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Michelle Buteau's 'Survival of the Thickest' is a love letter to the 'fatty baddies'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ending a long-term relationship is rarely easy, especially when that ending comes sooner than you had hoped. That is the premise of the new romantic comedy series "Survival Of The Thickest." It stars comedian and actor Michelle Buteau. Buteau plays a late-30s New Yorker who finds herself picking up the pieces of both her personal life and her career after a major and majorly messy breakup. NPR's Kira Wakeam talked with her about the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SURVIVAL OF THE THICKEST")

MICHELLE BUTEAU: (As Mavis Beaumont) I'm Mavis Beaumont, and I have a passion for fashion. That's a little much. I'm overcompensating because I'm nervous.

KIRA WAKEAM, BYLINE: That's Michelle Buteau as Mavis Beaumont, a fat and fabulous 38-year-old stylist working in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SURVIVAL OF THE THICKEST")

BUTEAU: (As Mavis Beaumont) I just don't want to style celebrity clients. I want to be the person that I never had when I was younger. I want to take fashion and show those people that feel like they're on the outside that they're beautiful just as they are and that it's the world that needs to catch up to them.

WAKEAM: Buteau is also a co-creator and writer on "Survival Of The Thickest," which is loosely based on her 2020 memoir of the same name. The show will make you laugh out loud, but it also takes on serious themes like self-acceptance, body image and finding your chosen family.

BUTEAU: This is also a love letter to my fatty baddies and oddy (ph) bodies to say, if you can't find it, that's OK. We'll make it.

WAKEAM: That focus on positivity and inclusion was important to Buteau, who's long been outspoken about the lack of roles for plus-size women in Hollywood, particularly in romantic comedies. She says she was constantly being cast as the best friend rather than the lead.

BUTEAU: Growing up, I did love television and film, and I always wish that I could see more representation. But I was like, well, it's just not there, you know? It's sort of just like people who didn't even know they had celiac disease. You're just like, well, I guess I'm just going to be in pain.

WAKEAM: With this show, Buteau has taken it upon herself to try to heal some of that pain.

BUTEAU: I always really loved fashion, but I never really was given a vocabulary of, like, what to do and how to do it because nothing was ever available. And so that's why it was Mavis' mission statement to say, OK, we're going to make everybody feel special and look good and walk different because you deserve that s***.

WAKEAM: Buteau has been writing and performing comedy for more than two decades. She's been featured in films like "Always Be My Maybe," "Isn't It Romantic" and last year's "Marry Me" with Jennifer Lopez. But this is her first time playing a leading lady in a romcom of her own. While it's taken her years to get here, she says having this opportunity come at this time in her career helped her make the show the way she wanted.

BUTEAU: Once you have gotten very comfortable with rejection yet you still love what you do and your craft and it's only getting better and you're evolving as a person and you've gone to therapy and you've done the work and you're touching your toes and drinking that water, honey, by the time it does happen, you're like, oh, OK. I am a fully realized human being, and I can make these decisions without trying to make everybody happy because that happens, too, when you're trying to do a show, right? So I am really thankful that I'm at a place in my life where I'm just like, this is just what it is. This is what I see. You know, I want to make sure that it is as authentic to me and my world as it's going to be.

WAKEAM: While much of "Survival Of The Thickest" comes directly from Buteau's own experiences, she points to her diverse writers room for making Mavis relatable and authentic. And Mavis' attitude of self-love and acceptance was so infectious, it started to catch on behind the camera.

BUTEAU: The plus-size people in the crew were walking different. They were trying new things. They didn't even know that they could wear something, like, tight or cropped, right?

WAKEAM: And Buteau says she hopes the show will provide that same kind of confidence boost to audiences, too.

BUTEAU: I mean, obviously, I hope people are entertained and laugh a lot, but I also hope they, like, fall in love, like, not necessarily, like, with a character but perhaps themselves.

WAKEAM: "Survival Of The Thickest" is out now on Netflix. Kira Wakeam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO SONG, "SPECIAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kira Wakeam
Sarah Handel