YouTube sensation-turned-TV hit 'Love Handles' tackles heavy issues

Showrunner Crystle Roberson talks about the mission behind her series

"Love Handles," a hip, relevant web series about how we deal with a big issue in this country — weight — is giving a new meaning to the idea of binge watching. The series, created, written and produced by Crystle Clear Roberson and Carlton Jordan, became a YouTube sensation in 2014 before it was picked up by TVOne.tv this fall. Roberson says an executive reached out via Twitter after watching and falling in love with the series.

"Love Handles" centers on Leeza, an self-assured woman who finds her confidence shaken when she gains 20 pounds and her fitness trainer boyfriend consequently dumps her. Unsurprisingly, the premise resonated with viewers fed up with America's obsession with body image. It particularly speaks to black women, who have a long history of having their images warped for the perverse gratification of society at large.

"Black women are indeed sort of caught between a rock and a hard place," Roberson says. "We are collectively reclaiming our natural hair and style, but we are still constantly inundated with images of ourselves being overly sexualized and degraded. In social media and mass media, women are indirectly urged to attain a nearly impossible physique — over-sized ass, no waist, perfect breasts, and flawless face. More and more black girls are getting implants in unhealthy places to enhance desirability and the waist-training business is booming. We definitely plan on tackling this in upcoming content."

Roberson, who is Atlanta-based, says the trick is finding the "sweet spot" where your audience lives, then meeting it with quality content.

"Today's TV audience is very present and supportive when they believe in a show," she says.

It's no secret television is churning out more diverse, cutting-edge content than film right now. "Love Handles" is trying to carve its way into that territory with smart scripting that matches the premise's forward-leaning direction. The show was a good fit for TVOne.tv, since the network is attempting to bolster its platform with original scripted series, including this year's launch of "Born Again Virgin." While "Love Handles" definitely has elements of a smart rom-com, the subject matter the show addresses is culturally relevant.

"The issues we're tackling just with the Leeza character alone range from self-love and esteem to emotional eating disorders," Roberson says. "These disorders are not rare with women of color and we felt it was time to get more brains thinking about that. Through Leeza's friends Charlie and Jade, we deal with that fine line of friendship and we find that many of our viewers take opposite sides as to whether these girls are 'real friends' or not. Should friends let friends gain weight and encourage beauty at any size? Or should friends intervene when they see us transforming physically and emotionally?"

Currently, the show, which films in Los Angeles, is in production for season two, which promises to explore more of Leeza's self-love journey, as well as the new men she attracts with her curves. And of course, the series will continue to address the tough but very real communication between couples about weight. In the end, that's the hook Roberson is confident will continue to keep viewers engaged.

"I think that the series feels down to earth and grounded because it exposed issues that everyone, at one time or another, has had to deal with."

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