I'm a Phantasma Fanatic, and other reasons I still like Huge
I was quite enthusiastic about the pilot of ABC Family’s Huge, and wanted to check back in with the show now that it’s five episodes into the season. The short version of what I’m about to say: it’s still a great show, and I think it’s gotten even better since the first episode.
The longer version: The first episode centered on a protagonist, which it had to do in order to hook its audience and to give the pilot a satisfying internal arc (protagonist hates Fat Camp, protagonist runs away, protagonist resolves to give camp a try). Since that initial episode, however, the show has placed much more emphasis on the surrounding characters, which has had multiple positive effects. It provides an array of emotional entry-points into the show (maybe you resonate with Amber, maybe you’re into Ian’s emo guitar stylings, maybe you’re caught up in Dr. Rand’s conflicted relationship with her father), but more importantly, it keeps the portrayal of the camp far more balanced than it would have been if Wilhelmina were our primary focus. Her continuing negativity toward what she views as the central, unspoken tenant of Camp Victory (“hate your body”) could easily become the dominant tone of the show, and it would probably have limited the story possibilities and made the show more predictable.
Instead, we get a variety of reactions to the camp: girls who desperately want to be thin in a way that probably isn’t healthy for their self-esteem, guys who want to be athletic, several people who worry about what it will be like to have new bodies, and a few who want to lose weight, but find it so difficult that they still break the camp rules. In the most recent episode, the staff meeting announcements begin with a notice from Dr. Rand about some kids who go to the nurse saying that they have a sore throat – the nurse gives them salt to gargle, and they then use it to put more salt on their food. It’s details like that anecdote, and frequent casual discussions about childhood teasing, thigh chafing, and which bras to wear to Movie Night, that makes the camp appear grounded, plausible, and potentially positive.
Because I’m me, I’m also drawn to the subtle nerdy undercurrent that has flavored a few recent episodes. In one, Becca creates a fast, complex fantasy world based on several camp locations and tries to recruit people to LARP with her (Live Action Role Play). I was astonished to then watch an entire episode of a mainstream television show in which the term LARPing is explained just once and then used frequently in nonchalant conversation. Even better, Huge has established a well-written, gently teasing Twilight analogue inside the show. It’s a book and movie called Phantasma about a girl who falls in love with a ghost: (An explanation from Chloe, a camper: “This girl comes to this new town, right, and she keeps seeing this guy everywhere, like, he keeps appearing and then reappearing and appearing and then reappearing, ‘cause he basically is everywhere, ‘cause he’s like a ghost. It’s romantic.”) in the world of the show, even the actors of Phantasma have familiarly fascinating love lives. The girls study photos of the two lead actors in magazines, dissect their body language, and thrill when the director chooses Phantasma for Movie Night. They even play a several scenes from the movie so that we can hear the dialogue while the campers carry out all of their anticipated social entanglements. The sample Phantasma dialogue is just so good, and you’ll have to imagine it complete with a melancholy piano score:
“I would do anything for you Callie. I even swore to protect you from the Ghost Tribunal. But now I realize that the best way to protect you…is to stay away from you.”
“You can’t mean that. If you loved me, then you’ll stay with me. No matter what.”
“I waited 300 years to find true love. Before you came, I had no hope that I would ever feel anything again. You changed me, Callie. And I need you to know that. Before I go.”
It’s odd to say this about a show like Huge that seems to draw with broad strokes, but it’s in the details like LARPing and salt theft and Phantasma that the show really works. On that note, I’ll leave you with a little more Phantasma dialogue:
“Are you still afraid?”
“Yes, I’m afraid…of how badly I want you.”