'Dietland' is a dark, rich satire of the beauty industry for the #TimesUp era

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Julianna Margulies as Kitty Montgomery and Joy Nash as Plum Kettle in Dietland. (Photo: Patrick Harbron/AMC)

In the new social satire Dietland, Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) lives with the daily feeling that the world judges her almost solely by her weight. We’re told she’s a talented writer, and we can see and hear that she’s intelligent and funny. But she’s stuck in her career — she’d like to be a novelist, but she pays the rent ghostwriting an advice column in a teen fashion magazine. She’s ghosting it for the magazine’s editor, Kitty Montgomery, played by Julianna Margulies with a waspish intensity. Dietland is based on the novel of the same name by Sarai Walker and adapted for TV by writer Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Unreal), who has thoroughly Noxon-ized it, which is to say, filled it with crisp, good-humored conversation.

Toward the end of the premiere episode, Dietland takes a turn that sends the show into a wilder direction. Plum becomes involved with a militant feminist underground group that deploys violent vigilante tactics for the perpetrators of crimes against women — and these definitely include anyone who has tried to make women like Plum feel bad about their size.

The extent to which you will become involved with Dietland depends less on whether you buy into the underground group — that stuff is really intriguing — and more on whether you’re engaged by Plum’s woes and melancholy life. It seems as though Noxon and the people involved in making Dietland recognized that something more needed to be done to dramatize Plum’s situation, since there are regular intrusions of animation — visions we’re supposed to think Plum is having — about an absurdly inflated, cartoon version of Plum in a dark world. There are subplots about Plum’s job in a Brooklyn coffee shop and a police detective investigating the militant group’s crimes that, two episodes in, don’t seem particularly promising. But Nash’s performance is awfully good, and Margulies manages to bring her own stamp to a role that seems inspired by Meryl Streep’s in The Devil Wears Prada.

Dietland airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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