TV Review | Insatiable; Netflix, Comedy and Controversy

Peak TV offers vastly more choice to the viewer, but it comes at a cost. No one can reasonably keep up with everything that they might want to, no matter the buzz around the show. Attention, column inches and social media hype give any new TV series an edge against its competition and save on marketing costs. Insatiable, Netflix’s newest comedy, has benefited from plenty of hype, – even though it’s mostly been very negative.

Insatiable’s teaser trailer provoked a furious reaction online with over 200,000 people signing a petition urging Netflix to cancel the show due to allegations of body-shaming. The series landed on August 10 and it’s fair to say that those concerns were well-founded. Insatiable is a show obsessed with appearances and conventional standards of beauty. It is also a terrible and dull mess that mistakes cruelty for humour.

Insatiable is meant to be a satiric comedy about a teenage girl who loses weight and then sets out for vengeance against those who bullied her. The main character, Patty (Debby Ryan), is deemed beautiful once she becomes skinny. But, she’s angry about how she was treated in the past and wants to get even with those who hurt her. Patty’s personality is limited to obsessions with her appearance, Drew Barrymore films and disgraced lawyer/beauty pageant coach Bob (Dallas Roberts). There are more characters, but they are poorly drawn and rely heavily on the tropes of teenage dramas.

To be fair, there are some positives. Insatiable doesn’t take itself too seriously. Alyssa Milano’s performance as Bob’s social climbing wife Coralee is an unexpected treat. There are brief flashes of self-awareness that could have been developed further, particularly as it’s still uncommon to see any programme take the idea of female rage and pain seriously.

The positives are outnumbered overwhelmingly by the problems. Insatiable might be described as a comedy, but it isn’t funny. The pilot relies heavily on voice-over for exposition with three characters given the opportunity to share their thoughts. By the second episode this has become irritating and repetitive. There also problems with continuity and the plot’s timelines. In the pilot, Patty supposedly loses weight over the three months before high school because her jaw is wired shut after an injury obtained in late August. But, many schools in Georgia start in early August. Was Patty off school for a year? Can she time-travel? Really, researching school term dates in Georgia was more interesting that watching the pilot.

The weight loss is more troubling. Losing a significant amount of weight in three months can be very dangerous. There’s no hint in the first two episodes that Patty had medical supervision during this period. She doesn’t appear to exercise either. Instead, weight loss is presented as miraculous and becomes a tool for Patty to use to become popular. It is also suggested that this is an opportunity to change her personality. Skinniness is equated with power. Being fat or described as a fatty is an unforgivable failure. This message is deeply problematic, yet it’s repeated over and over.

There’s a couple of nods to Never Been Kissed but Insatiable lacks that film’s wit and compassion. Insatiable doesn’t really engage with the complexities of being a teenager and its joys. The show is devoid of empathy. Rather, the characters are all objects whose value is determined by their physical appearance. The subplot about Patty’s obsession with Bob is inappropriate and handled poorly especially if Insatiable is aimed at teenage girls.

No doubt, Netflix’s database tells it that there is an audience for Insatiable. But, they deserve better than this terrible mess. Everyone does. Insatiable is one to avoid.

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