Rants & Raves
MIMI BOBECK ON THE DREW CAREY SHOW:
The Boss's Secretary from Hell and an Unexpected Action Figure
By Lynne Murray
In our thinness-obsessed culture there is a secret yearning for real-sized fictional characters. I know I feel it. It has prompted me as a writer to grope for ways to show large characters in a positive light. Comedian Drew Carey's television situation comedy is noteworthy in that it shows its fat characters to be just as human as the thin ones, rather than as large targets for insult humor.
Carey's show is outrageous and satirical rather than warm and fuzzy. Its writers use stereotypes for batting practice. Most often the show satirizes the workplace, the dating scene and the middle American dream as seen by the common man.
Carey plays a middle level manager stuck in a dead-end job in Personnel at the department store where he works. Office politics and petty bickering are a major part of the show. Anyone who has worked in an office for an extended period of time will observe feuds developing between people who appear to have been born to hate each other, and who are now forced to work side by side
The character of Mimi Bobeck, played by Kathy Kinney, appears to have begun as the boss's secretary from hell. Every office has one. The office witch who is unfireable because she knows where all the bodies are buried. Mimi's hatred of Drew would extend to getting him fired if she could. He would, of course, return the favor. Because both are trapped in close quarters they spend much of their office time tormenting each other with put-downs and practical jokes.
Mimi Bobeck is a smart-mouthed, hostile, super-sized fat woman who wears bright colors and make-up so garish as to be just this side of a circus clown. There might also have been an element (if my cultural radar is accurate here) of ridiculing fat women who think that make-up and bright clothes make them beautiful. If that note was there to begin with it, has been transcended big time in the development of the series.
Kathy Kinney's gusto, passion and vulnerability as an actress caused the character to evolve beyond garish outfits, unabashed meanness and aggressive jokes—without ever losing the outfits, meanness and jokes.
In the course of the series, Mimi reveals that make-up has turned her life around. At one point she confides, she did not have so much self-confidence. Now she has the self-esteem to take what she wants, be it sexual fulfillment, riding on a float in a parade as a princess or kidnapping her boss and running the store by forging his signature on memos. If she could bottle and sell that confidence I'd buy a case a week.
Carey himself is a large man, and the humor in the show has often skated into the area of fat jokes. However, these jokes are often (not always) tempered with some perspective.
Usually situation comedies make simple-minded jokes that equate fat with gluttony or sexual unattractiveness. A case in point is the image of actress Calista Flockhart on the re-cycled half hour version of Ally McBeal. The very thought of kissing a fat man causes her to literally vomit. I had missed the full-length version of this charming episode but the message of "better bulimic than fat" was clear, if not particularly funny. Vomiting is a little extreme for sitcom "humor" directed at fat characters—usually it's a simple put-down on the level of school kids screaming insults out the windows of moving cars.
I am tempted to guess that Drew Carey's own experience has caused a little more depth in the show. For example, Mimi generally refers to Drew, with total venom, as "Pig," which might refer to his size. But it could just as easily refer to his male chauvinist attitude—which is also fairly mild by TV sitcom standards. On his end of it Drew usually attacks Mimi's clothes, make-up, or sexual appetite rather than her body.
The show has examined size issues in a series of episodes where Drew got engaged to a woman he had first met in high school when she was fat. The woman had lost weight at the time they met again, while Drew was roughly the same size. As they begin to go out, she begins to regain weight and with it, her self-esteem problems resurface. A thin actress wearing increasingly more padding played this part. Drew was shown as supportive and still affectionate as she regained the weight. The woman ended up breaking off the engagement on the eve of the wedding due to problems accepting herself at a larger size.
It is worth remarking that the myth of successful weight loss is such a dearly held dream that the subject of weight regain is, in effect, taboo. "If we pretend it never happens, maybe it won't happen to us," is the attitude.
Weight regain is an even stronger taboo than death, which is assumed to be something that will happen to everyone, even though it is seldom discussed. I have never heard of a television show besides "The Drew Carey Show," be it comedy or drama, that seriously dealt with the usual result of dieting—i.e., regaining the weight, no matter how much the person has lost. The closest thing I can think of is one movie—Eddie Murphy's "The Nutty Professor," although a "magic formula" caused that the lead character's weight loss in that movie. The magic malfunctioned (as it so often does) causing the character to return to his natural large size.
Another idea "The Drew Carey Show" has flirted with is that there might be an attraction between Drew and Mimi, underlying their declared position as sworn enemies. In one episode, the two characters have an online cyber-sex encounter in a computer chat room, using aliases. To his horror, Drew discovers Mimi's identity when she mentions her troll dolls and that she works in a department store. True to his character's essential decency, Drew finds a gentle and non-damaging way to break off the relationship.
I recently discovered that there are both Mimi Bobeck and Drew Carey dolls, available for purchase. I do maintain that a Mimi Bobeck Action Figure might be more appropriate, because the character is so dramatic. But if I bought dolls, I would choose Mimi and Drew every day of the week over Barbie and Ken. I think this kind of attention is a measure of the interesting give-and-take between the two actors and the depth the series writers have added, without missing any laughs.
Without the color and fierce antagonism of Mimi, I suspect that there would not be a Drew Carey doll, and Drew's character on the show would not be nearly so likeable.
Her opposition and her fearless negativity give him the opportunity to be positive, in a cranky stand-up comic sort of way, as well as humane and decent. Here's hoping that we see more of Kathy Kinney both on "The Drew Carey Show" and in other roles that feature not only the brass section, but the whole symphony orchestra of her talent.
© Lynne Murray