Ellen Gray: 'Drop Dead Diva' gets serious - and stays funny

In a new episode, Brooke Elliott represents a lesbian couple who want to attend prom together.
In a new episode, Brooke Elliott represents a lesbian couple who want to attend prom together.
Posted: July 21, 2011

DROP DEAD DIVA. 9 p.m. Sunday, Lifetime.

IS THERE a greater buzz-kill than "the very special episode"?

The raising of Serious Issues tends to swamp not-so-serious series, so when Lifetime started making a fuss about Sunday's episode of its dependably silly rom-com "Drop Dead Diva," I was worried.

And worry is the last emotion anyone should feel about a show that is, after all, about a lawyer named Jane (Brooke Elliott) whose plus-sized body is possessed by the soul of a dead model wannabe.

"The story is very close to my heart, and I feel privileged to tell it," "Diva" creator Josh Berman wrote in a letter accompanying the episode, in which Jane represents a lesbian couple who want to attend prom together.

Good news: That heart on Berman's sleeve isn't covering his funny bone.

Better news: The most special thing about Sunday's "Diva" is how much it feels like every other episode of the show. With maybe a few more guest stars.

Inspired by Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teenager who last year challenged a prohibition against same-sex couples at her school's prom, the episode features out performers Wanda Sykes, Amanda Bearse, Clay Aiken and Lance Bass.

McMillen herself appears briefly as a courtroom bailiff.

Sykes, whose mention of McMillen's fight in a speech at a GLAAD awards ceremony last year first got Berman's attention, plays the judge in Jane's case, and she helps find the funny in a situation that might have played like a Lifetime movie.

Bearse is the judge on the episode's B-story in which Grayson (Jackson Hurst) Jane's recently jilted colleague (who, not incidentally, was once engaged to the present occupant of Jane's body) is representing a man whose mail-order bride has left him.

The hapless bridegroom, also known as "Hank the Bailiff," is a recurring character played by Berman's actor brother David Berman.

Chances are you'll be able to spot Aiken and Bass, too, neither of whom plays a part in the prom story line. It's better off without such distractions (and in fact I was more struck by the casting of "Family Ties" dad Michael Gross as the really mean high school principal).

Fortunately for "Drop Dead Diva," there's nothing even remotely out of character about Jane going into court to try to right this kind of wrong: Jane tilts at windmills every week, and compared with some of her cases, girls who want to go to the prom together are positively mainstream.

So mainstream, in fact - because the show's set in Los Angeles, not Mississippi - that it feels as if "Diva," whose very special prom episode comes weeks after "Glee's," might be a little late to the party.

A 'Sunny' return date

Here's one I should add to a list of FAQs: "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" returns to FX for its seventh season at 10 p.m. Sept. 15.

Also back this fall: the outlaw motorcycle club drama "Sons of Anarchy," which returns at 10 p.m. Sept. 6.

On Oct. 5, the cable network will premiere "American Horror Story," the latest series from Ryan Murphy ("Glee," "Nip/Tuck"), which stars Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") and Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights") as a psychiatrist and his wife who move their family from Boston to L.A. "as a means to reconcile past anguish."

"Nip/Tuck" notwithstanding, I'm assuming they're not fleeing bad plastic surgery.

Jessica Lange will play their neighbor in what's billed as her first regular TV series role.

'Entourage' heads

to finish

Speaking of FAQs, if you're one of the people who've been asking about the return of HBO's "Entourage," Sunday's your night.

The boys-will-be-dogs series returns for its eighth and final season at 10:30 p.m., following a very funny episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" called "Palestinian Chicken."

And honestly, after "Curb," the boys from "Entourage" may strike you as positively domesticated. Their timing's off, though, because most of the women in their lives seem to have given up on them altogether.

Vince (Adrian Grenier) is back from rehab, Eric (Kevin Connolly) is back from his latest breakup and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is skinny.

Seriously.

I can't disagree with those who insist the show passed its sell-by date a few years back, but it doesn't mean I'm not still fond enough of these guys to keep watching.

And I'm not going anywhere until I'm absolutely sure Ari (Jeremy Piven) is safely back where he belongs: with the long-suffering Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves). *

Send email to graye@phillynews.com, follow me on Twitter at @elgray or for even more on TV: go.philly.com/

ellengray.

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