I also might be watching too much TV.
Twice last week I finished binge watching a series – one on the Netflix and the other on Amazon.
Twice last week I said to Myrtle, “There’s a lot going on there for such a small town”.
I kid you not. Talking to my cat…
My intent here is to write about the semi-controversial Netflix show called Insatiable Before I get there, let me give you a quick rundown of what I mean by “a lot going on” using the other show I watched last week as an example. The Kettering Incident takes place in a small town in Tasmania. A doctor returns to town from the city for her dad’s retirement. He’s the Tasmanian equivalent of the Chief of Police.
What you learn soon after her return home is that she was considered a suspect in the childhood disappearance of her best friend. When this comes around, I think to myself, “OK, we can make a show of this”.
Nonono. That’s merely the Tip o’the Iceberg!
The disappearance might really be caused by an alien abduction. It seems literally nothing has happened in this town since the disappearance except maybe there’s aliens.
Just kidding, here’s everything else that’s happening in this podunk town:
Immediately after our good doctor returns, someone else is murdered.
Then there’s a drug ring. You find out later it’s led by one of the cops investigating the murder – in which our heroine is an instant suspect.
Secret toxic waste disposal.
A man returns from the dead and is later found murdered.
The town is being overrun – people included – by erratically fast growing moss.
In a strange wtf moment, the drug kingpin cop sleeps with his prime suspect…which is still our doctor.
Another murder. <yawn>
Secret government conspiracy.
What. The. Eff?
In the final episode, new plot lines are still dropping and then the damn show just ends.
One plot line is actually wrapped up in the finale. So for as much as this show has going on, it ended and just let most of the balls it had in the air drop and bounce away.
It’s like these writers think that the audience is incapable – probably correctly so – of focusing on a plot point from start to finish in a season. To compensate, and by “compensate” I mean “continually re-focus our attention from our phone screens back to the TV screens”, the writers seem to figuratively blow something up every episode. They don’t end up wrapping up the storyline they blow up, they just use it to keep our interest until the next explosion.
Believe it or not, I think Insatiable has even more bizarre stuff going on. For what it’s worth, these writers at least tidy up before they wander off at the end of the season. Not everything, but at the end of the 12 episodes, you’re at least left feeling relieved versus abandoned.
I wanted to watch this show after hearing its pre-release buzz about fat shaming…hence, the controversy. The critical position – including a 200,000 signature demand to pull the show before it aired – was that celebrating a large person’s weight loss with a story about their pursuit of a beauty pageant title was offensive.
Taken that flatly, I would agree. However, having seen the trailer and not been offended, I watched the show and learned that the actual issues with the program are the wacky plot lines the 90 second trailer doesn’t even touch on.
The show’s response to the criticism was that it was exploring the damage that that fat shaming does to a person’s psyche.
Boy, did that response undersell the word damage.
I also wanted to watch this because it’s been almost 20 years since Drop Dead Gorgeous and I needed a fucked up beauty pageant fix!
This show certainly delivered on the fucked up-ness criteria.
But it all started off so normal.
Bullied small town Georgia fat girl, Fatty Patty, gets her jaw broken while defending her candy bar from a homeless person. She ends up losing a ton of weight due to having her jaw wired shut to heal.
Duh. Nothing special here.
The Homeless Guy presses charges against her.
That’s kinda unique…
Which is when she meets her rather fey attorney, who coincidentally is a frustrated beauty queen coach. Having just lost a title with his most recent adopted-Chinese-beauty-queen-wanna-be to his never-loses-a-pageant-nemesis, who just happens to be his former high school jock tormenter and the city’s district attorney, he has sworn off beauty pageants…until he meets the now beautiful Patty.
Did ya follow all that?
Because after that the train for Crazy Town leaves the station.
Patty is a smart kid, so she turns her attorney’s pageant coaching offer down. However, after a day at school, realizing the different treatment she gets being suddenly outwardly beautiful and mistaken for a transfer student versus Fatty Patty, she snaps and takes her attorney up on his offer saying, “I’d rather have revenge”.
It’s after that moment where the show loses its equilibrium. From that point, you can tell a story that kinda sounds like the First Mrs Trump’s post-divorce mantra.
Patty struggles with the attention of boys. From the convenience store clerk that she flashes to get what she wants to the high school jock son of her flamboyant attorney/pageant coach to the bad boy son of the town minister.
Normal enough high school stuff, even without the extreme weight loss storyline.
But instead of pursuing that arc, the writers decide to take us on a shark jumping tour.
Here’s some of the shark storylines we viewers have to jump:
That adopted Chinese wanna be pageant queen? Yeah, her mom blames her daughter’s loss on their coach, claiming he was molesting her.
In a head scratching fit of irony, a few episodes later it’s revealed that the mother is actually having an ongoing sexual affair with the high school jock. Who – remember – is the son of her daughter’s pageant coach.
