Where do we even start with this fatsuit-to-skinny teen show?
Warning: contains spoilers
The most shocking thing about Netflix’s controversial new “dark comedy” Insatiable isn’t the fat girl gets revenge body plotline or the onslaught of un-PC “jokes”. It’s that audiences seem to… like it?
Critics hate it for being offensive or homophobic or relying on stale gags. But the show, which has only been out on Netflix for a week, has an 83% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes based on over 1,000 ratings. Google reckons 87% of users like the show and it has a very decent score of 6.9/10 on IMDb from over 5,000 ratings. Compare that to headlines about it being a “train wreck” and “the worst show Netflix has ever made” and a brutal 11% Rotten Tomatoes score and we’re left with a Batman v Superman sized chasm between critics and real people with Netflix subscriptions.
When it comes to Insatiable, there’s a Batman v Superman sized chasm between the opinions critics and real people with Netflix subscriptions
I’m just going to come out and say it. I watched all 12 episodes of Insatiable. I wanted to give it a fair shake and see if it could redeem itself after getting so much backlash over the trailer. All this really gave me, though, is the confidence to tell you that you’ll know from the pilot which side you’re on. And boy, is there a lot going on here. (WARNING: I’m going to get into serious spoiler territory for the whole season now).
The story follows 17-year-old Patty Bladell (Debby Ryan), a teen growing up in Georgia and getting bullied about her weight at school. Then Patty gets into a punching match with a homeless man, has her jaw wired shut and is on a liquid diet for three months and – DAH-DAH – she loses shit tons of weight, making her look like a movie star. Her best and only friend is Nonnie (Kimmy Shields) who slowly realises that she’s in love with Patty. And her newfound lawyer/beauty pageant coach is Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts), who slowly realises that he’s in love with his mate Bob Barnard (that guy from Ugly Betty) but maybe also his wife (Alyssa Milano, why?).
Now she’s slim, Patty wants to win beauty pageants and date hot guys to prove she’s a winner not a loser like before – a genuine train of thought had by many a teenage girl – but though she has a few self-aware blips, she’s still signing up for yet another pageant in episode 12. It just gets so boring. And I don’t think this is actually a fat-shaming TV show but I also can’t see that it has much to say on the matter. Post-fatsuit-Patty miraculously doesn’t struggle with hunger or eating habits anymore, aside from one low point with a sheet cake; she doesn’t have stretch marks, she is shown jogging once. And this isn’t even the biggest problem with the show.
At one point Bob Armstrong, in one of the show’s insufferable voice-overs, says “I was always taught you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too.” Bob really should have voiced this over to show creator Lauren Gussis and her team of writers. Because Insatiable is too busy jumping through the loopholes of wokeness to actually be a dark teen comedy that knows what it’s doing. It wants all the brownie points without following through. Wanna make a show about society’s treatment of fat people? Loophole! We’ll give the ex-Disney star a fatsuit for the first 20 minutes of the pilot then peter out the flashbacks over the next two episodes. Want a show with a diverse cast? Loophole! Make all the leads white but then introduce characters like Dee, the plus size, black lesbian who morphs into the Angry Black Woman trope after about two scenes. I could go on.
All the fat suits and drag queen cameos and sexual awakenings we see are half-baked appetisers and clumsily served sides to the bland, familiar main meal: a skinny, white girl competing in beauty pageants and choosing between blonde Justin Bieber boy and dark ‘n’ sexy Teen Wolf boy
Let’s face it, all the fat suits and drag queen cameos and sexual awakenings we see are half-baked appetisers and clumsily served sides to the bland, familiar main meal: a skinny, white girl competing in beauty pageants and choosing between blonde Justin Bieber boy and dark ‘n’ sexy Teen Wolf boy. For all the other hijinks – murders and hobos and demons – many, many minutes of this show are in fact dedicated to these two plotlines.
It also doesn’t fly to expect us to sympathise with Patty’s body dysmorphia in a bikini shopping scene when half the episodes include cheap jokes with mental health punchlines: “That’s my daughter, she’s mentally ill” and “The demon would explain my behaviour”/”So would borderline personality disorder” and “Look at her, Choi told me she has all sorts of mental disorders” etc etc. Pick a lane, guys, I know you want sooooo hard to be edgy but this isn’t it.
I don’t have a problem with watching terrible people interact onscreen. I’m all for unlikeable characters in ensemble shows like Search Party and Arrested Development but maybe the writing just isn’t nearly smart or funny enough here. The puns ‘disastrophe’ (disaster + catastrophe) and ‘tritch’ (troll + bitch) don’t make me cackle, they make me sigh and look around the room. Our anti-heroes Patty and Bob aren’t charming or entertaining enough to make us love to hate them and the supposed satire has nothing to say.
OK, OK, there is some nice slapstick and comic timing from Dallas Roberts as Bob; Arden Myrin as cartoon villainess Regina Sinclair and Michael Ian Black as Pastor Mike. I also cracked up hard at Debby Ryan’s deadpan delivery of the line “Where did you learn to play the harmonica?” in the finale. But by then it was much, much too late and I was probably just hysterical that the end of this self imposed ordeal was in sight.
I do have what I think is a fairly strong theory that Insatiable is expertly crafted to be watched while you’re half doing something else like reading a book or cleaning the fridge. You get a flavour of the whiney angst and the love triangles and also the big, neon signs that this is a show that includes fat people and gay people and East Asian people without ever pinning down the show’s comedic tone or plot logic or character motivations. I must say, it’s a lot more palatable this way than giving it your absolute full attention because honestly that’s how you end up getting all angry like the angry critics.
I have no problem with switch your brain off TV. I just don’t think Insatiable qualifies. The mix of dull, 90210-style plots, meaningless insults and token allusions to LGBTQ centres and marine daughters in Iraq made my head spin. It’s a mess. It’s a mess and with those audience scores, all this free publicity from super snarky reviews and a cliffhanger ending, there’s no way we’re not getting a season 2.
Would it help if we said we’re full?