‘Dietland’ serves up revenge fantasies with feminist flair

Monday, June 11, 2018 - 8:46pm

Dietland

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AMC

The world envisioned by Marti Noxon’s new AMC series “Dietland” feels both frighteningly real and achingly distant. It’s a world filled with the usual indignities women are subject to — street harassment, body image issues, ageism. But it’s also a world that considers a radical new possibility: What if women stopped putting up with this shit? What would happen if they fought back?

We’re introduced to this world by Plum Kettle (Joy Nash, “Twin Peaks: The Return”), a plus-sized writer living in New York City where she ghostwrites an advice column for Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife”) — the “skinny wax Dracula” who edits Austen Media’s teen style magazine Daisy Chain.

Kitty is polished, ruthless, unapologetic. Plum is not. A lifetime of being overweight has left her insecure and self-loathing. In a montage in the first episode, she recalls the myriad of unsuccessful fad diets and superfoods she’s subjected herself to.

Her hope now is an expensive lap band surgery, after which she dreams of a skinny, glamorous life as “Alicia,” her biological name and post-weight loss alter ego. Until then, an on-screen illustration shows she’s confined to life in a Penrose triangle of sorts: home, café, “Waist Watchers” meetings, and repeat.

Then one day, Plum receives a suspicious invitation to the basement of the Austen Media building. She’s been sent for by Julia (Tamara Tunie, “Law and Order: SVU”), the manager of the beauty closet, who asks Plum to join her underground crusade against the “dissatisfaction-industrial complex” which magazines like Daisy Chain perpetuate.

“They get us to pay them to tell us how broken we are, and then we pay for the products to fix it,” Julia says. “But we’re never fixed.”

In the backdrop of this mini-resistance lies a guerrilla group called Jennifer: A radical women’s guerilla group that kills rapists and abusers before dropping them onto city sidewalks from airplanes. So clearly, there’s a lot going on.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the frenzy of “Dietland” is part of its charm. But it can be overwhelming, even off-putting, when a show tries to do so much and say so much while already throwing the rules of conventional storytelling out the window.

Fun, disorientingly illustrated sequences and surreal flashbacks are sprinkled throughout. The plot too is somewhat of a Trojan horse, the story of a gruesome vigilante group wrapped to look like some mild lesson on body acceptance and self-love.

It’s exactly the sort of strange, genre-bending, category-defying work you might expect from showrunner Marti Noxon, whose “UnREAL” and “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” manage to transform from mindless fluff to dark humor to female rage without missing a beat.

Beneath all the noise, the show is lovingly and tenderly acted by Joy Nash, whose Plum might feel flat or dull were it not for the actress’s earnestness and nuance. As Kitty, Julianna Margulies is a comedic treat (and wears a wig far campier than her Alicia Florrick wig).

It’s glaringly obvious from their performances that — though the dream sequences and cartoons are fun — the show could stand to let its stars shine a bit more. For a show about empowerment and self-acceptance, “Dietland” doesn’t seem very confident in itself.