My personal poster child for tragically canceled series is, no doubt, "My So-Called Life," whose one season with its cliffhanger ending still draws cultlike devotion even from kids not yet born when the show originally aired. Created by Winnie Holzman and brought to TV in the fall of 1994, "My So-Called Life" appeared in the world when I was deep in that adolescent stage of being super-obsessively passionate about the few things I liked while being apathetic and eye-rolling to everything else.
And so I was drawn to this show like a sulking moth to a Lollapalooza-attending babydoll-dress-wearing unbearably-narcissistic flame. It was just like my life, except better (and worse).
"My So-Called Life" was different from most teen-centric TV at the time, which tended toward the "Beverly Hills 90210" approach. This is not to say that 90210 wasn’t enormously entertaining, but its adult teenagers with their soapy angst and their rich-kid problems did not present anything I could relate to. "My So-Called Life" had actual kids in it, kids who mumbled out incoherent monologues on the conceptual weirdness of sex, or who had halting and awkward conversations about the ridiculous minutiae of teenage life. They talked like I talked, and like my friends talked; they were deeply insecure and did not know enough to hide it. "My So-Called Life" also introduced us to easily the best-written gay male character of the 90s on network TV, with Rickie Vasquez.
So it’s not that surprising that Winnie Holzman’s daughter, Savannah Dooley, should go on to reproduce the impossible feat of bringing a thoughtful and multifaceted show about teenagers to TV. It’s really not even surprising that that show would also go on to get cancelled ALSO with a cliffhanger ending, because that is what happens to me with the rare American TV show I actually like.
Savannah’s show was called "Huge," and it was (loosely) based on the (awful) Sasha Paley YA novel of the same name, about a group of teens at a fat camp. I know, it sounds terrible, right? ABC Family worked pretty hard to make it look terrible in last summer’s promotional materials as well. BUT IT IS NOT TERRIBLE. It is actually brilliant.
"Huge" tackled a wide diversity of teens’ body image issues, with some characters absolutely desperate to lose weight, while others were militant about refusing to assimilate to the diet machine. Will (played magnificently by Nikki Blonsky of "Hairspray" fame) is a radical feminist-identifying self-accepting fatty who rails against “body fascism” and surreptitiously destroys her roommates’ fashion mags. Alistair (portrayed with incredible subtlety by Harvey Guillen) is a sweet genderqueer misfit quietly figuring out who he is or who he wants to be.
And there’s more! There's eating disorders, forbidden romance, bullies, LARPing and a "Twilight "spoof! Also, with Poppy, Huge may also have introduced us to the first out asexual character on mainstream television.
I also love this series because most of the cast is fat. Not like, Hollywood-fat, as in they wear a size 10. But actual fat. Fat-person fat. This alone got "Huge" a lot of attention, both from people who thought it was cool to see fat people on a show that doesn’t make them freaks or focus on their size, and from people who thought this was a TERRIBLE IDEA and that it would indoctrinate children everywhere into believing that being fat was awesome and something they should totally do.
All "Huge" really does is dare to show fat teenagers not being made fun of or beaten up; it dares to show them as full-fledged individuals who have personalities and desires and dreams beyond wearing a certain pants size. Of COURSE it got cancelled.
ABC Family dumped "Huge" in favor of such uplifting fare as "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and "Melissa and Joey," shows which certainly have better ratings, but which are also vapid dreck I can only appreciate when consumed with a bottle of wine and a whole lot of snark.
It’s cool to have television that is purely entertaining, but it’s a shame that shows like "Huge" fall by the wayside because they challenge people more than they comfortably reaffirm our existing assumptions.
The good news is, you can still watch "Huge" in its entirety on Hulu, or on DVD. It’s pretty out of character for me to recommend that anyone go to fat camp, but consider giving over a few hours this summer to Camp Victory, and see if you don’t enjoy yourself. Try the mini muffins. I hear they're delicious.