Insatiable: Gross, Grim, Groundless
Look, I get it, I do. There are some stories to be told that are going to piss off a lot of people. I’m publishing a book called Rape Jokes. I’m no stranger to the notion of media that tries to shove up against those uncomfortable edges, that takes on sensitive issues in a brash way in an attempt to demystify the unpleasantness at their core.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily – when I saw the trailer for Netflix’s Insatiable, the description of the show as a “coming of rage” story, I was kind of intrigued. Following the story of a teenage girl who has grown up fat and with a destructive relationship with food, it picks up where our lead, Patty, has just lost a huge amount of weight and found herself suddenly with a socially acceptable – if not covetable – body type. From there, the show purports to take a dark, satirical look at what she does with that newfound power. The backlash was fast and immediate, even just after that first trailer, but the show sounded like there was perhaps something, however rough, worth watching in there.
But there isn’t. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but Insatiable is a steaming pile of truly abhorrent garbage that’s down there with the worst shows I have ever given my time to. Every choice seems bafflingly wrong, every tonal shift a nightmarish undercut of what came before. There was the glimmer of an interesting show in here, somewhere, maybe, but that seems impossibly distant to the final product we actually ended up with.
I mean, where to begin? The show opens with a man being falsely accused of molesting a teenager for the personal gain of the accuser, and it’s packed full of this bizarre social commentary that just all seems so grotesquely untimely – in the age of the Me Too movement, what the fuck is this doing as an opening, and why does it continue to depict teenage girls pursuing adult men as anything other than the statutory bullshit that it is? In a time when trans narratives are finally beginning to get the respect they deserve, why does the one trans character in this show act as a comparison point for the cis leading lady to bounce her own body issues off of? In a year for TV when bi representation has swelled and improved more than it has in the last ten, why are characters declaring that bi people are as fictional as demons even as part of a wider cack-handed coming-out story? What the hell is it doing framing the lesbian best friend of the main character as a predatory gay woman obsessed with the straight Patty? What…the fuck? What is Insatiable trying to do here?
In fact, that’s the biggest problem I have with Insatiable as a whole: it seems to have plucked a bunch of “woke” ideas from modern pop culture for social justice credit without bothering to delve into anything that might drive people to have those ideas in the first place or explore how they overcome them. And, aside from the just oodles of bullshit I outlined above, its biggest failure on this front comes in the form of they way it addresses body image.
Look, I’ve struggled with my body and food and exercise and how deeply and profoundly I’ve been taught to loathe the way I look for a long time, and I was really up for a show that underlined the fact that getting the body you’ve always dreamed of does nothing to solve what the pursuit of it did to you. But Patty herself is such a hopelessly inconsistent character that the show actually offers nothing in the way of the commentary I was hoping for. She’s framed as an unlikeable lead, yes, and she does plenty of awful things even now she’s thin, but the message beating through the heart of the show is that she did get the things she thought she would get after losing weight.
She gets sexual attention from men, becomes a beauty paegant star, earns acceptance from her peers. Insatiable doesn’t bother giving us anything like enough time with pre-thin Patty to really show how deeply she’s changed as a person, and instead throws around trite bullshit about still being ugly on the inside. Insatiable seems to want Patty’s life to be better now she’s thin. But it also claims to lampoon fat-shaming and fatphobia at the same time, even though it never-endingly goes to great lengths to point out what a pathetic loser she was before losing weight. Unable to commit to Patty as a true villain or a true, if flawed, hero, Insatiable has nothing to truly say about the devastating affect the idealization of the female body can have on the people who either pursue or achieve it. Despite some late-arriving lip-service to body positivity, the true monster of Insatiable is fatness – not the way we treat people who fall outside the strict body standards we have for them, but the notion of being or becoming fat.
And elsewhere, the show is just badly-made. Awful, endless voiceovers handhold viewers through notions that are later reiterated by characters nearly word-for-word in dialogue. Every cute bit of costuming or backdrop used to reflect thematic plot points is pointed about by the characters. Motivations are constantly shifting depending on what the story calls for at that moment, the characters like any really consistency, and any flashes of vague decency are swiftly buried as the show takes another candy-coloured stumble into oblivious attempts at satire.
Because that what this show is framed as: satire. What exactly it’s satirizing, though, is never truly clear. Is it the society that demands perfection from women? Is it satirizing social justice warriors trying to encourage a more diverse agenda? Is it satirizing people opposed to that notion? The near-constant roasting of people outside the cis, white, straight, thin standard would suggest one thing, but it’s ham-fisted “don’t use the word tranny, I guess?” commentary – which never bothers getting under the skin of why those kind of problems are problems for the communities they affect in the first place – suggests another.
And that’s it, at it’s core – Insatiable doesn’t seem to know who it wants to appeal to. Thanks to the backlash coming from a largely liberal place, it’s gained some traction amongst those who seem to want to push back against progressivism in pop culture, but the show positions itself as progressive. Those looking for “fuck the SJWs” subversion are going to be dissapointed with its stabs at intersectionality, and those looking for a “fuck the status quo” mood are going to be let down by the constant stereotyping and lack of meaningful engagement with the issues it purports to take on. The worst of both worlds, Insatiable is a truly meritless pile of garbage that you need to skip out on for your own sanity. In a show that claims to be black comedy, the only really murky thing is the message it wants to send.
(header image courtesy of TVLine)