003. (Related story: Sunny can be serious)

Both new shows are distinctive in their adult tone and concepts; neither, their creators say, would ever air on network television.

Of the two, Starved has attracted most of the attention, thanks to its premise: Four people meet at an eating disorder support group and become friends. The humor is satirical, and sometimes sickening, showing the struggles people have with food.

Among the scenes in the first of seven episodes: A bulimic policeman stops a Chinese food deliveryman to take his food, binges on it and then unwittingly throws up on a homeless person.

“Hopefully, what comes through is that it’s certainly about much more than eating disorders,” says creator Eric Schaeffer, who also plays Sam. “It’s about four people battling the challenges of humanity — the excitement, the successes, the pathos, the struggles with finding love and spirituality and careers that work.”

Schaeffer, who is in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse, wanted to “write something about addiction, which is near and dear to my heart.”

The National Eating Disorders Association sees Starved differently and says the program could be dangerous to those with such disorders. The group seeks a boycott by advertisers and viewers. “This appalling and reprehensible program is starved for any empathy toward those affected by the illness,” says Lynn Grefeth, the group’s CEO.

Schaeffer says he’s not sending up eating disorders. Stories come from his own experiences and those of people he knows, he says, while acknowledging that a fictional shame-based recovery group is satirical. “At the core of my show is a human and compassionate spirit,” he says.

Others in the cast have issues with food, too. Laura Benanti, who plays Billie, battled anorexia for three years, she says. Working on Broadway with dancers before Starved, she began to try to be as thin as they were.

“I’d eat half an apple and a quarter of a cup of plain yogurt with six almonds. I would take a sandwich and eat a quarter of it. And that was a bad day.” Everywhere she went, people told her she looked great, she says. “We’re a nation that’s completely obsessed with food.”

Del Pentecost, who plays Dan, also knows about obsessions with food. The former high school football player weighs 310 pounds and says he often gets the “young John Goodman roles.”

He was concerned about the show poking fun at obesity. “You want to work and feed your family, but at some point do I really want to just be the fat man?” After reading the scripts he says he realized his character is complex, “as opposed to the being the guy who’s funny and fat.”

Pentecost used his own real-life experiences at times to help Schaeffer write scenes, such as going to the post office to weigh himself because his own scale stopped at 290.

Sterling K. Brown, who plays the bulimic cop Adam, is a little worried what his mother might think of the show. But he says you don’t often “get a chance to play someone who’s so brazen and flippant with their disregard for other human beings.”

He didn’t really enjoy throwing up on someone. “I was talking to the guy I had to vomit on and I said, ‘Hey bro, I’m really sorry about this. I’ll try to hit you on your shoulder.’ And Eric is like, ‘No, no, no, it’s got to land on his face.'”

Schaeffer acknowledges that “there is some difficult stuff to watch. But I know my spirit and intention are good.”

He adds, “Humor is subjective.”