In “Hot in Cleveland”, a trio of middle aged women Victoria (Wendy Malick), Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), and Joy (Jane Leeves), end up in Ohio when their Paris-bound plane makes an unanticipated landing.
While beautiful, the three Hollywood transplants are all losers in some way. Melanie trips over her own words, Victoria wins undesirable acting roles, and Joy, a celebrity esthetician, has been dumped by one of her most important clients. And let’s not mention their romantic foibles.
The real force behind the choice to stay in Ohio is Melanie, a recent divorcee who sees Cleveland as a way to start over. She has written a book listing the two hundred things to do before she dies, and somehow this city, even with its declining population, is a place where she hopes to whittle down the number of items on her agenda. It is unfortunate, though, that Melanie does not seem to do much writing, at least in the first season, and even dismisses the art and culture of Cleveland as things people don’t really do anyway. Whether that’s mockery or pandering to the audience is unclear.
A far cry from her role in “Golden Girls”, Betty White as Elka, (the track-suit donning caretaker of the women’s new home), cops a welcomed attitude. And just as the women are forced to reconsider Cleveland as the place to be, Elka turns assumptions about older people on their head. She holds videoconferences and gleans meaning from text slang in a way that her younger housemates cannot. She’s rough around the edges, insinuating that the three women are cougars (they kind of are), but Elka is also a bit vulnerable. While quick to cruise for men at a bar, she needs guidance calling a man on the phone. Elka is definitely one of the more multi-dimensional characters of the lot.
With its use of technology, references to pop culture, and satire of politics, Hot In Cleveland proves socially of the times. It also pokes fun at Hollywood’s unrealistic expectations of beauty. Creator/writer Suzanne Martin (Frasier, Ellen) must have an intimate understanding that you just can’t be pretty enough in Hollywood. That’s not to say that these three women are not more attractive than average. It’s just that Cleveland levels the playing field a bit for the mid-lifers, both professionally and in romance.
This is particularly true for Melanie. The actress who plays her, Bertinelli (“Touched By An Angel”) is shorter and more curvaceous than both Malick (“Just Shoot Me”) and Leeves (“Frasier”). For this character and this casting of this actress, Martin and her team deserve credit. That these women are all hot, skinny or not, is clearly part of the appeal of the show, which is worth several laughs each episode. Martin mocks their vanity and presents her audience with four financially independent women making their way in a city that has been all but forgotten. One can only hope this show brings more tourists to Cleveland.
It’s funny to boot, but to be a true departure from the current offerings in television shows with female ensemble casts, “Hot in Cleveland” could be much smarter. “Hot” is really about the ties that bind these women together. With Elka at the helm, it’s funny to watch the women needle one another, until it starts to feel a bit heavy handed, leaving you to wonder where the tenderness went. Let’s see what this new season brings.