Censorship in the arts is something that very much exists. The great American novelist Toni Morrison has had some of her works banned or hotly contested by school systems because of their unflinching looks at sexual and racial violence, and we’re probably all familiar with the furor caused by Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. You’ll even find this in some of the most liberal spaces, including Hollywood, where earlier this year ABC shelved an episode of Kenya Barris’ Black-ish because it addressed protests by professional athletes to raise awareness of police and state brutality against black people.
This is what censorship looks like, along with things like the NFL’s ban on protests during the national anthem (the president regularly railing against private citizens isn’t quite in the same realm, but it’s damn worrisome). What does not qualify as censorship nor even approach that territory is having your TV show—which is currently being pushed out on a global platform—criticized for its fat-shaming, homophobic storylines and tasteless jokes about statutory rape and, oh yes, false accusations of sexual assault. And yet, that’s what Insatiable creator and former Dexter writer-producer Lauren Gussis tries to argue in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
In it, Gussis responds (again) to the petition that called for the show’s cancellation right after the first trailer dropped, claiming it would “cause eating disorders, and perpetuate the further objectification of women’s bodies.” Insatiable, which is informed by Gussis’ own experiences with bullying and disordered eating, is supposed to be a pitch-black comedy that sends up our beauty-obsessed culture, we think. But it lacks the focus of a satire, let alone the humor. But we know this now after having watched all 12 episodes of the show, which is what every other critic did before sharing their own opinions on the show’s inconsistent characterization and kitchen-sink approach to offensive jokes. Some questioned whether the show should have ever made it streaming, but all reserved judgment until actually watching the damn thing. In the end, the substance that Gussis claimed was underneath all the fat-phobia and queer stereotypes was nonexistent. But there was some bi-erasure thrown in for good measure.
We get that, given how personal this subject obviously is for Gussis, it must be hard to see all the negative reviews. She tells THR she understands that depicting sudden and extreme weight loss—which Insatiable portrays as the result of Patty (Debby Ryan) fighting a man for a chocolate bar, mind you—is a “hot button issue.” Gussis acknowledges that the “unattractive person finds popularity and happiness after a makeover” story has been done to death. But when THR’s Jean Bentley notes that the impact of the fat-shaming language in the show is the opposite of its intent, Gussis argues:
That’s the reality of what still happens. There’s a lot of people in this country who are evolved. But I know that my experience was that there are still people in the world who think that stuff is OK. To portray those people who actually exist in the world, is real. I think we’re in a real danger of censorship if we decide that we all have to tell stories in a certain way so that everybody else feels safe.
In my own experience, growth comes from discomfort and pain. It’s present in nature. Like a snake shedding its skin, it’s literally tearing itself from its old self, to emerge in a different way. That is not comfortable. If hearing these things are uncomfortable, I get it. They’re sensitive. The wound is deep, but I don’t think the solution is silencing myself or somebody else. I think the solution is saying the thing, so that we can talk about it. Is representing the truth, as opposed to some other idealized version of the truth that isn’t really true, which actually pushes us even further away from having an honest conversation and coming to a deeper understanding of each other.
Gussis isn’t wrong about the ongoing existence of sizeism, but the problem is, as The A.V. Club and other outlets have noted, Insatiable doesn’t actually tackle it. The only expression used more frequently than “Fatty Patty” is “skinny is magic,” which is the unofficial motto of the show. Not only does Patty lose those 70 pounds in all the right places, her liquid diet imbues her with abs and toned legs and arms. Though this is ostensibly done to kick off the revenge plot—which gets lost in the shuffle of every other person in town doing bad things—it really just supports the misguided (to say the least) notion that there’s a skinny person trapped inside of every fat person. Ultimately, Insatiable isn’t a takedown or even a transformation story, not when the lead character becomes thin off camera then spends the season mingling with her former tormentors instead of avenging herself, which is supposed to be the whole point of the show. But sure, go ahead and suggest that not getting rave reviews is tantamount to not making it to air/stream.