Love is still a big deal on two of TV’s most outrageous dramas this season -- it’s the lovers who have gotten small.
Both ABC’s “Boston Legal” and FX’s “Nip/Tuck” have built romantic storylines around dwarfs, or little people. The series air at 10 p.m. Tuesdays, resulting in a rather surreal head-to-head competition.
On “Boston Legal,” the chronically politically incorrect lawyer Denny Crane (William Shatner) is involved with Bethany (Meredith Eaton-Gilden), a 4-foot-3 attorney who is nicknamed “the Badger” due to her habit of biting people who get on her bad side. Crane is simultaneously horrified yet attracted to Bethany, calling her a “midget” and making numerous inappropriate sexual comments to disguise his physical attraction to her.
Meanwhile, on “Nip/Tuck,” Julia (Joely Richardson), the wife of emotionally desperate plastic surgeon Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), is falling for her nanny, Marlow Sawyer (Peter Dinklage). Marlow has given Julia tender emotional support following the birth of her severely disabled baby, afflicted with ectrodactylism, a rare genetic disorder that fuses the bones of the hands and feet. Their obvious fondness for each other takes a more sexual turn in tonight’s episode.
Although both series are produced by 20th Century Fox Television, the timing of the two storylines is a coincidence. The romance on “Boston Legal” is handled lightly, while the “Nip/Tuck” storyline is more dramatic.
But the creators of both shows specialize in relationships between extreme characters. And they seem bonded in their motivations for their respective storylines -- fueled not so much by the prejudices little people may face in relationships with taller people than in the producers’ desires to work with the performers.
David E. Kelley, the creator and executive producer of “Boston Legal,” said that he has been impressed by Eaton-Gilden ever since he saw her in the 2002 film “Unconditional Love,” a relatively obscure movie that also starred Kathy Bates and Rupert Everett.
“This was really more about working with the actress than in doing a storyline about a dwarf,” said Kelley, who has cast roles for dwarfs in his other series, including “Picket Fences” and “L.A. Law.”
“When I saw that movie, I was just so taken with her -- she was funny and very compelling, and she just stuck with me. And the character of Bethany was just a fun, ballsy character for Denny Crane to have a relationship with. She doesn’t put up with any of his nonsense. She’s nobody’s victim.”
In one of the show’s running gags, Crane often makes offensive comments about Bethany to attorney Alan Shore, unaware, until Shore tells him to look down, that Bethany is present, glaring up at him.
Ryan Murphy, the creator and executive producer of “Nip/Tuck,” said he had long admired Dinklage, who has appeared on several television series and starred in the 2003 independent film “The Station Agent.” Said Murphy, “I’ve just always been a tremendous fan of Peter’s work, and I thought this would be a great plot line for him. He was really excited about doing it, and he and Joely just have this incredibly brilliant chemistry together.”
Murphy added that he had received feedback from fans who were finding Dinklage one of the sexiest characters ever featured on the series.
He added that the dynamics of the relationship melded perfectly with the “Nip/Tuck” satirical mission to poke fun of the pursuit of physical beauty.
Meanwhile, Eaton-Gilden said she was getting tremendous feedback from people who now recognize her from “Boston Legal.” “Oh, I can’t go anywhere now without people coming up to me,” she said with a laugh. “They tell me, ‘You’re much too good for Denny.’ ”
Initially she was only going to appear in a few episodes. But Kelley said he was leaving “the Badger” door open for Eaton-Gilden.
She said she hoped the role would help to change perceptions about performers born with dwarfism. “I like to play mainstream characters, and why shouldn’t I?” she said. “A lot of producers are not able to create characters beyond just the little people trait. It’s just so great I’m able to do this.”