Patty (Debbie Ryan) was overweight and miserable. That is, until a homeless man punched her square in the face, which resulted in Debbie getting her jaw wired shut. One summer of liquid meals later, and she’s as thin as she ever dreamed of being. And, also, desperate for revenge against those who bullied her. Are those alarm bells starting to ring yet?
Netflix’s latest offering to the teen market, Insatiable, got its hit of controversy the moment the first trailer dropped online and its central conceit was unveiled, with a Change.org petition urging the streaming service to drop the series altogether, while others lambasted its engagement with damaging narratives about weight and weight loss.
Oh, if only they knew then exactly how far down the rabbit hole of misguided ideas Insatiable was prepared to go.
But, first, to reckon with the intentions of the show’s creator, Lauren Gussis, who has attempted to settle the discord by describing Insatiable as a “crazy fever-dream revenge fantasy” born out of the leftover frustrations from her teenage years, imagining what exactly would occur if that magical physical transformation she craved had occurred: “I got to see how it turned out. And it didn’t turn out great. That’s what has healing.”
Which sounds, in fact, like a perfectly heartfelt and noble way to approach body issues; as a reminder that chasing after some perceived physical perfection isn’t going to suddenly transform your self-esteem and fix every problem in your life.
The problem is, any hint Insatiable may actually be about self-love and appreciation is sledgehammered into oblivion by the end of the very first episode; where Patty’s overweight past is treated like some grotesque, monstrous possession - “I was fat, I was out of control!” she cries, before she refers to it as a “demon” still lingering inside of her.
Things take on a particularly insidious note when Patty’s “fat” phase, which we get a brief glimpse of, is so very clearly the conventionally attractive Ryan, a former Disney star now attempting to move on to edgier fare, with two pillows casually shoved up her shirt.
It might seem ludicrous to suggest that a bad fat suit somehow makes Insatiable’s messages all the more unpalatable, but it does. It’s a crass reminder that this show has no interest in any part of the reality of an overweight teen’s experience; taking on its ugliest form when the reason for Patty’s altercation with a homeless man, which she actually initiated, turns out to be, you got it, that he tried to steal a candy bar from her.
Which, existing within a context where her only seeming motivation for weight loss is to impress a cute boy and become popular, is a subconscious storm of every toxic message you could possibly send to a teen girl feeling insecure about her weight.
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Don’t concern yourself with being happy and healthy, at whatever size that may be, Insatiable cries; dream about getting your jaw wired shut, so then you can tell Cindy to go shove her head in a toilet!
And that brings us neatly to Insatiable’s second defence against itself: this is all satire. A perverse, immoral fantasy come to life. True, that might explain why the show both establishes Patty as our relatable hero, while also making her out as an unforgivable sociopath who considers setting a man on fire because he was rude to her.
A classic basis for some dark comedy - think Jawbreaker, or Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens - except for the fact that Patty is also weirdly sanctimonious, with the show still attempting to stride towards a didactic message about the dangers of fat-shaming.
Indeed, Insatiable is more than happy to slap the label of “satire” over itself with little to no understanding about what it actually entails; resulting in an endless stream of odd, tasteless jokes that don’t seem to have any point or aim to them. Homophobic jokes, we got ‘em! Slut-shaming jokes, we got ‘em! Add to that, episode one boasts not one, but two women making false accusations of sexual assault.
And to follow on from that sexual assault, after getting sued by the homeless man she punched over a candy bar, Patty develops a die-hard crush on her lawyer, who happens to have been accused of child molestation. Patty doesn’t actually know he’s not a child molester, which leads her to tell her best friend that, specifically because of the child molestation accusations, she “might actually have a shot”.
Seriously, if Insatiable is mean to be satire - what exactly is it satirising? There’s nothing here: except for a surprisingly mean-spirited, morally immature approach that doesn’t appear to work in service of anything at all. One so cruel to its own hero, while conversely also painting her as a monster, that it’d be no surprise if it were to come from the pen of one of Patty’s own bullies.
Insatiable is available to stream on Netflix now.