From the moment Netflix released a brief trailer for its new show Insatiable viewers began calling for it to be banned from the streaming service.
Off the back of the trailer’s release more than 220,000 peopled signed a petition asking Netflix to cancel the “fat-shaming” series which follows a bullied teenage girl named Patty (Debby Ryan) who loses an extreme amount of weight after an accident forces her to have her jaw wired shut.
Now thin and “finally beautiful”, she sets about seeking revenge on those who were once cruel to her.
After listening to the vocal cries of outrage from the public, Insatiable’s stars and production team refused to budge on their stance that the series actually contained a positive message around body image. They urged viewers to hold back on their criticism until they had actually seen the show, which they promised was so much more nuanced and empowered than the brief marketing clip had led us all to believe.
“The trailer is its own piece of art. I think on some level, it is the set-up of the show,” Insatiable creator Lauren Gussis told International Business Times.
“The more I think about it, the trailer was feeding into exactly the thematic issue of the show, which is, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’” Insatiable producer and star Alyssa Milano told People “People are judging 12 hours of TV from a minute and 28-second trailer.”
Meanwhile, according to Vulture, Netflix’s Original Series vice-president Cindy Holland said “ultimately, the message of the show is that what is most important is that you feel comfortable in your own self. Fat-shaming itself, that criticism, is embedded in the DNA of the show.”
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) August 6, 2018
And so I decided to follow orders and hold back on making any kind of comment about Insatiable until I had actually seen it.
Now here I am on the other side of 12 hours of TV viewing and I feel very confident saying Insatiable is a hurtful, dangerous and excruciating TV series that is not just as bad as everyone thought it would be.
It is much, much worse.
In the premiere episode we are treated to former Disney star Debby Ryan all dolled up in fat suit (and I use the term, ‘fat suit’ here very loosely because it’s really just a flabby mess of extra flesh jammed under her chin and what looks like a misshapen throw cushion tucked under her shirt. In defense of the show however, I am yet to clap eyes on a good fat suit anywhere on TV).
She is sitting in a gutter and jamming food into her mouth when a homeless man sits down beside her and asks for something to eat, adding that she’s already pretty fat and shouldn’t be gorging herself anyway.
She then punches him in the face and he punches her back, breaking her jaw and therefore sentencing her to months on a liquid diet that leads to the dramatic weight loss which kicks off the plot of the entire series.
It’s clear with this opening number that the show is attempting to be edgy and darkly humorous. However, all it does is prove from the get go that it’s overall message is damaging rather than empowering.
For all its big talk, Insatiable shows its true colours in the starkly contrasting ways it introduces the audience to “Fatty Patty” and “Thin Patty”. Fatty Patty is first seen in an ugly setting and her overall demeanour is slobby and slow. In a stark contrast to this, the first scenes that capture the unveiling of Thin Patty are brighter, more colourful and filled with sweet strains of music jangling gently in the background.
Thin Patty even gets one of those slow motion walks through the halls of her high school.
You know, the ones that followed every teen girl makeover scene heaped upon us in the 90’s where the students all gasp and part ways like a stunned Red Sea. Since their heyday I thought there had been some kind of general agreement among filmmakers to send these types of scenes to the big cutting room in the sky but apparently Insatiable never got that memo.
The show wants you to believe that life doesn’t automatically get better when you get thinner, except that it clearly doesn’t believe that line itself.
Save for a few depressing flashback scenes dotted throughout the series, however, we don't actually actual get to see a lot of Fatty Patty because just like every "empowering" narrative out there, Patty's story doesn't really get interesting and worth telling until she she is thin.
Another damaging side of Insatiable is that it appears to fully embrace the Monica Geller from Friends school of thought and subscribe to the idea that "thin = smart" and "fat =dumb". While in the fat suit, Patty's character is seen as simple, slow and only capable of defending herself via a clumsy violent outburst. Once beautiful, Patty suddenly becomes a master manipulator, cunning, smart and suddenly incredibly sexually provocative.
In order to exact revenge on the homeless man who punched her, she lures him back to a hotel room with the promise of sex and then sets it on fire.
Meanwhile, a bulk of the series' story-line centers on her obsession with and ploys of seduction towards Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts) an attorney who was tasked with representing her in court and then begins to coach her as a beauty pageant contestant.
(There's also a whole disgusting sub-plot here about Bob being a child molester which feeds into the idea that women only make sexual assault allegations to seek revenge and attention, so get pumped for that.)
Bob is, of course, also a former fatty and drops gems along the way when he's talking to Patty which include" You won your case. You got skinny! That’s enough”and “It gets better. Skinny is magic” and while these quips are meant to be ironic the show never once moves enough off course to make you think these ideals are not true.
There are some TV shows out there which carry a damaging message yet are so addictive and entertaining you watch them anyway (a la Gossip Girl) and some TV shows that shine a spotlight on fat shaming and body image in a confronting yet honest way (the story arc of Chrissy Metzs' Kate in This Is Us comes to mind) yet Insatiable manages to tick neither of these boxes.
It's not a guilty pleasure TV show and watching it feels more like a torturous exercise in exposing yourself to the ugliest inner thoughts of our society.
A few days ago I sat alone in my apartment and watched all 12 preview episodes of Insatiable and just a few episodes into the exercise I felt tears begin to well in my eyes.
As someone who has struggled for many years with body image and self-loathing and has a terrible relationship with my weight, food and mirrors I have worked really hard to cultivate a world in which those thoughts and taunts can't touch me.
I have curated my social media feeds to only reflect images that are inclusive and empowering and the people in my life, the places I shop and the words I read each day all exist within a body positive bubble I have constructed around myself so that I can walk through the world each day and hold my head up high.
But now, thanks to Netflix, all those ugly taunts of fat shaming, hate and loathing that really exist in the world were now in my living room with me and there was no escape.
Instead of comedic relief or a message of self-acceptance I was pelted over and over again with the fact that to be fat is to be a failure. It is to be less than human.
In the season finale of Insatiable Patty is kidnapped, handcuffed to a food truck and then pelted with food all while her kidnapper attempts to stage it as a suicide and says “When you couldn’t numb your feelings with food, you took your own life.”
Midway through the series, we see Patty lunge into an all-you-can-eat competition in order to offset her feelings of loneliness and rejection.
And early on in the season we see Patty binge-eating alone and in shame while her voice-over says “While my classmates were out losing their virginity, I was at home stuffing another hole”.
The other characters on the show shame her for these actions and it's a safe bet that there are millions of women out there in the real world who have endured similar taunts and have buckled under similar thoughts.
There are a few throw-away lines at the end of the season where Patty acknowledges that she was actually ok back when she was fat, but it's an empty platitude that does little to quell the overall message of fat-shaming that has infected the entire show.
So even though the swell of conversation surrounding Insatiable may have peaked your interest enough that you decide to give it a chance I urge you to let it wallow in your Netflix queue un-watched.
Because life is too short to let fat-shaming bring you down, and it's certainly too short for bad TV.
If you chose to go against my recommendation, Insatiable is available to watch now on Netflix.
For more TV news and reviews, you can follow writer and Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.