Warning: This review contains spoilers because you shouldn’t watch “Insatiable,” and even if you try, you won’t get far enough for the spoilers to be relevant.
“Insatiable” follows the story of Patty Bladell (Debby Ryan) as she transforms from “Fatty Patty” to a bona fide beauty queen. In the first episode, Patty gets her jaw wired shut for three months after a fistfight with a homeless man and she loses a lot of weight. In addition to food, Patty is hungry for revenge, a play on words that the writers of the show never get tired of. With the pretense of seeking revenge against all the people who bullied her, what actually results is 12 episodes of circular storytelling, vapid attempts at satire, and a whole lot of 20-somethings masquerading as teenagers.
The kiss of death for many seasoned teen TV shows is a resistance to character development. Somewhere around their fourth seasons, shows such as “Glee” that feature “antagonist” characters in leading roles have to reckon with a lack of ideas, and so they lapse into old tropes to rehash tired plots.
In “Insatiable,” however, this frustration comes almost immediately. All of the characters seem to have a eureka moment every episode, realizing why they act the way they do, coming to terms with the ways their actions affect others and committing to change. But by the next episode they are right back at rock bottom, making the same mistakes and coming to the same realizations. The overarching conflict of the first, and hopefully only, season of “Insatiable” is whether or not Patty is a good person.
Any illusions of a body-positive message are squelched by Patty’s rapid weight gain and loss in the final three episodes of the show. After Patty eats her feelings for several days, Brick (Michael Provost), Patty’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, takes her on two runs a day and gives her laxatives to drop the weight in one of the show’s countless throwaway jokes.
When beginning the show, I felt confident that in the end the episodes would actually be about body positivity, just executed very clumsily. I imagined a final few episodes where Patty gives a heartfelt speech about how she was beautiful the whole time because it is what is on the inside that counts. However, in an especially bold move, this wasn’t the route the show took at all.
The show spends an inordinate amount of time humanizing those who were so cruel to her in the first place. In fact, with the exception of her best friend Nonnie (Kimmy Shields), the show only tells the stories of those who bullied her or those she hadn’t met before.
At times the show brings in other marginalized bodies, in the form of a plus-sized Black lesbian and a trans woman, but these characters are caricatures more than anything, serving as tokens to win the show body-positive and diversity brownie points while otherwise only focusing on the narratives of skinny white people.
A satire can be many things. It can be animated like “South Park” or a talk show like “The Colbert Report.” It can be absurdist like the “The Eric Andre Show” or deeply troubling like “Animal Farm.” What it cannot be, however, is lazy, and that is exactly what “Insatiable” ended up being. Putting Ryan in a fat suit was not malicious — it was just stupid. It would be satisfying if this review could be an 800-word teardown of “Insatiable” as “fatphobic” and “body-shaming,” as countless internet commenters wrote upon the release of the trailer. But really, it is less complicated than that. It is just lazy writing born from an entertainment culture that values quantity over quality. To even call it “the worst show on Netflix,” as some reviews have been, would be to give too much credit to just another lazy teen TV comedy with oversaturated colors and beautiful 20-something-year-olds as the leads.
Labeling yourself as “satire” or “dark comedy” are not excuses to rest your hat on jokes about false sexual assault accusations and statutory rape. Those are vehicles for good stories, not excuses for bad ones.
At the end of the day, “Insatiable” just teaches us to do what we have always been taught to do — root for the skinny girl while we laugh at and pity the fat one, even when they are ultimately the same girl.