This story needed to take place in a bigger town.
As Patty’s pageant success grows, the frustrated adopted Chinese wanna be spirals more and more out of control in her jealousy. This seems to reach its peak when she attacks Patty in front of most of the town and in defending herself, Patty ends up unintentionally crippling the girl.
The town turns on Patty and blames her for the incident, calling it bullying. Which is insane enough, given the facts that A) the girl was one of Patty’s tormentors when she was Fatty Patty and was never held accountable as the bully she was; and, B) once again, Patty was only defending herself, which unfortunately resulted in an injury to the instigator.
Icing that cake is the fact that the girl was faking her paralysis at the encouragement of her mother. Patty tries to prove this in a horribly thought out plan and just makes things worse for herself. Even once her claim is validated, she can’t catch a break from the townsfolk. That right there is a – probably unintentional – mirror of the behaviors Trump supporters demonstrate daily: throwing your support behind a terrible human and never wavering in their loyalty.
Because the town can’t see that Patty’s situation is the result of her bullies’ ineptitude, things are required to get worse.
The next shark is exactly that…what could possibly be causing Patty to behave so hatefully?
Teenage pregnancy. Hormones are making her nuts.
Except…not pregnant. It’s just your maybe conjoined twin that you “absorbed” during pregnancy. Yup, she’s such a Fatty Patty that she ate her sibling in utero. This storyline progresses – or devolves into demon possession.
Luckily, the minister’s son – also the erstwhile father to Patty’s baby that isn’t – is there to guide her on a path to controlling the demon within her.
The last shark that I want to mention – but certainly not even the last in this school of sharks – is the adversarial relationship between the two lawyers/beauty pageant coaches. They loathe one another. The perfectly manicured fey attorney and the shirt off at every opportunity jock district attorney are constantly sabotaging one another and somehow unable to avoid each other on a daily basis.
But because that’s not a crazy enough scenario, while the district attorney seamlessly divorces his wife our fey lawyer can’t bear to live without his wife, even after Patty our the two lawyers.
The only solution?
Seriously, this is a small town that needs more people to carry these crazy storylines. And I haven’t even mentioned them all. In 12 episodes, these writers serve up a real dog’s breakfast of topical social issues. All of the above, obviously, but also addiction/AA, interracial marriage, app or “swipe” culture, lesbians, stalking, drag queens, drugs, kidnapping…why not top it all off with murder and then – y’know – cover it up.
All of these sharky threads weave into a story that is just chockablock full of my least favorite character trait in America today:
It’s better to look good than to be good.
I’ve been railing against that for almost two decades now, and it hasn’t gotten better. As a matter of fact, I’d say it’s gotten worse by magnitudes. When I first started getting grumpy, we didn’t have a swipe culture. Kardashians were just some celebrity lawyer’s estranged kids.
As time has gone on for me, I’ve accepted that our society seems to be on a non-stop trajectory toward selfishness and a “me culture” that makes the 80s look like a friggin’ nursery. In observing that, I’ve also had to accept that by vocalizing my discontent, I’m gonna be the Patty. Luckily for me, that manifests in accepting that I’m just a grump and I can make that into an enjoyable sur-reality.
Unfortunately for Patty, while she’s trying to find her way past all the blame her town has put on her and embrace that inside she’s a good person, she snaps. While her bad boy stalker boyfriend is trying to nudge her into the bad girl counterpart he wants her to be – dragging her down to his level – her conflicted and tormented self absolutely snaps and while crying “I’m a good person” over and over again, she beats him to death with a tire iron.
Let’s go back now tow what I told you to remember.
In the first episode, Patty is a smart kid. She’s smart enough to know what she doesn’t want, which is the inane pursuit of popularity and celebrity based on looks. She knows she doesn’t want to be that person.
Before that episode ends, she’s folded and uttered the fateful words, “I’d rather have revenge” that take her down an 11-episode arc to her undoing and de-evolution into a murderess.
As a viewer, I can accept that first episode arc. It sets up a season of redemption. How does Patty get through the new adversities associated with beauty, which she’d never had to manage before, to return to the smart girl she was at the beginning of the story who is now fortunate enough to have outsides that match her insides?
It’s totally do-able.
For whatever reason, though, that’s not what was done. We’re left to watch Patty go from being an Ugly Duckling on the outside with a beautiful heart to the polar opposite…a beauty queen that’s a psychopath on the inside.
Is that the takeaway we should settle for and accept? I’m doing so, aren’t we all just Patty?
Wouldn’t we watch a show where someone learns to navigate newfound celebrity with their original intelligence and integrity intact?
Apparently, this show’s producers – and Netflix – think that we wouldn’t. They even seem to go one step further, making popular, beautiful people into unaccountable victims of their own good fortune…because that’s a reflection of itself that society can embrace.
Which is why I walked away from Insatiable asking myself
I gotta get a job…