"Kirstie Alley's Big Life," her new reality show on A&E, is a sad postscript to her 2005 Showtime comedy, "Fat Actress," an amusing scripted series that allowed her to make fun of herself and also mock Hollywood.
This recidivist's tale is listless and slow-moving, a series entirely based on Alley's lament, "I never dreamed I would get fat again."
Other celebrities have put weight back on after highly public battles to get thin: Oprah Winfrey did a January 2009 cover story in her magazine with the cover line, "How did I let this happen again?" Alley, who triumphantly paraded on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in a bikini in 2006, went back on the show last year to admit to her relapse. Now she is trying to cash in on it.
In the premiere episode of "Big Life" tonight, Alley gleefully turns her camera crew on a photographer she catches outside her house and has him chased down the street. In some ways this series is her revenge on paparazzi, whom she denounces as parasites who use unflattering photos to sell gossip magazines.
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Her relationship with the tabloids is more of a co-dependency. They have feasted mercilessly on Alley's struggle with weight and her yo-yo endorsements, which range from Jenny Craig, for which she was once a spokeswoman, to her own weight-loss program, Organic Liaison. And Alley, who grew up in Wichita and still owns a house here, has used that notoriety to float a second act, and now a third one.
Alley, who is a Scientologist, recently appeared on the "Today" show to promote "Big Life," and looked offended when Meredith Vieira asked if her line of diet supplements was in any way connected to Scientology. Alley denied it. She also seemed a little offended when Vieira asked if the diet plan worked. The evidence, even on Alley, is scant. (She said she had lost 20 pounds so far.)
The diet may work, but the series is not exactly an inspiring promotion for Organic Liaison or Alley. It's a low-budget, low-energy reality show in which its star lolls around her large Hollywood mansion, moaning about her weight to her children, True, 17, and Lillie, 15, and her personal assistants, stylists and various staff members.
The self-indulgence and denial that were hyped for laughs on "Fat Actress" are still in play, but without the same wit or satiric bite.
It's depressing to see that Alley, with all her resources and incentives, cannot stay in shape. It's even more depressing to watch her squander the camera's resources. She spends so much time at home that she seems under house arrest. It is there that she listlessly holds auditions for a personal trainer. She has a stylist come over with armfuls of evening gowns for a New Year's Eve party. Even the more ample ones would most likely not fit, but Alley picks a skimpy white chiffon number and hangs it up, as much a goad as a goal.
She spends New Year's Eve at home with her overweight handyman, Jim, who was hired, she says, because "I just wanted someone fatter than me around the house." Jim is a sweet man, though not a particularly hard worker, and he gamely goes along when Alley asks him to be her workout partner or, as she puts it, a "chubby buddy."
Her children are tolerant, good-humored and supportive, assuring Alley that the tabloid pictures are Photoshopped to make her look worse. And Alley is, by Hollywood standards, a conscientious parent, reminding the teenagers as they leave for a party, "If you are with any kids that drink, or anything, make sure the driver takes them home, too."
Alley seems likable and, at times, can still be funny. At the New Year's Day weigh-in — a reckoning that is the highlight of the first episode — she makes her assistants give her the number of pounds she has to drop (about 90) in British measurements because it doesn't sound as bad.
"I only have six stones to lose," she trills happily to herself, Bridget Jones-style.
But this series is not "Bridget Jones's Diary." Mostly, it's the idle jottings of an actress who has played this part before, much better.
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'kirstie alley's big life'
The reality show premieres at 9 p.m. today with back-to-back shows on A&E, cable Channel 41.