TV: Insatiable’s controversial first season

Insatiable is a Netflix comedy about a 17 year old called Patty who competes in beauty pageants after losing weight. When it was first advertised in 2018 its theme caused immense disquiet. Over 100,000 people signed a petition demanding that Netflix withdraw the show. The petition argued the following:

This series will cause eating disorders, and perpetuate the further objectification of women’s bodies. The trailer has already triggered people with eating disorders. Let’s stop this, and protect further damage.

After Insatiable’s release it continued to cause controversy. This Buzzfeed article sums up the reasons. Not only does the first series make fun of fat people, there are distasteful jokes about statutory rape and molestation, about bisexuality and gay people, and about mental health. I’ve listed some of the negative reviews below.

Despite the poor critical reception, Netflix made one more season of Insatiable. It was finally cancelled in February 2020. But not cancelled in the way you might think! Seasons one and two are both still available on Netflix.

Wanting to know how bad Insatiable really was, I recently watched all twelve episodes of the first season. It made for very puzzling viewing.

The first few episodes come across as insensitive and tasteless. The undignified portrayal of Nonnie’s crush on her female best friend is like something out of the 1970s. And as for Patty’s attempts to form a romance with middle-aged Bob. Hello, 1970s? Are you alive and well and performing on Netflix?

By mid-season I was really puzzled. Insatiable starts to look like a much more progressive show around this point. The depictions of LGBTQ people improve. It also becomes more apparent that Patty has a binge-eating disorder. Yet the horrible jokes continue.

My guess is that Insatiable is an attempt to subvert prejudiced attitudes. It starts out like a show that seems to agree with bigoted ideas. Then through the actions of the characters it attempts to introduce another set of ideas, while retaining its bigoted veneer.

I don’t think Insatiable works as a television comedy. A show’s good intentions really should not be that difficult to figure out.

Perhaps part of my difficulty as a viewer is that I’m not American, I’m British. I don’t know much about Georgia, where this comedy is set. I guess, as well, that I’m not familiar enough with the American tv shows that Insatiable might be satirising.

Netflix’s American output usually translates well to a British audience. I wonder if Insatiable is a rare example of an American comedy that loses something in the Atlantic crossing.

Insatiable, Netflix

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