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Review: Netflix's 'Insatiable' is meant to be funny, but it's a fat-shaming mess

Review: Netflix's 'Insatiable' is meant to be funny, but it's a fat-shaming mess
Debby Ryan in a scene from Netflix' "Insatiable." (Tina Rowden / Netflix)

The Netflix revenge comedy “Insatiable” was designed to be a modern, dark comedy that mined issues such as unrealistic beauty standards and body image from a woman’s perspective.

But in a painful miscalculation, the 12-episode series, which premieres Friday, is packed with more muffin-top jokes, fat shaming and mean girl pranks than an eighth-grade slumber party.

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The trailer alone caused an outcry upon its release. It featured slender actress Debby Ryan (“Jessie,” “Sing It!”) tottering around in a fat suit in her role as obese teen Patty. Patty is a social pariah at her exceptionally cruel high school, but after losing 70 pounds, she uses her new magical powers as a thin, “hot” woman to get back at her tormentors.

Cue the candy bar, ice cream and sweat pants gags.

The last few years have produced several smart shows — AMC’s “Dietland” and HBO’s “Insecure” among them — that satirize the pressures of being female in a society obsessed with beauty, weight and age.

Several more dramas have successfully tackled gender inequality, injustice and even rape culture (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Big Little Lies”).

But the #MeToo movement has also unleashed so much pent-up rage that nuanced conversations are often reduced to two-dimensional arguments or a list of justifiable grievances and demands where there’s little room for any gray area.

Drama and comedy offer the chance to work it all out in a neutral zone; a place where fictional characters explore all sides of the quotient — that of the victimizer, the victim, the Heather, the bullied.

“Insatiable” blows that opportunity by falling back into the same trap as a billion films, TV shows and stand-up routines before it. And big girls aren’t the only target here. The series also takes aim at #MeToo, closeted homosexuality and pedophilia. A real laugh riot.

The streaming series, which also stars Alyssa Milano, should have taken its cues from “Dietland,” another dark comedy that also features a female lead who’s struggled with her weight and who would do just about anything to be thin.

The AMC series successfully satirizes the pressures of being female post-Harvey Weinstein because it takes care to dive below the surface and mine the rage of a new era.

And rather than build out a Size 2 actress into a plus-sized character, “Dietland” cast the skilled Joy Nash as its protagonist. Nash portrays the struggles and anger of her character with an empathy that’s all but absent in “Insatiable.”

“Insatiable’s” producers, who include Milano, addressed the outcry over the trailer by ensuring the series was designed to counter the prejudice. But it’s unclear what the show is trying to do other than climb out of the hole it’s dug for itself.

The best moments here come in scenes with Patty’s attorney, Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts of "The Good Wife"). He takes Patty on as a client. Her case: She got into an altercation with a homeless man who tried to take Patty’s snack from her. She came out of the ordeal with a broken jaw that had to be wired shut, which resulted in her weight loss. But he claimed she instigated the fight (which she did), and food once again contributed to a crucial turning point in Patty’s life.

But Bob is also a part-time beauty pageant coach who’s been wrongly accused of sexual misconduct with one of the teens he mentored. Disgraced, he looks to regain his former stature and sees a winner in Patty. His wife, played by Milano, is threatened by Patty and has plans of her own. Tired cat-fight scenario goes here.

But Armstrong also has competition in Bob Barnard (Christopher Gorham, "Ugly Betty"), whose daughter is a reigning queen. The rivalry between the two offers some redeemable moments. but it’s not enough to redeem this otherwise sophomoric show.

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“Insatiable” makes “Norbit” feel like a comedic masterpiece, and in 2018, there’s nothing noble about that distinction.

‘Insatiable’

Where: Netflix

When: Any time, starting Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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