For decades, there have been films that have capitalized on poking fun of fat people. Shallow Hal, Norbit, Just Friends, The Nutty Professor, Austin Powers, and many, many more have found themselves immortalized in the pop culture lexicon. Have the times changed? With the increase in internet social activism and an aware audience, can these films exist today? The latest entertainment property that centers on fatness, Insatiable, has been given the cold shoulder overwhelmingly, even before its release. The first trailer depicted Debbie Ryan in a comically bad fat suit being bullied by classmates. After a horrible incident, all her pounds melt away and Ryan is revealed to be the bombshell she has always been.
After the trailer debuted online, there was an immediate backlash. Over the course of a couple days the internet rallied together, calling for the cancellation of Insatiable due to its toxic message. An online petition gained over 220,000 signatures in support of pulling the show. As Netflix’s model is different from traditional television, Insatiable is still being released, but the real test is to see if Insatiable will live on for another season.
Insatiable promotes itself as revenge fantasy, but not really a feminist tale if that’s what you’re looking for. The premise isn’t the worst part of the show, instead its clunky execution is. While some shows are suited to the hour format, Insatiable feels bloated. The first couple episodes lag but pick up steam towards the middle of the season. With 12 hour-long episodes there is a convoluted web of drama and characters who are not always sympathetic.
Patricia “Patty” Bladell (Debbie Ryan) is an overweight, unpopular teenager. Her days in high school are spent being mocked and tortured by everyone for, you guessed it, her weight. Her only comforts are food and her best friend Nonnie (Kimmy Shields). One fateful night, Patty goes to a local convenience store. After a brutal rejection from her crush, she gets into a fight with a homeless man who punches her in the face. The injury causes Patty’s jaw to be wired shut over the course of three months. During that time, Patty magically loses the extra fat and becomes another person, both physically and mentally.
Awaiting trial for the fight, Patty meets disgraced lawyer and wannabe pageant coach, Bob (Dallas Roberts). Falsely accused of molesting one of his former contestants, Bob sees Patty as a means to reclaim his reputation while Patty sees pageants as a means to exact revenge. We’re exposed to the old Patty briefly, so we’re unable to get to know who she was prior to her transformation. The new Patty is scared, but still thirsty for attention and concentrates on breaking Bob and Coralee’s (Alyssa Milano) marriage up.
Similar to Dietland, Insatiable teaches a similar lesson: Outer beauty won’t solve inner ugliness. While being attractive has its perks, it’s also met with a whole new set of problems. Patty has some unresolved issues from the past and doesn’t know how to handle her new life. Even though she’s gorgeous on the surface, Patty suffers from many insecurities, which include visualizing herself as fat and harboring anger for past hurts. As a result, Patty lashes out, develops superficial relationships, and doesn’t know who to trust.
Patty’s newfound look results in being fought over by pageant coaches, fighting with her mother, a strained relationship with Nonnie, and negative male attention and jealousy from her peers. Her rage even results in one of her fellow pageant contestants being paralyzed. Patty continuously sees the hurt she’s caused, but doesn’t know how to stop. Are we supposed to feel sorry for her? What happened to Patty was disgusting, but she passes the point of no return when it comes to gaining revenge. Instead of living her life quietly, she goes on a path of destruction.
Insatiable has its shining moments but they are lost among the cringe-inducing scenarios that occur throughout the season. The show is lewd and crude, and pokes fun at eating disorders, homosexuality, Christianity, and, the worst part, sexual relationships between adults and minors. The performances aren’t bad, pretty decent actually, but much of the writing does a horrible injustice to its talents. Many of the characters are gross caricatures with exaggerated accents and cheesy lines. Set in Georgia, Insatiable attempts to satirize suburban Southerners and their obsession with pageant culture. Of the group, Kimmy Fields shines as Nonnie, perhaps the only truly likable and good person in the entire show. Irene Choi is also entertaining as Dixie, a ditzy pageant girl and school bully.
Insatiable might have been better received in another time. Borrowing a lot of eighties influences and music, Insatiable‘s crude humor might have fit in a time before political correctness became the standard. With a dark edge similar to Heathers, Insatiable focuses on the ugliness of society and the addiction to revenge. A positive about Insatiable is its diverse cast in non-stereotypical roles and its spotlight on LGBT individuals, even though it is awkward at times. Insatiable may be too adult-oriented for tweens, and adults may find the show too childish. However, on Netflix it will find an audience out there. With hundreds of shows and films churning out of the Netflix machine each year, not everything is bound to be spectacular. Entertaining yes, but not groundbreaking. Insatiable is a bit rough around the edges, but it’s still worth checking it out. Don’t let a trailer discourage you from seeing the message it wants to send. Insatiable serves more as a cautionary tale on the dangers of beauty and what happens when you let past hurts take over.
Georgia-born, (North) Carolina raised, Adriana is now based in Southern California (Migrating between San Diego and LA). As well as being a writer, she works as a film festival Marketing Coordinator. She has always been passionate about film, writing, and creating and celebrating work that champions diversity and feminism. She is also a potato enthusiast and fashion school defector.