If you're a fan of quality television -- and smartly written coming of age stories, in particular -- news that Winnie Holzman is writing a new TV series is reason to cheer.
Ms. Holzman, who also wrote the book for the Broadway musical "Wicked," is best known as the writer of ABC's 1994 series "My So-Called Life," which introduced viewers to the world of Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a suburban Pittsburgh teenager grappling with assorted teen issues, including an unrequited crush on bad boy Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).
In that series, Ms. Holzman struck a truthful nerve in her writing for Angela, revealing the insecurities, vulnerabilities and occasional nastiness that's part and parcel of adolescent life.
Her new series about kids at a fat camp seems unlikely to have a similar cultural impact. But like "MSCL," "Huge" (9 p.m. Monday, ABC Family) gives voice to a segment of the audience that often does not see itself on TV, or if it does, it's as a secondary character or sidekick. Here the overweight kids are front and center.
That's a fairly bold move for a television network, considering many teen characters on the most popular teen-targeted shows ("Gossip Girl," "90210") are wafer thin.
Based on a novel of the same name by Sasha Paley, Holzman wrote "Huge" with her daughter, Savannah Dooley, and her husband, actor Paul Dooley ("Grace Under Fire") plays the camp cook. "Huge" does not have the revolutionary feel of "MSCL," lacking a painful-because-it's-true vibe. Rather, it seems like a typical, sometimes plodding teen soap.
It doesn't help that the first character introduced is the unpleasant Willamina (Nikki Blonsky), who does not want to be at Camp Victory and butts heads with well-meaning camp director Dr. Rand (Gina Torres).
"I'm down with my fat," Wil says, refusing to take the camp seriously. "My fat and I are BFFs."
Wil also comes into conflict with the more optimistic Amber (Hayley Hasselhoff), who is admired by many of the campers for her comparatively slim waistline. Wil also becomes the camp dealer -- instead of drugs, she deals in ding-dongs and candy, contraband that is against the camp rules.
The "Huge" pilot becomes more watchable as more characters are introduced. One area where the script excels is showing that there are popular and unpopular kids everywhere, including in fat camp where cliques and status concerns are just as prevalent as in high school.
"Huge" is a pro-social series that will likely reassure some young viewers that they are not alone. If it can find a way to do that in a more unique, entertaining manner in future episodes, all the better.
TV editor Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published June 27, 2010 4:00 AM