Out­rage made In­sa­tiable seem in­ter­est­ing. (It wasn’t.)

Waterloo Region Record - - Arts & Life - HANK STUEVER

Had things gone nor­mally, I wouldn’t have given Net­flix’s “In­sa­tiable” — a ghastly dram­edy about a ma­nip­u­la­tive Ge­or­gia teenager who gets swept into the melo­dra­matic vor­tex of the lo­cal beauty-pageant scene — the kind of thought it takes to write a full re­view. My motto in the peak TV glut re­mains as fol­lows: Some­times no re­view is the re­view. A few min­utes into the first episode, it’s clear that “In­sa­tiable” isn’t worth any­body’s time or words.

Yet here we are, hav­ing to say some­thing, mostly be­cause 100,000-plus peo­ple were moved, af­ter see­ing a trailer for the se­ries ear­lier this sum­mer, to sign one of those ut­terly use­less on­line pe­ti­tions and cry out from the bot­tom­less pit of Twit­ter, de­mand­ing (de­mand­ing!) that Net­flix pre­empt “In­sa­tiable” and never stream it.

The show’s al­leged crime? Egre­gious fat-sham­ing, vis-a-vis its main char­ac­ter, Patty (Debby Ryan), a so­cially os­tra­cized, over­weight high school stu­dent (for this brief pre­am­ble, Ryan wears the kind of pros­thetic en­hance­ments that used to get Courteney Cox so many laughs in the “fat Mon­ica” flash­backs on “Friends” all those un­woke years ago).

Patty soon un­der­goes an im­plau­si­ble trans­for­ma­tion, af­ter she’s in­jured in a fist fight with a home­less man in front of a con­ve­nience store. While her jaw is wired shut for a few months, the pounds melt away.

At her trial for as­sault, Patty’s at­tor­ney, Bob Arm­strong (Dal­las Roberts), is smit­ten with his client’s new­found va-vavoom. Bob, you see, is a pageant coach — mar­ried to a South­ern belle (Alyssa Mi­lano), yet flouncy and flam­boy­ant in his ev­ery step and swish. (If there was any pre-out­rage about that stereo­type, I must have missed it.)

Bob’s sworn enemy, in both the court­room and the pageant scene, is the sim­i­larly ef­fem­i­nate lo­cal prose­cu­tor, also named Bob (Christo­pher Gorham), who grooms his daugh­ter to win all the lo­cal pageants.

The episodes, which are all at least 20 min­utes too long, are pro­pelled by the an­i­mos­ity that ex­ists among its many char­ac­ters, each of whom are sort of rot­ten to the core, in­clud­ing an­other con­niv­ing con­tes­tant coach named Stella (Bev­erly D’An­gelo, who can com­mis­er­ate with Mi­lano over this ill-fated gig). Stella soon schemes to steal Patty away from Bob Arm­strong.

The show spe­cial­izes in the eas­i­est forms of scripted cru­elty and snark. The fat-sham­ing, such that it even ex­ists, is brief and nowhere nearly as harm­ful as the mid­dling id­iocy of the en­tire ef­fort. That’s my re­view and also a scold­ing: If you’re watch­ing this, you re­ally need bet­ter things to do.

Hold on, I’m not done. “In­sa­tiable” was first or­dered by the CW broad­cast net­work, which wisely passed on air­ing it, at which point Net­flix snatched it up. By de­sign, Net­flix has lit­tle in­ter­est in devel­op­ing any­thing like a house style or sense of smell for the many half-okay se­ries it throws our way ev­ery month. In­stead, any­thing and ev­ery­thing goes.

Even with the scant data the com­pany makes avail­able for pub­lic scru­tiny, it’s not hard to tell that Net­flix is slowly skew­ing to­ward a teen- and young-adult mar­ket, be­cause who else is will­ing to binge­watch as much medi­ocrity as a shut-in, wired-up teenager? This is prob­a­bly what vexed “In­sa­tiable’s” pre-de­trac­tors, who saw in the trailer a blunt and harm­fully in­ac­cu­rate mes­sage that over­weight kids don’t amount to any­thing un­til they be­come thin.

Fat lotta good the protest did — the show pre­mièred Fri­day and all 13 episodes are now avail­able. The show’s cre­ator, Lau­ren Gus­sis, asked view­ers to hold off their out­rage un­til they’d at least seen it; she also shared her own tales of teenage self­im­age is­sues. And it’s true, that if you tilt the an­gle slightly, “In­sa­tiable” can come across as a wry take on pageant cul­ture and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing non­sense — in­clud­ing its warped beauty stan­dards. I’m glad that Net­flix, which is so big it can play deaf with most of its crit­ics, never flinched and let the se­ries stream as sched­uled.

A num­ber of salient points get lost in an on­line miniriot that calls for cen­sor­ship. One is that tele­vi­sion is still tele­vi­sion, even and es­pe­cially at a time when there are hun­dreds of other shows to choose from (in­clud­ing AMC’s “Di­et­land,” which takes on body and weight is­sues in a far more in­ter­est­ing way). Also, last I checked, most de­vices still come with a func­tion that re­sem­bles an off but­ton.

Peo­ple have been not-watch­ing some shows, on prin­ci­ple, for as long as the medium has been around. It’s time for the eas­ily of­fended to learn that skill as well. No com­ment is the com­ment.

What could be worse for a show than to be ig­nored?


Debby Ryan in "In­sa­tiable," which is now stream­ing on Net­flix.

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