Love Handles: Couples In Crisis debuts tonight on Lifetime at 10 p.m. Eastern.
The television landscape really doesn’t need yet another reality series dedicated to weight or weight loss. From The Biggest Loser to Losing it With Jillian to Celebrity Fit Club to Ruby to Heavy, we’ve pretty much gotten the gist of it. People in need of an intervention come on a program, get bossed around by a handful of experts, and, most of the time, come out apparently happier, healthier and of course thinner.
Of course, just because the shows are out there doesn’t mean they’re actually good or even that reflective of what the weight loss process is like. In order to make weight loss seem more dramatic than it is, programs often rely on flash, both in terms of physical challenges (how many of us have the time and means to push gigantic inflatable balls up and down a beach?) and the big reveal. In real life, when you attempt to lose weight, it’s an hourly grind, and there’s no wardrobe stylist to assist the new you before you step out from behind a curtain while your family, who hasn’t seen you for months, screams with joy.
So while Love Handles: Couples in Crisis doesn’t enter new territory (even the concept of couples losing weight has been tackled by The Biggest Loser), at least it’s a show that comes pretty close to addressing the real problems that occur when a couple gains weight together. Most people who’ve been in a long term relationship know that getting fat together, or at least simulating it, can at least temporarily feel like an intimate, comforting activity. You’re already in your own little bubble together, and if you add delicious donuts or sizzling bacon to the scenario, well, that just makes it better. George Costanza knew what he was doing when he brought that sandwich into bed.
But it’s all fun and games until the food becomes an actual issue, and the couples feel disdain both for their own bodies as well as each others’, resenting the physical deterioration, lack of willpower and failure to both motivate and reassure the other. Losing weight in and of itself is a slog, but when the weight has become part of a relationship, it’s an even more complicated issue.
What Love Handles most has going for it is its honesty, which will appeal to some viewers and probably repel others. The premise is pretty standard. The premiere follows two couples, Meg and Jay in LA and William and Tyese in Atlanta. Meg aspires to get down to 145 from 233 pounds, Jay to 175 from 215. Meg would like to get engaged, but Jay, who’s kind of a jerk (but at least is up-front about it), finds the weight she’s put on during the course of their relationship a turn-off. William and Tyese have been married for nearly 10 years but their weight gain (she’s at 232, getting to 160, he’s at 207, aiming for 180) has rendered their marriage sexless. Over the course of eight weeks, each couple consults with a dietitian, trainer and counselor to get their bodies, minds and relationships back on track.
It’s distinctly unsexy stuff, as large portions of the episode are depressing, even a turnoff. There’s nagging, there’s crying, there’s yelling. Both couples are regular-looking people living in regular-people homes (no nice mansions or spas here). There's no narrative voice-over to attempt to add more drama to the stories than what we see. The therapists are tough and honest but not of the Jillian Michaels I’m-Your-Skinny-White-Oprah-Come-To-Save-Your-Sad-Fat-Ass variety. And while the couples find success, there’s no big ta-da moment, no prize, no party, no hordes of appreciative friends and family.
As a show, then, it’s hard to recommend that Love Handles as especially entertaining or enjoyable (especially if, as a viewer, you struggle neither with weight or relationship issues). However, honesty and reality is still lacking in the weight-loss reality TV show landscape, and this show provides plenty of it. If it’s able to add a realistic look at how weight affects relationships, while it might not be fun, it’s a success.
—I would be curious to see if future episodes handle what happens if and when one partner in a relationship is jealous of the others' weight loss success.
—I appreciated that the show's producers didn't go the Biggest Loser or Heavy route and try to find couples who are morbidly obese for shock value.