Had things gone normally, I wouldn’t have given Netflix’s “Insatiable” — a ghastly dramedy about a manipulative Georgia teenager who gets swept into the melodramatic vortex of the local beauty-pageant scene — the kind of thought it takes to write a full review. My motto in the peak TV glut remains as follows: Sometimes no review is the review. A few minutes into the first episode, it’s clear that “Insatiable” isn’t worth anybody’s time or words.
Yet here we are, having to say something, mostly because 100,000-plus people were moved, after seeing a trailer for the series earlier this summer, to sign one of those utterly useless online petitions and cry out from the bottomless pit of Twitter, demanding (demanding!) that Netflix preempt “Insatiable” and never stream it.
The show’s alleged crime? Egregious fat-shaming, vis-a-vis its main character, Patty (Debby Ryan), a socially ostracized, overweight high school student (for this brief preamble, Ryan wears the kind of prosthetic enhancements that used to get Courteney Cox so many laughs in the “fat Monica” flashbacks on “Friends” all those unwoke years ago). Patty soon undergoes an implausible transformation, after she’s injured in a fistfight with a homeless man in front of a convenience store. While her jaw is wired shut for a few months, the pounds melt away.
At her trial for assault, Patty’s attorney, Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts), is smitten with his client’s newfound va-va-voom. Bob, you see, is a pageant coach — married to a Southern belle (Alyssa Milano), yet flouncy and flamboyant in his every step and swish. (If there was any pre-outrage about that stereotype, I must have missed it.)
Bob’s sworn enemy, in both the courtroom and the pageant scene, is the similarly effeminate local prosecutor, also named Bob (Christopher Gorham), who grooms his daughter to win all the local pageants.
The episodes, which are all at least 20 minutes too long, are propelled by the animosity that exists among the many characters, each of whom is sort of rotten to the core. They include another conniving contestant coach named Stella (Beverly D’Angelo, who can commiserate with Milano over this ill-fated gig). Stella soon schemes to steal Patty away from Bob Armstrong.
The show specializes in the easiest forms of scripted cruelty and snark. The fat-shaming, such that it even exists, is brief and nowhere nearly as harmful as the middling idiocy of the entire effort. That’s my review and also a scolding: If you’re watching this, you really need better things to do.
Hold on, I’m not done. “Insatiable” was first ordered by the CW broadcast network, which wisely passed on airing it, at which point Netflix snatched it up. By design, Netflix has little interest in developing anything like a house style or sense of smell for the many half-okay series it throws our way every month. Instead, anything and everything goes.
Even with the scant data the company makes available for public scrutiny, it’s not hard to tell that Netflix is slowly skewing toward a teen and young-adult market, because who else is willing to binge-watch as much mediocrity as a shut-in, wired-up teenager? This is probably what vexed “Insatiable’s” pre-detractors, who saw in the trailer a blunt and harmfully inaccurate message that overweight kids don’t amount to anything until they become thin.
Fat lotta good the protest did — the show premiered Friday, and all 13 episodes are now available. The show’s creator, Lauren Gussis, asked viewers to hold off their outrage until they’d at least seen it; she also shared her own tales of teenage self-image issues. And it’s true that if you tilt the angle slightly, “Insatiable” can come across as a wry take on pageant culture and its accompanying nonsense — including its warped beauty standards. I’m glad that Netflix, which is so big it can play deaf with most of its critics, never flinched and let the series stream as scheduled.
A number of salient points get lost in an online mini-riot that calls for censorship. One is that television is still television, even and especially at a time when there are hundreds of other shows to choose from (including AMC’s “Dietland,” which takes on body and weight issues in a far more interesting way). Also, last I checked, most devices still come with a function that resembles an off button.
People have been not-watching some shows, on principle, for as long as the medium has been around. It’s time for the easily offended to learn that skill as well. No comment is the comment. What could be worse for a show than to be ignored?
Insatiable (13 episodes) is now streaming on Netflix.