‘Insatiable’: TV Review
Netflix's new comedy has plenty of problems to worry about beyond the fat-shaming controversy surrounding it.
The “good” news for Insatiable, the new Netflix comedy that started a controversy the moment the streamer dropped the trailer and cries of “fat-shaming” led to outrage (and a Change.org petition), is that fat-shaming is only one of its many problems.
Insatiable is trite, way over the top (even for a series that appears to be trying to go there for comedic effect), unfunny and, running at 40-plus minutes per episode, a bloated mess that’s labor-intensive to get through.
Let’s start with the fat-shaming. Yes, it’s there. You can’t miss it. But series creator, writer and executive producer Lauren Gussis (Dexter) has come out publicly to defend the series and say that Insatiable is reflective of her personal story, that she battled binge-eating in her teens, was bullied because of her weight and struggled with food-related issues for years.
Which is all well and good but not really reflective of what Gussis and Netflix have put on the screen, at least in the early episodes. The series’ main character, Patty (Debby Ryan), is called “Fatty Patty” and appears in a fat suit in the pilot, with the usual jeering and other overt humiliation from fellow high schoolers that follows — and the extra tired trope that the best revenge is to become a vengeful beauty queen.
Though Gussis and Netflix kicked back against the outrage with assurances that the story isn’t what people think (and that Patty will soon understand that being a thin beauty queen doesn’t necessarily mean being happy), the fact is that Insatiable truly revels in the “comic” setup of the story (Patty only gets thin when she’s punched by a homeless person and has her mouth wired shut for three months). People are still outraged that the series, no matter how it tries to adjust after setting up the premise, is still pushing some form of fat-shaming by suggesting, relentlessly, that being skinny is “magic” and that someone overweight can only have an epiphany about acceptance by first losing all the weight.
But Insatiable has plenty of other issues that easily make it skippable — primarily that it’s dumb, but also because it has an egregious amount of voiceovers that are not only annoying and unfunny, but mask weak plotting. Insatiable also loves low-hanging humor, with lame sex jokes, gay jokes and body-related jokes being of particular fancy, as evidenced by a string of them built around “anal cancer” references (“We have to bring anal cancer out of the closet. It’s a silent but deadly killer”), etc.
Dallas Roberts as Bob, the nebulously gay lawyer turned beauty pageant coach, stands out for doing great work with bad material, and he’s joined by Kimmy Shields as Patty’s best friend, who comes off as one of the only grounded or real characters (though her unrequited lesbian love for Patty, coupled with Bob’s flamboyance, are too-easy touches). Alyssa Milano tries to make the most of her role as Bob’s wife, a flustered Southern social-climber type (the series is set in Georgia, so toss in some over-the-top accents from everyone), and Ryan, as Patty, is tasked with trying to hold it all together but can’t quite achieve that.
With the material failing everyone, the messaging doesn’t help either, and efforts to make up for the fat-shaming feel hollow: “I’m afraid if I get fat again you won’t think I’m beautiful,” teen Patty says to adult Bob (who, by the way, was also fat as a child, so they are kindred spirits and Patty thinks he’s a DILF). “You are beautiful inside and out,” Bob says, unconvincingly, because he later follows with: “You could be a role model for girls who struggle with their weight. You could show them what’s possible.”
Loving themselves as they are apparently isn’t one of those possibilities. Maybe Insatiable course-corrects all of this in time — I was only able to get through three episodes, which felt heroic — but will anyone think it’s sincere rather than just poorly done and misguided?
Cast: Dallas Roberts, Debby Ryan, Alyssa Milano, Kimmy Shields, Christopher Gorham, Arden Myrin, Irene Choi, Daniel Kang
Created and written by: Lauren Gussis
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Executive producers: Gussis, Fleming, Robert Friedman, Ryan Seacrest
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)