Dietland

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Dietland TV Poster Image
Dark, very surreal series skewers America's beauty complex.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

This show's ironic and surreal tone doesn't negate its big, powerful messages: that beauty shouldn't hurt, that self-acceptance can be revolutionary, and that women can't be told how to be if they refuse to listen.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Plum Kettle, who moves from being self-effacing and in pain to self-actualization and empowerment, has a rarely-seen-on-TV larger body type, and gets rare praise from others when she decides to accept herself just as she is. Women are represented in strong and central roles, with quirky, pro-woman characterizations like a gastric-bypass support group attendee who's infuriated by the suggestion that she shouldn't feel confident about her body.

Violence

Violence and gore is a little heavier than one might expect on a dramedy: we see a litany of unhappy "Dear Kitty" letter writers cutting their skin and vomiting with bulimia; bodies are dropped off a bridge onto a highway in body bags and run over; a woman tells a story of self-harm in which she tasted her own blood compulsively; a pregnant woman threatens to cut out her child with a kitchen knife; a dead body being autopsied has gory stitches and a scroll reading "Jennifer" stuffed into his mouth. 

Sex

Sexual content can be a little negative. Plum has a crush on a cute detective but when he gives her his card she says that men like him "screw girls like me" but marry thin women. In another scene, Plum hallucinates a tiger-man she has sex with; we see rhythmic movement and her impassioned response on her face. A woman's nude backside is visible from behind when she's at a doctor's office in a paper gown. 

Language

Cursing and language includes "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "screw," "dicks," and "crap." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Plum takes prescription antidepressants; she has some very unusual effects, including psychedelic-style hallucinations, when she stops using them. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dietland is a dark dramedy about an overweight advice column editor who's drawn into a plot to subvert the beauty and fashion industry. Violence is surprisingly intense, with images of self-harm (including a girl cutting her arm and a woman cutting her legs while shaving, bulimic vomiting), kidnapping, bodies being thrown off an overpass, scenes from an autopsy. Some violent images make an ironic point about the toll beauty standards take on women. Sexual content is often surreal, like a scene in which a woman who's stopped taking antidepressants hallucinates sex with a tiger-man hybrid. A woman's nude backside is visible. Cursing and language includes "s--t," "ass," "screw," "dicks," and crap." Main character Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) is a rare TV representation of a plus-sized woman, particularly one who is told (by some people, anyway) that she's beautiful -- and not despite her body. Messages about self-acceptance and being kind to oneself and others are clear, despite the show's odd and comic tone. 

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What's the story?

Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) isn't satisfied with her life. She has a boring job, answering advice letters for Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies), the narcissistic editor of teen fashion magazine Daisy Chain. And she's on a miserable diet, trying to lose enough weight to qualify for a gastric bypass. Then one day a weird goth-y stranger (Erin Darke) uses a lip pencil to scrawl one word across her arm: DIETLAND. Plum's search for what that means exactly leads her into some very strange places, and gains her reluctant entry into a secret feminist cabal working to take down America's beauty industry from the inside. 

Is it any good?

Deeply funny in a way that can only come from lived-in truth, this wild ride of a series delivers a defiant middle finger to the beauty standards that paralyze female power. Dietland viewers will recognize their own knuckling-under in Plum's endless endurance to the many indignities that are heaped upon her plus-sized body. In the show's pilot, the leader of a gastric bypass group cheerfully asks her "Are you planning skin removal? Save your pennies, because you're going to have a lot of loose skin. One girl said she looked like a flying squirrel." A doctor advises her to eat no more than 700 calories a day. The paper gown at the doctor's office isn't big enough to cover her body. Men whisper criticism of her body while they stand behind her in an elevator. 

But the gastric bypass Plum's planning on is only the latest way she's tried to change herself. "Green tea, fat blockers, Herbalife, hypnotism," she ticks off the diets she's tried. So when Verena Baptist (Robin Wiegert), the regretful daughter of a successful weight loss clinic's founder seeks to atone by helping make Plum into a "happy fatty," she's ambivalent to say the least. And on the news, there's a strange series of mysterious deaths of people connected with the beauty industry, just when Plum finds her way to cryptic fairy godmother Julia (Tamara Tunie), and a subversive group of self-improvement saboteurs. Plum's life is getting weird, fast. But it's better than starving. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about weight and body image. When we meet Plum, she's preparing for gastric bypass surgery. How does Dietland seem to regard this surgery? How is this viewpoint communicated? 

  • Both male and female characters mistreat women in this show. What examples of sexism can you name? How does the show want us to feel about its female characters and how they are treated? 

  • How do the characters on Dietland demonstrate courage and teamwork in opposing the beauty industry? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

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