Provocative, dark, and viciously feminine, AMCs Dietland—from show-runner Marti Noxon, late of UnReal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—is the kind of series that ought to be better than it is. The drama, which debuted Monday, follows “morbidly obese” writer Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) on a journey of self-discovery punctuated by female rage—her own, and that of others.
The audience meets Plum on the cusp of her decision to get gastric bypass surgery, before a series of bizarre events intervene. Some of those events are motivated by Plums own simmering frustrations with the narrative about her body shes been force-fed for so many years. The rest of the plot is driven by a shadowy cabal of feminist vigilantes who, among other things, target and assassinate rapists while dressed as crones. Connecting the two threads, somewhat mysteriously, are two corporate enterprises run by well-meaning women: Daisy Chain, a magazine for teen girls headed by self-appointed role model Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies), and the Baptist Plan, a fad diet popular during Plums youth that has since been shuttered by heiress and diet skeptic Verena Baptist (Robin Weigert).
While theres something seductive about its cartoonish tone—which Dietland borrows from the consequence-free hijinks of chick lit, and deploys to darker, weirder purpose—this tonal roller coaster also makes it difficult to keep up with what Dietland is trying to offer. At times, the show is simply a satire of commoditized, corporatized girl power, as embodied by the hysterically self-absorbed Kitty. At other times, its a fairy tale; Julia (Tamara Tunie), who first sees potential in Plum that Kitty, her employer, has ignored, is positioned as the “witch” who runs Daisy Chains famed and well-stocked beauty closet. And often the action is interrupted by literal animation, one of the devices used to illuminate Plums psyche. In her visions, Plum is haunted by the way she sees herself—a flat, sad lump with dead eyes and gray skin.
In a single scene, Dietland might swing from amusing to biting to devastating—and then take a tour through deeply rooted childhood tragedy before ending with a body slamming to the pavement, as its conspiring guerrilla warrioresses take out another rapist. By the time it reaches its third episode, Plum doesnt really know whats happening to her, and neither do we; at one point, while in sudden withdrawal from an antidepressant, she hallucinates a man-tiger who jumps out of the TV, encourages her to order mountains of takeout, and then has (consensual) sex with her.
But Dietlands biggest problem isnt its tonal shifts; its the shows structure, which is surprisingly haphazard for a drama so thematically complicated. In an effort to appropriate several different types of story, Dietland never quite commits to a single mode—and though theres something subversively fascinating about how closely Plums introduction mirrors that of a standard romantic comedy, Dietland also falls into the trap of making everything interesting in her life happen all at once, over the span of just a few days. Suddenly shes being approached by mysterious men and twig-like women, all of whom seem to want something from her in particular. It gives the show the feel of a slapdash mood board, one that relies too heavily on Plums portentous voice-over to provide a narrative spine.
To some degree, this approach is understandable. The particulars of Plums story are wrenching, and some of its most unsettling tonal moments occur when Dietland really settles into the tragedies and humiliations that have comprised her life. But the discomfort of staying with her experience would have been worth trading away Dietlands flip comedy about beauty products and fad diets, material thats been covered by self-loathing chick lit for time immemorial. If the show could find a way to let the audience live with her wretched but illuminating psyche, it might be able to course-correct. Until then, Dietland will merely be about Plum—but not always with her.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:A Revealing Look at What Stars Eat in a Day
In the late 90s, the Chanel and Fendi designer lost approximately 90 pounds, which he has kept off by subsisting on minimal food and up to 10 Diet Cokes per day. He and his physician, Dr. Jean-Claude Houdret, collaborated on a 2005 book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.
Kim Kardashian West
When speaking to People in June 2016, Kardashian West credited the Atkins 40 diet with helping her slim down in the months since delivering her second child.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
The actor has maintained disciplined eating habits since his pro-wrestling tenure. Johnson told Muscle & Fitness that each day he eats about 10 pounds of food over the course of seven meals, with cod as his primary source of protein.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.
The Oscar winners second book, Its All Good, collects recipes engineered for those with dairy, meat, and gluten sensitivities.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.
Dont assume that the Queen of Camelot had an all-American palate: Kennedys sole daily meal reportedly consisted of a baked potato stuffed with Beluga caviar and sour cream.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen
According to a Boston.com interview with Allen Campbell, personal chef to the four-time Super Bowl winner and the supermodel, the couple follows the 80/20 Rule to stay in shape.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen
Brady and Bündchen avoid the seemingly not-so-bad foods pictured here, which include nightshades and tomatoes.Photo: Photograph by Justin Bishop.PreviousNext
Sonia SaraiyaSonia Saraiya is Vanity Fair's television critic. Previously she was at Variety, Salon, and The A.V. Club. She lives in New York.