Netflix’s ‘Insatiable’ Offers an Empty Plate of Shallow Laughs

Netflix’s new series “Insatiable” has courted much controversy over its early promos, sparking accusations of fat shaming and inspiring petitions to pull the plug. This show in its first season does indeed deserve to be pulled, but not because of any intentional body shaming, but because it is simply a tasteless dud. It thinks it is satire when it is just one big slab of tactless toilet humor, devoid of life or wit. You can certainly make something provocative and funny about our obsession with body image, perceptions of beauty and the shameless world of pageants, but “Insatiable” never really tries. It talks and walks like a kid making annoying fart sounds.

The series stars Debby Ryan as Patty, who has struggled all her life with being overweight. High school has proven to be hell as she gets bullied and shamed for her looks. As she tells it in the narration, she has tried nearly everything imaginable to get skinny. But salvation arrives when outside of a convenience store Patty gets into a fight with a homeless guy over a candy bar. The homeless guy punches her in the face, resulting in her jaw being wired shut for about three months. Forced to go on a liquid diet, Patty sheds all the weight and is now hot and slim. When she’s forced to go to court over the incident, a disgraced former beauty pageant coach and attorney, Bob (Dallas Roberts), decides to represent her. Bob sees in Patty a chance to redeem himself and get back in the limelight of the beauty pageant world. But once Patty finds herself alone with her homeless attacker and extracts a fiery revenge, she gets a taste for payback.

What we have here is a perfect example of the key difference between an idea and its execution. Creator Lauren Gussis, who made her bones as a writer on “Dexter,” thinks she has struck gold with making a show about a vengeful former fat person, but inadvertently becomes offensive by avoiding true satire. Because she’s too timid to really take on American culture, the material is plowed under by content that is simply idiotic. Ironically, Gussis is attacking shallowness by being completely shallow. Take the early episodes, which could have been wickedly delicious satire, instead we moment after moment that falls flat. Bob’s disgrace comes from supporting a pageant contestant who fumbles a question about ISIS onstage, after which he is accused of being Ryan struggles around in poorly-done fat makeup, she collapses in gym class from not eating enough and soon gets punched by the homeless guy. All written without any wit in the dialogue or true sense of satire.

To be quite frank, “Insatiable” does not deserve an in-depth, metaphysical review. You can gauge its faults by a simple rundown of the key gags and bizarre storyline choices. Patty seduces her homeless attacker in a hotel room and then sets him on fire, then she attempts to prove her innocence during which we discover she’s been teasing and flashing a gas station attendant (who enjoys masturbating to security camera footage of Patty). Bob’s son Brick (Michael Provost) starts sleeping with Regina (Arden Myrin), one of Bob’s big local rivals who spreads the false rumor that he’s a pedophile. There’s really no purpose behind this story development except to have scenes of Regina and Brick going at it in a car and exchanging idiotic dialogue. Other bits of humor in the show are simply cheap shots, like an adopted Chinese girl who tells Regina she’s confused about something and Regina replies, “I know baby, that’s because you’re malnourished in China.” This same kind of half-developed tone applies to much of the comedy in “Insatiable.” Bob will be giving a speech before an anal cancer fundraiser and Regina and her ilk will start making fart sounds from their table. Patty’s alcoholic mother of course works at a spot named Weiner Taco. Oh the giggles, right? When Bob enters Patty into the world of pageants, the show could have gone for savage, smart satire in the tradition of oldies but goodies like “Jawbreaker.” Instead we just get a parade of imbecilic characters who are walking clichés and stereotypes of pretty airheads. The rest of the series turns into a mere carnival ride of stupidity as Patty learns nothing from her past experience and abuse, instead turning into a raging psycho determined to kill or burn down everything and everyone involved with the beauty pageant world.

The truly sad thing about “Insatiable” is that it shames a worthy theme. In these times it would be valuable to have works of satire that discuss and question our obsession with body image and status. Instead Patty doesn’t go through any real or profound journey, she just becomes a caricature in a toilet humor vortex. Near the end she utters a few interesting phrases about learning to love herself, but there is very little in this show to inspire much love in the audience.

Insatiable” season one premieres Aug. 10 on Netflix.