Even before Insatiable debuted its first season, the campy comedy series was slammed in a major way. When Netflix released its first trailer, which showed protagonist Patty (Debby Ryan wearing a fat suit) getting revenge on her bullies after losing a lot of weight, people accused the show of fat-shaming and called for Netflix to cancel it. And once Insatiable premiered, reviewers were equally unreceptive to the show's central premise. All of this came as a shock to star Erinn Westbrook, who plays Magnolia Barnard in the series. Erinn Westbrook's response to the Insatiable backlash details what went on behind the scenes during that controversy storm, and how the cast and crew moved forward with the newly released second season.
The backlash came as a total surprise for Westbrook, whose pageant-queen character Magnolia is Patty's rival on the show. Considering she and the rest of the people working on the show were on the inside looking out, Westbrook says it was difficult for the cast and crew to face the criticism that came ahead of Insatiable's Season 1 premiere.
"I can safely say that it was frustrating for all of us — the people involved in the show — because knowing what we knew about the show in its entirety, we couldn’t really fully defend it yet, because we would spoil so much of the storyline. So we had to just wait it out and wait for the premiere." She admitted that the controversy took her by surprise primarily because she knew the full story and creator Lauren Gussis' intentions in telling it. "I was actually quite surprised by that initial backlash because I had lived in the show for so long that it was like, I knew what it was all about from start to finish," she says. "I knew the point that our showrunner Lauren Gussis was trying to make; I knew that this was a personal choice for her."
Although Westbrook says most of the controversy quickly died down once the show actually premiered and viewers saw more of the story unfold, there were still many negative reactions to Season 1 as a whole. In fact, many people were shocked when Netflix picked up a second season of Insatiable in the wake of the immense amount of negative attention the first season received. Online petitions had called for the show's cancellation, and various reviews of Season 1 called it out for body-shaming. "Never does this show dare to imagine that maybe it was everyone else who had the problem when Patty was fat, not Patty herself," author Roxane Gay wrote in a Refinery29 essay. BuzzFeed's Jenna Guillaume said of the first season, "The message is that thin people’s stories are worth telling, while fat people are relegated to nightmarish flashbacks and cheap jokes."
In hindsight, Westbrook says she is actually grateful for the controversy the Season 1 trailer caused, remarking that it was important for this conversation about fat-shaming and representation to happen: "It was sad that we had that backlash, but I think, again, it was an important conversation that needed to happen."
Westbrook says that while the backlash led the writers to be more cognizant of potential controversial storylines going forward, they did not back down from tackling hot-button topics in Season 2, which was released on Netflix on Oct. 11. "I definitely think that the writers are probably more sensitive to certain things that might set people off," she says. "I think there is a sensitivity around these storylines, but I think our creator and the people who are creating these arcs are not shying away from the tough issues."
Season 2 is packed with complex storylines about eating disorders, sexuality, and so many murders that it's hard to keep track. But for Magnolia (and Westbrook), the standout episode comes in the exact middle, in Episode 5. Spoiler alert: The following section discusses plot points in Insatiable Season 2 Episode 5.
In the episode, called "Finding Magnolia," Magnolia spends the day at the fictional HBCU Hughes University trying to piece together what happened to her during her period of memory loss. The episode ends with Magnolia breaking down in an emotional monologue about what it means to be biracial, and why she feels like she does not belong in any community. That speech was hugely personal for Westbrook, who revealed she sat in the writers' room for the episode and contributed stories from her personal life that were used in Magnolia's monologue.
"I was so emotional during that monologue; that take that they used doesn’t even show you the breadth of emotion that I had while I was filming that," Westbrook admitted. "It was very easy for me to feel that moment because I lived that moment. I lived everything that Magnolia’s talking about, so apart from the fun that comes from being the center of your own episode, it was also extremely rewarding and fulfilling to me to be able to tell the story that was so personal and that I knew so many people would relate to."
Netflix has not yet picked up a third season of Insatiable, but Westbrook already has some ideas for the show's future. Particularly, she's interested in seeing how Magnolia's bond with Patty changes after that big revelation about Christian, and she's also rooting for Magnolia and Brick to grow closer, since the reunited couple seemed to develop something very genuine at the end of Season 2. And Glee fans should get excited, because Westbrook (who starred in the fifth season of the Fox musical series) says she really wants to see Magnolia belting out a song in the potential third season.
But above all, Westbrook really just wants to see Magnolia break out of her sheltered life and experience more of the world. Fans have already seen Magnolia improve so much from Season 1 to Season 2, and some might say her uplifting story arc reflects how Insatiable as a series could grow from the controversy that has surrounded it from the beginning.