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'Losing It With Jillian': Whoa! S-L-O-W down

June 16, 2010 |  6:19 am

This show is giving me whiplash. And I'm going to send my chiropractic bills to NBC.

Here's the problem with "Losing It With Jillian": The show has been billed as the "behind the scenes" of "The Biggest Loser," giving the viewers insight into Jillian Michaels' methods for getting people to lose jaw-dropping amounts of weight and turning their lives around. But this is just too much to pack into 60 minutes (actually, about 42 minutes, once you count commercials).

The result is that the show's pivot points can feel trite and shallow -- not because of the content but because there's not enough time to let the audience take in the dilemmas, let them sink in and allow some tension (and empathy) to build before the issues resolve themselves. Not a good thing for a show that is supposed to be all about diving beneath the surface. Even the theme song seems truncated and rushed.

Take the first week's heart-wrenching episode, about the parents who had yet to come to grips with the death of their son. They decided as a family that they should put a headstone on the infant's grave. But that thread was left unresolved on the show. I happened to run into Michaels later that week at "The Biggest Loser" ranch, and the first thing I said was "The headstone! Did the baby get his headstone?!?!?" (I was about to offer to pay for it myself if they hadn't.) Jillian threw up her hands and rolled her eyes. It turns out the family did indeed get their headstone, and they did have a graveside service. "It was lovely, it was really lovely," she added. And yet the audience never got to see it because there was no time to cram it into that episode.

The next episode felt choppy for the same reason: trying to jam too much into the story about a widow and mother of two whose husband had died suddenly due in part to his obesity issues. There was also an annoying segue when the daughter went haywire. (She claimed she was upset because Michaels was giving her mother the business, but you know it was because Michaels shushed her for butting in, and teenage girls don't like being shushed on TV. Cue the dramatic waterworks.)

The pacing in this week's show was the best so far, but it would have been nice to learn more about Ruth, who struggled in short order with a divorce she never saw coming, ovarian cancer, a job loss and weight gain that left her at 300 pounds when she should weigh about 170. It also left her with a garage filled to the brim with "stuff" and two daughters following in her footsteps.

It seemed, though, like we'd barely had the briefest outlines of her story when -- boom! -- she had a garage sale to get rid of it all -- boom! -- she was in the gym declaring that she was a changed woman -- boom! -- she was going on a date for the first time since her divorce -- boom! -- she lost 74 pounds even though we barely saw her dieting or exercising.

My thought was: Did she even need Michaels? Of course, the answer was yes, as Ruth tearfully told Michaels at the end: "Thank you for saving our lives. ... You will always have a place in our hearts and in our home and in our family."

But it would have been nice to see more of it. Not exactly sure what the solution is. Could the show go two hours, like "Biggest Loser"? Could they do Part 1 one week, and have a "To Be Continued" for the next? Is there a way to boil down the setup even more, so the story could focus on the work? I don't have the answers.

The show excels, though, at making people realize that change happens in an instant. (Although that's just the start of all the hard work to come.) And the root message is certainly inspiring: You don't always need 20 years on a therapist's couch. Sometimes you just need someone to drag you around the gym like a rag doll and tell you to "get over it." It worked for Ruth.

-- Rene Lynch

Photo: Jillian Michaels tears through Ruth's kitchen cabinets, pouring out the sugar. Unless I am mistaken, this scene also didn't make it into the final episode. Credit: NBC Universal