'Mike & Molly' review: CBS's new sitcom has heart and humor, despite the laugh track

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It's easy to get bogged down by a premise, especially when it comes to sitcoms, but CBS's "Mike & Molly" rises above the token fat jokes in its new comedy by casting two relatable leads -- who just happen to be overweight.

The series instead focuses on the awkwardness, romance and hilarity of new love, amplified by the adorable sheepishness of the title characters and told from the very beginning.

Not that "Mike & Molly" doesn't really go for it with the size issue. The couple, played by Billy Gardell ("My Name is Earl," "Heist") and Melissa McCarthy ("Gilmore Girls," "Samantha Who?") meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. And that's not where the chubby puns begin or end.

The opening scene features Mike lamenting his modest lunch with his best friend, and partner in law enforcement, Carl ( Reno Wilson), cracking wise about his diet. And our first glimpse of Molly is of her hunched over an elliptical machine, staring in frustration as her mother ( Swoosie Kurtz) and sister ( Katy Mixon) fawn over an absurdly large slice of chocolate cake. [Ed. note: You're not fooling anyone, Kurtz. That tiny frame has room for about three forkfuls.]

And it's Kurtz and Mixon that really elevate "Mike & Molly" from most couple-centric comedies. Kurtz, a veteran character actress, adds life to every project she tackles, and Mixon's under-the-radar scene-stealing can finally register with a wider audience after overlooked turns on "Eastbound and Down" and "Two and a Half Men." References about her stoner-status, however heavy-handed, deliver the pilot's biggest punchlines.

Still, size does matter. And the candidness with which the main couples' weight is addressed is likely to draw some criticism. McCarthy flourished for seven seasons of "Gilmore Girls" without one mention of her weight, so it's particularly hard to see her typecast as "the fat girl" -- even if the series offers the greatest platform of her career. As for Gardell, his weight seems to be much more of a problem than his co-star's. While McCarthy's size is a superficial issue, Gardell's seems detrimental to his health. And laughing at that could do more harm than good.

But that's a larger issue that maybe doesn't belong in conversations about this new series,  which deserves a chance to address these matters on its own timetable and be enjoyed for what it is: a sweet revival of the multi-camera, laugh-track sitcom that makes you smile while tugging ever so gently at your heartstrings.

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Photo credit: CBS
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