Brace yourselves, stalwarts of the beauty industry: Amazon’s Dietland is coming for you.
Taking inspiration from David Fincher’s anti-establishment masterpiece Fight Club, the series – based on Sarai Walker’s debut novel of the same name – follows a feminist cell organisation plotting to take down glossy women’s magazines, the ad industry and commodified weight-loss schemes.
Blood is spilled early on, amidst large splashes of sharp satire – and it feels as though things could head in the direction of Project Mayhem before long in this refreshingly odd show.
The first episode, written and directed by creator and ex-Buffy the Vampire Slayer scribe Marti Noxon, plunges us deep into a well of body confidence anxiety. Aspiring women’s magazine writer Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) is preparing for risky weight loss surgery. Plum isn’t her real name, but she’s earned her nickname because she’s “succulent… and round” in her words, or “morbidly obese” in the words of a rather indelicate medical professional.
Plum is in a rut. Her career hasn’t panned out as she had hoped: her primary form of income is ghostwriting an advice column for teen fashion magazine Daisy Chain on behalf of the editor, Kitty Montgomery (The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies), who blithely praises Plum for making her look “well-read”.
Plum’s weight-related anxiety is all-consuming. It has prevented her from pursuing her dream of becoming a baker, because she doesn’t trust herself around tasty treats. When a charming detective flirts with her, she fears he is a fetishist. When she instinctively tastes the icing on a cake she is baking, she freaks out and spits it into the bin.
Crucially however, the series finds Plum at a cross-roads in her weight loss journey. She’s starving herself ahead of her surgery, yet becoming increasingly disillusioned with her own desire to change her body to fit mainstream ideals. So, when she gets tapped up by a extremist feminist organisation who have her employers at Daisy Chain in their crosshairs, she is at least willing to hear them out – though she is unaware of how far they’re willing to go.
Nash expertly conveys Plum’s deep-rooted sadness and self-loathing, immediately endearing her to the audience. Julianna Margulies is gloriously icy, a nightmarish Roald Dahl version of Anna Wintour, and while she doesn’t get enough screen time, that is likely the point. She’s not the star here, here, and it’s a credit to the script that she’s chosen this as her first TV role since The Good Wife.
The pain behind the satire lingers in plain sight. Unlike Noxon’s recent Netflix film, To The Bone, which focused on one girl’s inner battle with anorexia, Dietland turns outward. Plum’s pain is compounded by many other voices, including several young women in a striking opening montage featuring a barrage of anxiety-ridden letters from teenage girls flooding her inbox. It’s particularly distressing as neither Plum nor her boss are in any position to help them.
And, while the violent revolution proposed by the organisation doesn’t inspire much confidence, it is exciting to imagine how a liberated Plum could genuinely incite change, at the very least by adding insight to the advice she doles out for a living.
While Dietland is hardly the first mainstream TV series to feature a plus-size woman in a main role, its unflinching desire to open up a dialogue about beauty and self-acceptance feels groundbreaking. If fictional blood needs to be spilled to kick-start a dialogue about body positivity, then Noxon and co will duly oblige.
Dietland episodes 1 & 2 are available now on Amazon Prime Video