Net­flix’s ‘In­sa­tiable’ is a fat-sham­ing mess

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY LORRAINE ALI

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 premiered Fri­day, is packed with more muf­fin-top jokes, fat sham­ing and mean girl pranks than an eighth­grade slum­ber party.

The trailer alone caused an out­cry. It fea­tures 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 can- dy 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 oth­ers 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 out in a place where fic­tional char­ac­ters ex­plore all sides — 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 plus­sized char­ac­ter, “Di­et­land” cast the skilled Joy Nash as its pro­tag­o­nist. Nash por- trays 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 come in scenes with Bob Arm­strong (Dal­las Roberts of “The Good Wife”), an at­tor­ney who takes Patty on as a client. Her case: She got into an altercation with a home­less man who tried to take her snack from her. She came out 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 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.

Arm­strong has com­pe­ti­tion in Bob Barnard (Christo­pher Gorham, “Ugly Betty”), whose daugh­ter is a reign­ing queen. Their ri­valry of­fers some re­deemable mo­ments. but it’s not enough to re­deem this oth­er­wise sopho­moric show.

AN­NETTE BROWN / NET­FLIX

Dal­las Roberts and Debby Ryan in “In­sa­tiable.”

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