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Case Number 18996

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Drop Dead Diva: The Complete First Season

Sony // 2009 // 567 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 1st, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is a self-absorbed female fashion model trapped in a disaster of a male body.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Second Season (published April 27th, 2011) and Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Third Season (published June 20th, 2012) are also available.

The Charge

Sometimes life throws you curves.

Opening Statement

"It's still me!"

Facts of the Case

Deb (Brooke D'Orsay, Gary Unmarried) is an attractive, superficial fashion model. Jane (Brooke Elliot, What Women Want) is an overweight, sensitive, tremendously intelligent attorney. One day, Deb dies in a car accident. On the same day, Jane is shot and killed by an angry client in her law office. Deb's spirit is sent to a processing center, where it must be determined whether she needs to be sent "upstairs" or "downstairs." As it turns out, Deb hasn't done enough deeds of any sort (good or bad) to sway the balance. Before judgment can be rendered, she hits a magical "return" button and is sent back to Earth. The only catch: her spirit is sent into Jane's body.

Deb's guardian angel is particularly unhappy about this course of action, but there's no way it can be undone. Now, our resurrected protagonist has to find a way to fuse Deb's superficiality and snazzy fashion sense with Jane's intelligence and weight issues. As if that weren't complicated enough, Deb's ex-boyfriend (Jackson Hurst, The Mist) has gotten a job with the law firm…and Deb has been forbidden to tell anyone but her best friend Stacy (April Bowlby, Two and a Half Men) about her unique predicament.

Thirteen episodes are spread across three discs:

Disc One
• Pilot
• The F Word
• Do Over
• The Chinese Wall
• Lost & Found

Disc Two
• Second Chances
• The Magic Bullet
• Crazy
• The Dress

Disc Three
• Make Me a Match?
• What If?
• Dead Model Walking
• Grayson's Anatomy

The Evidence

I have to admit, the premise of Drop Dead Diva sounded pretty terrible when I first heard it. Now that I've actually seen the show…well, the premise is pretty terrible. It's a preposterous contrivance that makes very little sense even if you grant the show its supernatural elements. Our central character has retained Deb's memories and personality along with Jane's intelligence and body type, but Jane's memories supposedly went away with Jane's spirit. Even so, for some reason, Deb has a great deal of legal knowledge and remembers a lot about Jane's previous cases. However intelligent she may be, this would not be possible without memories. That's just the tip of the iceberg. The deeper you dig, the more flaws you find with the entire set-up. Isn't it grating when a fantasy fails to abide by its own silly ground rules? Ah, well.

If you can set aside all the huge logical problems built into the set-up, you will discover a reasonably engaging hour-long comedy/drama with a battery of positive messages at its disposal. Given television's predilection for conventionally beautiful people headlining shows of any genre (and Drop Dead Diva certainly boasts more than its share of them), it's nice to see a plus-sized actress getting a chance to step in the spotlight (even if her weight becomes a subject of discussion a lot more than is necessary). Brooke Elliot handles the role quite nicely, excelling in her comedic scenes and doing pretty well in her dramatic scenes. The show resides in a place somewhere between comedy and drama, which encourages the characters to have serious emotions but which never lets things get too serious.

After the pilot (which briskly sets up the characters and the premise), the episodes take on a typical A-plot/B-plot/C-plot structure. The A-plot focuses on Deb/Jane as she attempts to work her way through a complicated legal case. This portion of the show inevitably features numerous moments in which a torrent of information will come to rushing to Deb/Jane's brain (which she will respond to by placing her hand on her forehead as if she has a tiny migraine and then saying, "Oh, wow!"…or something to that effect), giving her all the answers she needs in just the nick of time. The B-plot focuses on her co-workers Grayson and Kim as they attempt to deal with an entirely different legal case, usually a bit sillier and almost always short-changed in terms of screen time. The C-plot focuses on some element of Deb/Jane's personal life, often heavily involving either an acquaintance from her previous life, Stacy or her guardian angel (who happens to be madly in love with Stacy, in an ongoing storyline that feels like a fifth-rate Wings of Desire knock-off). The court cases feature slightly less attention to real-life detail than usual, which I suppose is a given considering that most of them end in sassy, hand-on-the-hip, finger-wagging speeches about why Deb/Jane is right and the other grim-looking lawyer is wrong.

As I mentioned before, the messages the show has to offer are quite positive (if also quite heavy-handed). In addition to the expected speeches about how size doesn't matter and inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, a variety of topical social issues are touched on over the course of the program. The cast is solid overall, with Elliot as the obvious standout of the bunch. The presence of Margaret Cho (who plays Deb/Jane's assistant) is always welcome, but she's sadly underused (as are her comic talents). Some welcome color is brought to the show by a host of larger-than-life guest stars, including Rosie O'Donnell, Paula Abdul, Tim Gunn, Nia Vardalos, Elliot Gould and Liza Minnelli.

As you might expect, the show has a sunnier palette than most legal dramas, with lots of bright pastels all over the place. The image is clean and clear, with deep blacks and solid detail. The surround audio is also fine, with the peppy music and dialogue coming through with clarity. Sound design is rather minimal, even in the fairly crowded legal office. Supplements are on the lightweight side, limited to deleted scenes, some short "Dreamisodes," an EPK-style featurette called "Dropping in With Drop Dead Diva," an offbeat number with Rosie O'Donnell entitled "Rosie's Rap," and some brief comedy bits with Margaret Cho filed under the "Cho and Tell" category. Short, goofy and insubstantial is the name of the game in the special features department.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I have a lot of complaints, but the important ones have pretty much been addressed above.

Closing Statement

Reasonably polished and well-acted, Drop Dead Diva is perfectly watchable. Still, given the nature of the premise, it's both a relief and a disappointment that everything feels so conventional.

The Verdict

Close call, but not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 65
Acting: 79
Story: 74
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
Running Time: 567 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Drama
• Fantasy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Featurette
• Dreamisodes
• Cho & Tell
• Rosie's Rap


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