On July 19, 2018, Netflix released its trailer for their latest dark comedy-drama series, Insatiable, created by Lauren Gussis and starring Debby Ryan. Soon after, this “coming of rage” story would usher in many complaints due to its apparent fat-shaming messages. But since its release one week ago (August 10, 2018), critics and many fans have been split on their verdicts. The critics claim that it’s a fat-shaming and homophobic train wreck while many fans proclaim it to be an entertaining reflection of society’s viewpoints on serious matters. But what is the truth? Is Insatiable just a collection of offensive tropes masquerading as awareness? Or, is there some brilliance to this over-the-top dark comedy? Well, after binge-watching all 12 episodes, the truth is that it’s a little bit of both.
Insatiable follows Patty Bladell from her journey as an over-weight teenager who constantly endured bullying throughout high school. But after a jaw surgery, which left her on a liquid diet for 3 months, Patty lost a great deal of weight and has become skinny. With her new-found “confidence,” she sets out to get revenge on all the people who shamed her by winning beauty pageants and showing them that she is no longer a “loser.”
In the first episode, Insatiable presents itself as a wacky and obnoxious dark comedy that tackles some heavy issues. However, the obscene jokes are what sets the stage for what type of series it truly is. For one, the introduction to a main character, Bob Armstrong (played by Dallas Roberts), includes pedophilia. Bob is a disgraced pageant coach who has been falsely accused of sexual harassment of a minor. But this isn’t what’s wrong. The obscenity comes from Patty (who happens to be in love with Bob) making the following assessment after a conversation with her friend:
“Are you crazy? He’s a pedophile,” Nonnie says.
“That means I have a chance!…” replies Patty.
It’s a joke that seems to have gone unnoticed, but it, along with many others, was a completely unnecessary addition to an already controversial show. And at times, it gets worse before it gets better…
But when the series doesn’t rely on its bizarre and unpleasant dialogue and chooses to focus on some important issues, it becomes bearable. For example, one of the most prevalent themes of Insatiable is the internal struggle of dealing with insecurities. While this is mostly manifested through the actions of the series’ main character, Patty Bladell, it spends a great deal on its supporting characters as well. Nonnie (played by Kimmie Shields), for example, is Patty’s best and only friend. For years, she shared an unexplainable connection to Patty that she attributed to having been best friends for so long; but it turns out that Nonnie has romantic feelings for Patty and must learn how to deal with them internally and publicly. Of all the important affairs the show chose to tackle, the handling of Nonnie’s was the most realistic and sincere.
The Netflix series also focuses on self-confidence and image- and not just physical appearances but learning to accept your past by being confident in how it helps shape who you are. This is mostly explored through the character Coralee Armstrong (played by Alyssa Milano). With her character, Insatiable beautifully captures the intense toll that “never feeling good enough” could take on someone. And ultimately, it reveals how society views and treat people who come from nothing while they, in turn, deal with the pressures of trying to fit in or be up to standard.
Despite these important themes and messages addressed throughout the show, there’s no denying the offensive nature of the script. At times, the bad characters are pushed so far to the edge that even its parodied and satirical nature feels hurtful. Additionally, characters dealing with topics such as Bob’s bisexuality is understandably difficult to hear. It’s an internal struggle that many go through, but it doesn’t make it any less emotionally distressing. It might even come off as anti-LGBT because the bad characters are so strong in their viewpoints. But the question becomes this: is it all necessary? Why is it imperative to show these obscenities when people who deal with them had to live through it? Is there a proper way to depict the harsh realities of the world without succumbing to the embodiment of its dark content? The truth is that there were definitely better ways to present these problems even with its ridiculous and “humorous” storytelling.
Even with all of its mistakes, Insatiable is an important series. Because even though the message it wanted to convey isn’t crystal clear, the fact that it was presented this way lets us know that we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to appropriately depicting common matters. And though the writers’ hearts might have been in the right place, there’s no denying how someone could be offended by the show’s content. They can hold up a mirror to us all they want, but sensitive subjects should always be met and presented with less mockery (just for the sake of entertainment) and more consideration.
Whether it’s dealing with physical appearances, being ashamed of your past, or being confused on your sexuality – these are all very real struggles that deserve to be discussed on all platforms. However, the inclusion of these subjects is not what hurts Netflix’s dark comedy. It’s that these ideas weren’t executed in a way that makes the viewer believe they truly care about people who might be going through the same issues… But even when it tries, the show ventures off into extreme and outlandish storytelling to avoid seriousness that would’ve only strengthened the show. With any luck, the writers will learn from their mistakes of S1 and give us the continuation of the story with better handling of these issues…
Because the truth about Insatiable is this: it’s messy, obnoxious, and sometimes, it’s funny. But underneath all its silliness, beyond all the entertaining drama, its reflection of society is real, uncensored and at times, triggering.