Dark comedy ‘Dietland’ seems timely in #MeToo times
NEW YORK (AP) — If there’s any TV show this summer that seems to have both anticipated and fed off the #MeToo movement, it’s “Dietland.”
The AMC dark comedy that debuted this week features as one of its story lines a mysterious group of vigilante women who murder sexual predators and drop their bodies from rooftops and freeway overpasses.
Show creator Marti Noxon said the 10-episode first season was still being shot when sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile men began making headlines. Her team rewrote parts of the show to reflect the rising societal fury.
“Those of us who have been activists and mindful about what’s happening in the culture weren’t shocked,” Noxon said. “But the fact that it took on such momentum definitely was something that we needed to address in the show and we have.”
“Dietland” is a hard-to-categorize show, an often surreal stew that includes a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, elements of rom-com, quirky animated interludes, a takedown of the world of beauty, absurd exaggerations and deep humanity for its lead character, lonely writer Plum Kettle.
Kettle, played with soulful pathos by Joy Nash, is a 300-pound woman — “fat,” Plum tells us in the first episode, “I’m allowed to say it” — who answers letters to the editor at Daisy Chain, a glossy fashion magazine led by a self-involved editor played by Julianna Margulies.
Kettle is preparing for weight-loss surgery when she is recruited by a feminist collective dedicated to overturning the beauty-industrial complex. Meanwhile, another shadowy group has taken matters into its own hands for some bloody revenge. Passive at the beginning, Kettle grows more assertive.
“She thinks her life is going to start at this far-off date when she’s thin. So she’s kept herself from experiencing life at all, because what’s the point? She’s not thin yet,” said Nash.
“And I think that once she meets the people that she does and gives herself the freedom and license to find out who she is, she tries on a lot of different personalities and costumes. It takes her a minute to find out who exactly she is.”
The series is based on the novel by Sarai Walker. Noxon said she read it fearing it would end up like so much Chick Lit, with Kettle finding the man of her dreams and then learning to love herself. “That kept not happening. It’s such a devious book in that it just keeps pulling further and further into this story of revolution,” Noxon said.
If “Dietland” seems impressively timely, Noxon actually worried at one point that it might seem passe. By the time she wrote the pilot and mapped out five seasons, Donald Trump was running for president.
“Whether you like him or hate him, he is a fat-shamer and a looks-shamer and he was stomping around saying, ‘She’s a 3!’ and ‘I’ll grab them by the p—y.’ And so we all thought, ‘Boy, when he loses, will this still be relevant?'”
Noxon, who was a writer and producer on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” before later creating the spiky comedies “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” and “UnREAL,” said the fact that her new show melds messages with topical content brings her back to the beginning. “I’m taking a big page from my ‘Buffie’ playbook. I really feel like this is in a weird way a sister show to ‘Buffy’ 20 years later,” Noxon said.
“I hope more than anything that this show helps people who feel completely alone with their differences, who feel unseen, to feel seen. And then to feel motivated to be kinder to themselves.”
To prepare for creating “Dietland,” Noxon said she leaned on “Fight Club,” movies by Wes Anderson and David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” and “The Babadook.”
“It’s a big juicy soap opera. And there are twists and turns that I don’t think everybody will see coming. I just think that people can look forward to being entertained and definitely surprised,” said Noxon.