Series Review

'Insatiable' fails epically to address fat-shaming progressively

'Insatiable' is patronising, shallow and tasteless, and is fast becoming the streaming service’s most panned original series, writes Tymon Smith

19 August 2018 - 00:00
Patty Bladell - or Fatty Patty - played by Debby Ryan.
Patty Bladell - or Fatty Patty - played by Debby Ryan.
Image: Netflix

There's certainly a lot of hype that arrives with Insatiable, Netflix's new original fat-shaming series for teens. When the trailer for creator Lauren Gussis's (herself a victim of fat-shaming as a teen) show dropped last week, people were so outraged at its apparent presentation of the idea that being skinny is the best way to get your revenge on those who shamed you when you weren't, over 200,000 of them signed a petition for the streaming service to remove it before anyone had seen an episode.

Now all 12 episodes of what is fast becoming the most panned of all Netflix's originals are out there, and it turns out that things are even worse than the trailer made them out to be.

Patty Bladell (Debby Ryan in a fat suit more obvious than anything Mike Myers ever wore in the '90s) is a girl with a food problem, mercilessly ridiculed by everyone at her high school with only her geeky childhood friend Nonnie (Kimmy Shields) for company. She's dreaming of a day when one of her diets sticks and she'll be able to show all the mean girls up, steal their boyfriends and lose her virginity.

WATCH | The trailer for Netflix's Insatiable 

When she's punched in the face by a homeless man and gets time off to recuperate she manages to magically resurrect herself as skinny Patty. Looking for legal compensation from her assailant she's introduced to gormless local lawyer Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts), who is stuck in a thankless job, dreaming of success in the pursuit of his real passion - the cut-throat world of beauty pageants from which he's been expelled due to a false accusation of molesting a contestant.

Teaming up with Bob, who she has a cringeworthy crush on, Patty sees an opportunity to get her revenge while Bob sees her as his shot at pageant glory, much to the irritation of his trailer-trash social-climbing wife Coralee (Alyssa Milano). The stage is set for 12 40-minute episodes of shallow characterisation, tasteless jokes and plotting that are about as logical as a Trump lawyer's statement.

In spite of assurances from the show's producers that its intention is to shed light and create social awareness of the very real issue of body shaming, its message is an obvious, unhelpful one presented in scenes of on-the-nose, unfunny and horribly stereotyped situations.

Patty Bladell - or Fatty Patty - after she's became thin and vengeful.
Patty Bladell - or Fatty Patty - after she's became thin and vengeful.
Image: Netflix

That is, if you're fat, get thin and the world will be your oyster. This is a message that even the privileged, middle-class US teenagers who are the supposed target for this mess can't possibly accept at face value in the increasingly identity-politicised world evident every minute on social media.

Insatiable is a perfect example of a show that patronises its audience and assumes they're dumber than the creators and that, especially in the age of "peak TV", is a complete production 101 mistake.

With no subtlety, no clue and a tone that's so anachronistically early '90s in execution (and not in a winking, retro manner either) there's nothing to recommend to audiences, but there is a recommendation to be made to Netflix - just because an algorithm tells you it might be a good idea, doesn't make it so and even in a space that seems to offer the opportunity for limitless content, bad ideas can still waste space.

If you want to watch something that intelligently addresses issues of fat-shaming and body insecurities in the face of social pressures, you're far better served by AMC's Diet Land or UK Channel 4's My Mad Fat Diary, both of which treat their subject with the complexity and empathy it deserves.

- Insatiable is streaming on Netflix