The controversy surrounding the new Netflix series Insatiable (premiering August 10) has centered around the idea of fat-shaming, that by telling the story of a formerly overweight teenage girl who turns into a hottie by losing 70 pounds (because she has her jaw wired shut for three months after getting punched in the face), the show is sending the wrong message about body image. And sure, Insatiable doesn’t send a particularly respectful message on that front, but that’s just one of the many, many problems with this painfully misguided show, a train wreck of terrible jokes, unpleasant characters, gross stereotypes and idiotic storylines.
The show kicks off with Patty (former Disney Channel star Debby Ryan) getting bullied for her weight, only to crack when a homeless man insults her and then tries to steal her candy bar (yes, really). She punches him, he punches her back -- then cut to three months later, and Ryan is looking like her regular gorgeous, glamorous self, having shed the unconvincing fat suit she wears as Patty in the early scenes of the first episode. Getting skinny has apparently had the side-effect of turning Patty into a petty, quick-tempered sociopath, although the show seems to have little idea as to whether this is solely a result of her transformation or something that was part of her personality all along.
Either way, Patty quickly sets her sights on becoming a popular girl at school, dating the hot guy who always ignored her and, most importantly, rising in the ranks of the beauty-pageant circuit, thanks to her lawyer/coach, Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts). Although it’s billed as a show about revenge, Insatiable is really a show about beauty pageants, and after Patty gets some especially nasty payback out of her system in the early episodes, the show mostly shifts into a soap-operatic chronicle of self-involved high-schoolers and their self-involved parents in the Deep South (the show is set in Georgia).
Creator Lauren Gussis was a longtime writer and producer on Dexter, and Insatiable might have worked if it went full-on serial killer with its protagonist, embracing the idea of Patty as a sexy monster and getting rid of the irritating Bob and the pageant angle altogether. Instead, the show (which was first developed for The CW before being picked up by Netflix) attempts to have it both ways, with the shock value of the bad behavior from Patty (and nearly every other character on the show), plus sappy Important Lesson moments about tolerance and acceptance.
But Insatiable’s perspective on other marginalized groups is just as clueless as its perspective on the overweight; this is a show that has a character do community service at the local LGBTQ center, where literally everyone in the place is a drag queen.