How did Netflix get its new series so wrong?
IS INSATIABLE offensive? Hell yes. But not in the way you think.
When Netflix dropped the trailer for its new soapy dramedy, howls of outrage followed. Contained within its two-minutes were scenes of a fat girl turned skinny out for revenge. It was fat-shaming.
But that's not Insatiable's problem, at least it's not its main problem.
Insatiable is insufferable - bad TV, on any scale, by any measure. The wannabe-Heathers is boring-as-hell, its characters barely rise above caricature, its storyline, such as it is, meanders about with no purpose and it's tonally all over the place.
In other words, it's a hot mess. The kind of hot mess you want to banish into the ether, never to be chanced upon by any human eyes ever again.
Patty (former Disney channel star Debby Ryan) has been called "Fatty Patty" her whole life, teased and bullied by her classmates. She and friend Nonnie (Kimmy Shields) stay at home and binge on Drew Barrymore movies and junk food.
After a freak accident wired her jaw shut for three months, she becomes thin and beautiful. She then swears she wants revenge for all of her suffering.
Elsewhere, Bob (Dallas Roberts) is a lawyer with a passion for beauty pageant coaching. When a client of his derails his pageant career, he sees in Patty a chance for redemption.
Bob needs Patty and Patty needs Bob. Suppressing her desire for a more biblical form of vengeance, Patty comes to believe that if she wins a beauty pageant and shows everyone how "beautiful" she really is, then that's her revenge. OK, then.
Around Patty and Bob are a cast of supporting characters including Bob's wife Coralee (Alyssa Milano), the always shirtless rival other Bob (Christopher Gorham), Patty's alcoholic mum Angie (Sarah Colonna), sociopathic pageant rival Dixie (Irene Choi), popular girl Magnolia (Erinn Westbrook) and the pastor's bad boy son Christian (James Lastovic).
Here's the thing: You will not care about any of these characters (except for maybe Nonnie, whose coming-out story is so awkwardly handled). They are all horrible people who didn't even have the decency to be deliciously entertaining. How do you root for people like this?
I watched six out of the 12 50-minute episodes and that was only out of professional obligation. If I were watching this for myself, I wouldn't have made it past the first episode.
Halfway through the season, there's still no clarity on its end game or any sense of a cohesive narrative arc. It just sort-of exists, though it really shouldn't.
Maybe Insatiable will rescue itself in the second half but there's really no hint so far of any storytelling competence and I don't want to stick around for another five hours just to indulge my love of eye-rolls.
There's an ambition here that's been poorly executed. Insatiable creator Lauren Gussis was at strains to point out, after the trailer controversy, that the show is not fat-shaming because she's been Patty, that the character was essentially a stand-in for her.
But Patty is such an inconsistently written character that the pain she felt when she was fat and the pain she still feels now that she's not, doesn't resonate.
It clearly wanted to be satire, a cross between Heathers and Desperate Housewives with a touch of Suburgatory. It misses on all those points. Tonally, it has as many identity issues as its characters and Patty herself is often so earnest she feels like she should be in a different show.
I don't want to bang on too much about the problematic way Insatiable treats the virtues of skinny-versus-fat (oh, yeah, food is a substitute for sociopathy), or even its reductiveness when it comes to LGBTIQ representation (The lesbian wears khaki! The closeted gay guy loves pastels!), and there's some good old-fashioned slut-shaming in there too, because it's so bleeding obvious.
But what may be missed in the condemnation of Insatiable on those issues, and might be even more offensive, is that it really is just terrible storytelling. Save yourself the time and skip this one.
Insatiable will be available on Netflix from 5pm AEDT today.
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