I watched the whole series of ‘Insatiable’ and this is what I think
I was probably as ‘mhm’ as you were on the premise
“You’re going to watch Insatiable?”
“…Is that wise?”
No, it probably isn’t. A show which (from word of mouth) seems to be largely about how sexy a girl is for getting thinner probably isn’t the best thing for someone who panics over having to eat cheese. Me watching this is roughly comparable to sitting a dramatically-inclined emo teenager in front of a build-your-own-guillotine documentary. But, there are a few positives to me being the one to review this:
- I’ve suffered with weight-related bullying and disordered eating since I was a kid, so I do come to the table from a fairly experienced background
- I can see the pros and cons to this existence of this show, so hopefully I won’t be overly biased. Hopefully.
So a weekend later, I have managed to sit through what I will describe as a problematic, passably entertaining hot mess with a rollercoaster level of quality. I’ll get straight into it, shall I? (Spoilers.)
I’ll say this for them: Patty is definitely an interesting character, and so is Bob. I will criticise both of these characters later, but let’s get this out of the way.
It’s really interesting to see a seriously flawed, gullible 17 year old. I’m more interested in that than the whole weight-loss-beauty-finding-myself-religion-feminism-race-relations plot. She has a cutesy side and a slightly Machiavellian niceness to her, but she can also be totally awful. She says terrible things, she makes bad decisions and she is hurting. She’s incredibly selfish. You will hear her say ‘I’ and ‘Me’ in almost every sentence.
But that’s actually pretty interesting. It’s interesting as a screenplay experiment to see how many unlikeable things you can make a protagonist do before you just hate them. Seeing a ‘good’ female character do dreadful things is a fairly new thing to see on TV. There’s a brutal honesty to her that allows her to explore her attraction to married older men, her cruel streak and her childish tempestuousness. And kudos to Debby Ryan, who plays her. You absolutely believe the pain, the fear and the self doubt. Even when the script gets way too whacky, she tones it down a bit.
The script definitely doesn’t know what it is (again, I’ll come back to that) and the lines between parody, satire and actual morality play are way too grey for a 15+ audience. But I’m pleased that Patty was attempted as a character. As someone who knows what it’s like to binge or have an emotional relationship with food, it was very tragically comforting to see the small moments where she interacts with her body, her mirror, her insecurities and her food.
Also, Bob. The other (almost) saving grace in this mhmfest.
Now: Dallas Roberts is an absolutely glitteringly good actor. I have never, ever seen an actor who is so utterly believable. You never for a second think that he isn’t a morally-dubious lawyer with a lot of skeletons in the closet. He can do femme and camp and seductive and masculine all at the same time and my God, does it work.
I was so happy to see an openly camp and still sexually attractive and powerful man in a script, and they could not have cast the part better. Towards the end of the series, his character rockets into a caricature more tropey than a sea lion playing with a ball, but honestly, you can see he put his heart into it and the energy and skill is wonderful.
Lastly: This wasn’t made in bad faith. I really don’t think the producers were trying to make a mean spirited, fat-shaming, nasty and spiteful production, and it doesn’t come off like that completely if you sit through it. They genuinely try, however clumsily, to address the issues and silliness of the media and modern teenhood. So there’s that.
So onto the negatives.
What’s horribly, horribly wrong:
The script. I could, if I really tried, excuse the fat-girl-gets-pretty trope if they did it in a flawlessly researched and sensitive way. But this screenplay runs with alarming confidence at hurdles like race relations, child molestation, disability, religion, homosexuality and transgender people and knocks down every single one. Even my 16 year old sister was staring in horror.
You’ve got the badly written minority characters who have all the personality of a cereal packet cartoon character. It doesn’t come off as satirical and edgy, it comes off as badly researched and clunkily delivered in a ‘please like us, we’re diverse’ sort of way. There’s a black lesbian woman a few episodes in who raps about Jesus and is body positive but they never bother to develop her. Why is she dating a high school girl who she has no chemistry with and is uncertain of her sexuality? What made her so confident and body proud in the face of so much bullying and open racist commentary? Again, nothing is answered, you get a cardboard cut out. Which is a shame, because the actress who plays her clearly is far more capable.
Similarly, you get transgender and queer characters who come in to save the day with cute little camp catchphrases but they are never developed. You get a scene where Patty deals with her body insecurities with a transgender girl in the bathroom mirror, but after an incredibly unrealistically open conversation, we never hear about that again either. You get cookie cutter stereotypes, not people. Characters get together, and immediately break up. Patty battles with a troubled relationship with stress eating, but that’s immediately forgotten in the next episode. A plot line is picked up, and immediately dropped. Nothing is ever resolved. It’s infuriating.
In the first few episodes, Bob is a smart, intelligent lawyer who can decode cases and have women tripping over him at a mile a minute. 8 episodes later, he’s wondering if he is gay, despite clearly lusting after his wife in multiple scenes as well as a woman from his past. And he might have a child with someone else. And Patty sees him as a soulmate. Then traitor. Then godfather. Then coach. Then father.
And I haven’t even told you about the exorcism and the murders. See what I mean?
It’s great to have an interesting plot. But there is WAY too much going on, way too fast and it doesn’t look like a satire, it looks like Heathers if Tim Burton paired up with Lin Manuel Miranda to remake it as a rap battle horror movie set in rural Mexico. It just doesn’t work. Nothing meets. Elements could be great on their own but it’s just a hot mess.
It’s a shame.
I would have loved to watch just one or two of these elements carefully explored: a daughter recovering from a childhood where her mother struggled with alcohol to find her own self worth, a young woman finding her sexuality and body confidence in a cruel world, the ultimate costs of eating disorders on your body and society- the possibilities are endless. This could have so easily have been great.
I’d have loved to have had a role model at 15 who had an eating disorder and overcame it sensibly. I’d have loved to have seen a plus size teenager learning to accept her body and own her confidence. I’d have loved to have watched the small things I went through played out with a positive resolution. It just comes over as a greasy calzone of various tropes, fat-shamey language that isn’t resolved, and a ‘revenge’ subplot that doesn’t go anywhere. Or even need to exist, if I’m honest.
So yeah, obviously it’s problematic on the LGBT+/racial equality/feminist/ body positivity front. But for me, what really killed it was how badly it was put together.
So yeah, I didn’t love it. You can watch it if you want (although I’d strongly advise you to not let vulnerable teens to watch it: not eating enough for 3 months will 100% kill you, whatever happens in the script) but it’s a bit too cringeworthy, a bit too desperate and a bit too forced.
Great cast though, so there’s that.