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Lizzo’s plus-sized reality show is grrreat

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Probably the least productive result of the pandemic for me has been my exploration of more of what falls under the umbrella of “prestige television.”

A longtime fan of shows like “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” — and its equally superb prequel, “Better Call Saul” — I longed for other diversions to help me pass the time I spent on my living room couch. FX’s excellent “Snowfall,” on the early days of the crack epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles, and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are two that caught my attention and have earned my fidelity.

It helps that I was able to play catch up with “Snowfall” and “Maisel,” joining their viewer ranks after their debuts so I could binge-watch entire seasons at a felled swoop. There haven’t been as many new shows that have caught my eye. Until very recently, that is, when I discovered Amazon’s “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.”

The show is a fresh take on the most tired of reality-show conventions: a crop of unknown hopefuls is brought into a big-city mansion home and forced to compete at the bequest of a celebrity for a shot at stardom. “America’s Next Top Model” with former supermodel Tyra Banks is the earliest example of this type I can recall. It premiered on the old UPN Network in 2003.

This show is led by pop singer Lizzo, whose hit songs “Juice” and “Truth Hurts” were ubiquitous a few summers ago.

In addition to finding acclaim as the writer and performer of these songs, Lizzo has drawn attention as a plus-size performer with an equally big voice who seems not the least bit concerned with covering her bountiful figure to protect the sensitivities of the fat-phobic. There’s not a skimpy costume you might see on another female performer that Lizzo won’t wear herself, sometimes minus a few square feet of fabric.

Lizzo shares live performances with her equally plus-sized background dancers, known as the Big Grrrls. The TV show proposes to find a new batch of Big Grrrls to dance behind her at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in September 2021.

The show starts off with the usual introductions of a culturally diverse group, among them:

– The tough-talking East Coaster with dance experience who never says but always exemplifies the trope “I didn’t come here to make friends. I came here to win.”

– The technically trained youngster who seems to pick up on every move before the rest but has to be encouraged to be less technical and “let loose.”

Pretty standard types, but then the curveballs:

– The K-pop dancer whose Korean heritage makes her especially sensitive to showing off her body, not to mention the possible impact doing so might have on the teaching career she hope to have after her dancing days.

– The marketing executive from Charlotte, N.C., who knows that being in her mid-30s, she might not make the final team but is determined to try her best.

– The transgender woman who seems to be fighting for acceptance from herself as much as anyone else.

There are others, but I caught myself pulling for the dancer from Birmingham, Ala., a former captain of Alabama State University’s plus-size dance team, the Honeybeez. I got to meet some of them for a newspaper story a few years back, and she exemplifies their mission to inspire young girls and boys to love themselves at any size and weight.

Heck, I ended up pulling for almost all of the contestants at different points in the show’s progress.

The camera doesn’t shy away from their curves, their folds, their flaps, in ways television shows usually do. We see the sweat equity they put into the competition, and it humanizes them in ways TV shows that tokenize plus-size competitors fail to do. When they fail, we feel their pain; when they win, we cheer their accomplishment.

I don’t know if there will be a second season, but this season of “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” was, as Lizzo would sing, “Good As Hell.”

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.

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