TV Review: ‘Dietland’

When I first saw a trailer for “Dietland,” I couldn’t understand the “Devil Wears Prada” meets “Fight Club” divided by “9 to 5” story it was trying to sell. But after actually seeing a few episodes of “Dietland” … well, the same confusion holds true.

Marti Noxon’s adaptation of Sarai Walker’s novel is purposefully strange and gleefully defies categorization. At first, it looks like the show will be about Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) ghostwriting for an ice queen magazine editor (Julianna Margulies) while struggling to accept herself in a world that too often tells her she’s too big to fit in or find lasting happiness.

Then it pivots into an ominous case of corporate espionage as Plum is recruited by a secretly seething coworker (Tamara Tunie) to turn on the beauty industry that’s shut women like her out. That becomes further complicated when a seemingly benign guru (Robin Weigert), whose mother used to peddle a bogus diet, brings Plum into her fold, for vague purposes that will be revealed at some point, probably. All the while, the show indulges in surreal touches like Plum’s memories taking the form of bleak animated sequences and dreams morphing into elaborate fantasies.

But “Dietland” isn’t satisfied by simply deriding the beauty industry through Plum’s weight struggles and sporadic speeches about the “dissatisfaction industrial complex.” As Plum keeps narrating this pivotal part of her life from some undefined future with a voice so wry you can hear her constant eye rolls, the bigger overarching mystery belongs to a pitch black revenge fantasy. A feminist terrorist group that collectively goes by “Jennifer” is targeting and killing men who have done women wrong, keeping the city on edge. Every so often, Jennifer peppers the skies of “Dietland” with dead men falling onto the concrete below as dire warnings.

There is a version of “Dietland” that could probably bring all these threads together in a way that underlines its palpable rage. But the show’s tone shifts so wildly from scene to scene — and sometimes even several times within a single scene — that it becomes almost impossible to grasp exactly what it’s trying to do.

Some definite upsides to “Dietland” lie in the performances. Margulies, in her first series regular role since “The Good Wife,” seizes the opportunity to play a character as different as ruthless editor Kitty with an acid bite of disdain in every sharpened line.

But Kitty isn’t the star of “Dietland”; Plum is. She forms the apparent link between every disparate storyline. Nash’s Plum is biting and smart, but is always longing for acceptance from a perpetually fat-shaming world, not to mention acceptance from herself as she avoids staring too long at her reflection lest too much eye contact with herself becomes a glare. Her journey to find and love herself becomes entwined with other people’s ideas of how to use her for their own means, with women like Julia (Tunie) and Verena (Weigert) trying to seduce her with the radical idea that self-acceptance is well within reach.

There’s also the undeniable fact that “Dietland’s” unflinching anger in the face of sexist injustice is, to say the least, timely. Even when its deliberately heightened version of our world doesn’t quite land, its tapping into women’s anger as an omnipresent threat to the status quo rings truer than ever now, as more and more alleged predators are finally being taken to task for decades of abuse. “Dietland” imagines a world in which women, after centuries of buildup, take that powder keg and decide to blow the whole thing into the sky. Come to think of it, the Jennifer subplot feels ripped from a “Good Wife” or “Good Fight” episode. It’s similarly exaggerated, ripped from the headlines, and at least somewhat self-aware that it’s often downright ridiculous.

To call “Dietland” a product of the #MeToo reckoning, however, would mean ignoring one of the main points that “Dietland” hammers home with such blunt force. As the show points out again and again — with, it must be said, a heavily female creative team behind it — women have been withstanding truly extraordinary amounts of garbage treatment from all sides for about as long as society has existed. “Dietland” wasn’t borne of a single #MeToo incident, but a steady and suffocating avalanche of them over time.

But for every moment that strikes just close enough to reality to make a pointed mark, there are about five more that feel far more scattered to the winds. “Dietland” wants to be a satire and a drama and all that lies between depending on its mood, and that determination to be everything often has it feeling more like nothing. If “Dietland” wants to be truly scathing, it would do better to streamline its fury and focus at more specific targets.

TV Review: “Dietland”

Drama series (10 episodes, 2 watched for review): AMC, Sun. June 4, 9 p.m.

Credits: Executive producers: Marti Noxon, Jacqueline Hoyt, Maria Grasso, Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Marcy Ross.

Cast: Joy Nash, Julianna Margulies, Robin Weigert, Tamara Tunie, Erin Darke, Adam Rothenberg, Tramell Tillman, Rowena King, Will Seefried, Ricardo Davila.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Dietland'

More TV

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content