Listen folks, when I first saw the advertisements for AMC’s new show Dietland I balked.
Between the title and the marketing I decided I was going to stay as far away from it as I could. I didn’t want anything to do with it.
I was only convinced to try it out when we were offered two interviews with actresses from the show. They play side characters, which is a personal interest of mine. I think a large part of good story telling depends on how fleshed out the relationships to the protagonist are, not solely who the protagonist is.
Wincing through the first episode and barreling through the second I nearly gave up on doing the interviews. I hated it. I ranted to my editor about how I hated it. It was weird, it was bumpy, it dealt with some rough issues and most of the characters were so unlikable.
I had a hard time finding any redeeming qualities.
That is, until Leeta (Erin Darke, who we interviewed here) turned out to be so much more than the bully she seemed to be. Introduced to me as “the girl who writes Dietland on Plum’s arm” I was caught off-guard when it turned out she was an ally instead the bully I believed her to be.
Looking back, that was probably the turning point because I kept watching episode after episode as they rolled out.
It was not an immediate switch. I did not make a huge 180. I still didn’t like most of the characters, found the entity that was Jennifer to be absolutely terrifying, and generally thought it was a rather dour look on the life of someone dealing with being overweight.
As someone who has been overweight most of her life I found it very difficult to understand Plum’s approach, or why she felt so trapped by her body. I get it, but I also don’t, but maybe that’s the point.
See, I think I started to really understand Dietland more when I took a step back and looked at the bigger messages underlying every act. I’ve come to the conclusion that Dietland isn’t a show to watch for the entertainment factor, but the commentary factor.
In light of the “Me Too” movement, income debates, the pink tax, and the general unveiling of the poor treatment of women living in a system that seems stacked against them, Dietland suddenly makes more sense.
I think a part of me didn’t want to dig in too deep and that’s why I shied away. Despite the hyperbole and oftentimes unlikable characters, Dietland reflects very real issues that are faced today. An example of this came out when the “Pornhub Room” was revealed, which Sana (Ami Seth, interviewed here) played a part in contextualizing.
There is a darkness in the world that Dietland leans into and states as fact. It is seen in the way Stanley Austen treats Kitty when he perceives her to be stepping out of line. Plum’s stretch of blind dates demonstrates how often women are objectified – whatever their size – even by men with the best intentions.
All of these reflections of reality sting and threatened to drag me as a viewer down. But after digging a hole, the show also provides glimpses of what it looks like to climb out of it.
The entity known as Jennifer might be brutal, but it is full of woman who were brutalized trying to survive. Verena Baptist might have questionable motives, but the women of Calliope House continue to choose to grasp their own destiny instead of allowing it to be dictated by their abusers.
Even Dominic, the one man in the entire show who seems to be trying to do the right thing, demonstrates that there’s hope.
Is Dietland a show I would recommend to someone on the subway? Probably not. Would I encourage my mother to watch it? No.
It is a show with a lot of potential triggers which I think actually makes the writer’s point: this shit is real, folks. It is happening all around us, to us, but if there’s one thing Dietland hits home to viewers it is this: you don’t have to be defined by it.
We can take control of our own destinies and take steps to make hope a reality.
That’s what Plum Kettle is doing, and why I think I have grown from hating the show to appreciating it.