Netflix’s ‘Insatiable’ tries to balance revenge, weight and humor

The trailer drew criticism over “fat shaming”
Dallas Roberts (left) and Debby Ryan star in "Insatiable," out August 10, 2018. Netflix picked it up after the CW dropped it.

Credit: Annette Brown/Netflix

Credit: Annette Brown/Netflix

Dallas Roberts (left) and Debby Ryan star in "Insatiable," out August 10, 2018. Netflix picked it up after the CW dropped it.

Originally posted Wednesday, August 8, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Last year, the CW passed on a highly anticipated black comedy called “Insatiable,” which was then scooped up by Netflix and shot in metro Atlanta.

Given the basic plotline of the show, it’s now clear why the CW chose to go elsewhere.

Bob (Dallas Roberts, who played Milton on "The Walking Dead") is an attorney whose real love is pageant coaching but when a client falsely accuses him of sexually assaulting her, he becomes persona non grata. Patty (Disney Channel star Debby Ryan) is a bullied teen who had her jaw wired shut after getting punched by a homeless man. She lost a vast amount of weight and goes into pageant work with Bob to exact revenge upon her former tormenters.

“I want them to hurt like I hurt,” Patty says.

With the trailer out, neither plot line is being received well in social media circles before the show's debut Friday, August 10. The show was shooting when the Harvey Weinstein accusations came out last fall and the #MeToo movement was born. Unfortunately, the jokes in the show making light of sexual assault feel awkward at best.

Critics have also accused the writers of "fat shaming" Patty, who is nicknamed "Fatty Patty" by bullies. A petition to cancel "Insatiable" on has attracted 218,000 names so far, the author saying the show will cause eating disorders and perpetuate objectification of women. Netflix so far has stood by "Insatiable" as it did when some folks sniped that "13 Reasons Why" glorified teen suicide.

Lauren Gussis, creator of "Insatiable," said in a Tweet that the show is a bit autobiographical and obviously satirical, too:

“When I was 13, I was suicidal. My best friends dumped me, and I wanted revenge. I thought if I looked pretty on the outside, I'd feel like I was enough. Instead, I developed an eating disorder…and the kind of rage that makes you want to do dark things.” She dubs the show “a cautionary tale.”

The actors have had to go on social media and TV to defend the show and tell viewers to give it a chance before judging.

"I think once people watch the show and go on the journey with all of the characters, I really think there's going to be an entire spectrum of things," Ryan said on “Good Morning America.”

Roberts, in an interview with me, said he understands why the trailer may have caused some angst.

"It's very possible to see that and feel like we weren't taking care of people," he said. "But I also know the other 12 hours we shot. I have confidence that once people who were hurt, once they see the show if they choose to, they will find we're on very similar sides. It's one of those situations where you don't want to judge something by its external first look."
"Once you get to know us, you'll like us," he added.

Bob and Patty, he said, are “high functioning sociopaths in desperate situations.”

He can relate to some of Bob’s feelings of inadequacy and thirst for recognition.

“I certainly walk around with a tight leash on my inner doubts and questions,” Roberts said. “I’m always struggling with being the best me I can be. He sort of embodies that in a rather insane and over-the-top way. It’s rooted in something I understand. Then you’re allowed to go bonkers!”

Bob is also married to status-seeking Coralee, played by the inimitable Alyssa Milano. The Armstrongs feel a deep-seated rivalry with another couple: hunky fellow attorney Bob Barnard (Christopher Gorham) and his super successful wife Magnolia (Erinn Westbrook). During one episode, after out-of-shape Bob and Alyssa join a health club to be closer to the Barnards, they are seen planning a new pageant event while huffing and puffing. The physically fit Barnards? Not even sweating. 
Bob's win-at-all-costs mentality strips away any nobility in his efforts to lift up the people around him. And Roberts is aware Bob's relationship with the much younger Patty, who has the hots for him, can go into rather uncomfortable territory.

“We had to dance very gently on that,” Roberts said. “He only loves Patty in a mentor/mentee way. She is just a confused kid with a crush. He takes care of that by finding another shiny thing to attract her attention.”

Roberts is thrilled that Netflix was able to find a home for the show following the CW’s rejection. All 13 episodes will be available Friday. “I felt like we were falling upwards,” he said.

Netflix asked reviewers to embargo their opinions until today, just two days before release. They may have had a good sense why. The reviews have almost universally negative.

Variety: "Despite some late-breaking attempts to right the ship, neither the show's punchlines nor its characters are sharp enough to transcend their clichéd foundations."

The Daily Dot: "The show is trying to say something about women's anger and rage—how it's channeled and sometimes misplaced. But much of that gets lost in the noise."

Business Insider (Why is a site called Business Insider reviewing this show?) "It pits all its female characters against each other, makes jokes about statutory rape and molestation, and has a cast full of thin women. Characters, both male and female, constantly call women things like "crazy," "insane," and 'b----,' and its main character at one point calls another woman 'a resting anus face of a wife.'"

Fast Company (why is Fast Company reviewing this show?): "The final product... is about as successful as a fad diet and just as dangerous as the worst of them."

Boston Herald: " 'Insatiable' has a taste for stupid jokes, as when Bob and Coralee host the "Gala for Anal Cancer" — complete with brown ribbons. "All the other colors were taken," Bob says. Much of "Insatiable" is just indigestible."