Describing AMC’s Dietland is hard.
On its face, it’s the story of an overweight woman who is trying to lose enough pounds to qualify for lap band surgery. After 20 minutes of watching, it’s a darkly comedic satire of the culture that asks women to adhere to conventional beauty standards at the risk of damaging themselves.
After three episodes… it’s something entirely different.
Dietland is based on a book by Sarai Walker that was praised for its feminist ideals and wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing premise. The show takes these ideals and runs with them, using its exaggerated characters to shine an increasingly harsh light on rape culture and the millions of heaping slights that women are subjected to in a world that views them as objects first and people second.
In its double-episode premiere on June 6th, the show proved its ability to handle these truths alongside an overarching plot that is both mysterious and horrifying — the latter mostly because of the whole murder cult thing.
Oh yes: The weight loss story that drives Plum Kettle, the main character of Dietland, is a Trojan horse that eases audiences into the bizarre, creepy world of a militant feminist group that comes for men who have gotten away with sex crimes and deals with them in a series of increasingly violent attacks. The horror-movie style murder sequences interject in Plum’s everyday actions with jarring cuts that disorient the viewer on purpose, making each episode feel trippier and trippier as the show progresses.
Dietland forces viewers to examine the inhumanity of a culture that functions exactly as it was designed to.
This whiplash approach to entertainment is especially effective in the third episode, wherein Plum attempts to detox from antidepressants and winds up hallucinating an anthropomorphic tiger who encourages her to binge on pizza and… well… do some dirty things as well. The tiger-banging scene exemplifies Dietland’s unconventional approach to storytelling and is one of the funniest moments in the show so far, but the reality of Plum’s medical crisis overshadows the humor in a way that sets the viewer on edge, which is entirely the point.
Dietland is an uncomfortable watch that feels shaky but necessary in today’s media climate — it feels important but difficult, in the same way that discussing the societal indignities piled on plus-sized women is a hard conversation for a lot of people to have. Luckily, Dietland’s intentionally off-putting clash of flashbacks, animation, and casually cruel dialogue comes together in a “what on earth am I watching and why can’t I stop” kind of way.
AMC is known as a network that isn’t afraid to push shows that question the very nature of society and its traditions. Preacher and The Walking Dead are proof enough of that. But while those shows focus on the physically violent nature of man in worlds that are slowly falling apart, Dietland forces viewers to examine the sheer inhumanity of a culture that functions exactly as it was designed to.
Its focus on female rage is cathartic and timely in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and to miss its message is to miss some of the most silenced and yet salient points affecting women in the world today.
The first three episodes of Dietland are available to stream on the AMC app and the show airs on the AMC network at 9PM on Mondays.