Yesterday, my editor mentioned that her teen relative brought up her love of Netflix's Insatiable during a family get-together this week. Another colleague noted her own teenage relative also recently mentioned her fandom for Netflix’s most polarizing young adult series since 13 Reasons Why. Yes, despite all the furor and controversy over the series’ body-shaming and depiction of plus-size life (among other concerns), teenage viewers stan. My resigned response was, “So, when is Netflix going to renew that show?”
Well, just about three hours later I got my answer: that exact day. On Wednesday night, the streaming giant announced via Twitter Insatiable would receive a season 2.
While TV Twitter may have been aghast over the renewal of the Debby Ryan-starrer, no one should have been surprised. When you really get into the nitty-gritty of Insatiable, a dark comedy about plus-size teen girl Patty Bladell (Ryan) losing 70 pounds and entering the thorny world of pageants, it becomes obvious this is exactly the kind of show that will endure on Netflix. Insatiable was always going to get a second season.
It is easy to assume everyone hates Insatiable. This is a series that inspired a Change.org petition that demanded it be blocked from ever appearing on Netflix before it even premiered. That petition is still up following the black comedy’s August release, and currently has over 235,000 signatures. People are still adding their names. Insatiable, with its many offensive, shaming antics, upsets a lot of people.
But not everyone hates Insatiable.
The most striking part of reading the Insatiable hashtag on Twitter following the series’ debut was the sheer number of people defending the series. They knew the fat suit was there, along with the comedy built around statutory rape and gay “jokes,” and still enjoyed the black comedy. Viewers enjoyed the 12-episode first season so much that it has an 83% audience score from nearly 3,000 users on Rotten Tomatoes. That means general viewers like the series, which has an 11% Tomatometer rating from critics, about eight times more than the reviewers (this one included) who dragged Insatiable up and down the internet block.
If this is what a mere 3,000 people think, imagine how many Netflix subscribers actually binged the series. Unfortunately we’ll never know, as the service is famously secretive about its viewership numbers, but apparently Insatiable’s metrics were too good to say no to a second helping. (Refinery29 has reached out to the streamer for comment.)
Although Netflix cares about its critical reception — the company wouldn’t be able to make 21st century history and dethrone HBO in Emmy nominations if it didn’t — it also cares about what viewers want. It’s the service’s job to give viewers what they want. Yes, even when the masses want an often-offensive black comedy about a teenager losing weight under dangerous methods and murdering multiple people after learning “skinny is magic.” It’s not good, but it is capitalism.
Netflix has proven multiple times it is willing to ignore what critics and social media detractors think when audiences at large are truly pleased with a product. For proof, just look at the fact that Bright, Will Smith’s bizarre, widely panned fantasy buddy cop movie, was given a sequel less than a month after its release. Bright has a 26% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes — and an 84% audience score. The difference between the Tomatometer and audience score for Netflix’s aforementioned most controversial teen series, 13 Reasons Why, is a nearly 20 percentage point gulf. The higher number is for the audience score, at 72%, to the Tomatometer's middling 54%. Unsurprisingly, 13 Reasons Why will return for its third season in 2019.
Reminding us Netflix isn't all that worried about criticism when it comes to its most-watched series, Reed Hastings, the company's chairman and CEO, basically shrugged when asked about renewing such a polarizing, suicide-obsessed series. “It is controversial. But nobody has to watch it. We’re an on-demand service,” Reed reportedly said during a June shareholders call. The exec then praised 13 Reasons for its “engaging content” and status as an “enormously popular and successful” drama.
Thankfully, the lessons of 13 Reasons Why may also suggest how Insatiable can improve on its most upsetting habits with a second season. Many criticized the Southern-fried pageant drama for its cavalier attitude towards sensitive topics like body image issues, weight-loss practices, and shaming. 13 Reasons Why was similarly condemned for how it handled suicide, depression, and sexual assault in its first 13 episodes. When the show returned for season 2, however, it started with an advisory video and information on how to get help for issues ranging from substance abuse and sexual violence recovery to suicidal thoughts. The drama also debuted 13ReasonsWhy.info, which featured resources for getting help, along with special Beyond the Reasons episodes, which grapple with 13 Reason’s more difficult themes.
While Netflix refused to turn down the legion of promised eyeballs that come with a new season of 13 Reasons Why, there was at least a thoughtful response to the many possibly triggering details in the latest batch of episodes. If the streaming service shows as much care with the now imminent return of Insatiable and its heroine Patty Bladdel, maybe people would stop signing that Change.org petition in droves.