Here are the three most common questions I had while watching all 12 episodes of Netflix’s Insatiable: Who, exactly, is this show for? What are the writers even attempting to do? And, most of all, why did anyone sign off on this?
When Netflix released the trailer for Insatiable, a dark hour-long comedy that The CW originally passed on, the backlash came quickly. The series follows “Fatty Patty” (Debby Ryan) who, after having her jaw wired shut, loses a significant amount of weight, joins the pageant circuit, and vows revenge on those who have hurt her. The main concern was over fat-shaming (which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be entirely justified) and resulted in a Change.org petition calling for its cancelation. Over 200,000 people have signed. Needless to say, expectations were low going into the series even though many people involved — including creator Lauren Gussiss (former Dexter writer) who talked about her own personal struggles in a thoughtful interview with Vanity Fair — urged everyone to wait to pass judgment until we’ve seen the show. As it turns out, Insatiable‘s misguided approach to weight only barely scratches the surface of everything wrong — and deeply upsetting — with the series.
When we first meet Patty (Ryan dons a fat suit in the pilot), she’s fat, bullied, and miserable. A homeless stranger taunts her so she punches him and he punches back, landing her in the hospital on a liquid diet. Cut to three months later: Skinny Patty, seventy pounds lighter and super hot, is ready to change her life … mostly by being a terrible person. Sure! The bullied-kid-taking-control-of-their-life is a basic plot with potential but there are two major problems at play. We barely learn much else about Patty throughout the whole season, which makes it impossible to care about what’s happening let alone root for her. And, oddly enough, for all the ado made about Patty’s weight in the trailer, Insatiable doesn’t actually seem keen on putting in the work to interrogate that aspect of her life.
Since we barely see the “before” of her “makeover,” we can’t draw comparisons or appreciate inner changes; it doesn’t explore the specifics of how this shaped her personality or the struggles of being fat in a world that is actively and unfairly cruel to people who don’t fit into an ideal body standard. Instead, it mostly promotes this world. Patty’s old weight is generally only brought up to remind us that Patty was fat, to have other characters (and sometimes Patty herself) spew fatphobic insults, to lazily compare her Bad Life to her Good Life through the lens of Patty using her new body to her advantage, whether it’s tampering with evidence (don’t ask) or seducing the boys who used to ignore her. Insatiable aims to be a satire but often unintentionally comes off as a straight-forward glamorization of thinness — and we already have plenty of that. Because Insatiable doesn’t dig deep enough, the decision to hinge this story — a story purportedly about empowerment, female rage, bullying culture, accepting yourself, and all that good stuff — on weight-l0ss as a catalyst ends up feeling absurd. You could build the same basic narrative with any bullied, outcast teenage girl and avoided the whole controversy from the start.