"Insatiable" is an unexpected little gem, a series so floridly over the top as to feel like a send-up of 1980s soap operas on 21st-century steroids. Everyone, seemingly, is hot for someone they can't have or who's utterly oblivious to their interest, in a Netflix series that throws together teen beauty pageants, raging hormones and closeted desires in one surprisingly binge-worthy stew.
The premise almost defies description, embarking on this wildly cheeky ride from the heavily narrated perspective of two characters: Bob Armstrong ("The Good Wife's" Dallas Roberts), an attorney with a hard-to-explain fascination with coaching pageant contestants; and Patty (Debby Ryan, grown up since her Disney Channel days), a once overweight teenager who, after an encounter that leaves her with her jaw wired shut, sheds pounds and suddenly discovers that life is different on the other side of high-school hotness.
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"Pretty girls don't have to settle," Bob tells Patty, lusting after her not in a sexual way, but rather as raw material with the potential to be molded into a pageant queen -- a "diamond in the rough," as he puts it, who he wants to guide through something called the Miss Magic Jesus competition.
Patty, however, is drawn to Bob -- or perhaps flattered by the attention -- while completely unaware that her best friend Nonnie (Kimmy Shields) is secretly pining for her. Bob, meanwhile, has a huge chip on his shoulder regarding another lawyer, also named Bob (Christopher Gorham), resenting everything from his chiseled abs to his picture-perfect family, which includes, yes, a daughter (Erinn Westbrook) who's already a veteran of the pageant circuit.
Created by Lauren Gussis (whose credits include the darkly comic "Dexter"), "Insatiable" pushes the envelope on several fronts, beginning with its portrayal of heavily sexualized teens, some of whom wind up dallying with willing adults. For the most part, though, the show sets up provocative situations, dances up to the edge of icky and then cleverly steps back, while continuing to advance the plot with one twist after another over the course of its first season.
The sexual shenanigans unfold against a backdrop of Southern morality and bible-thumping, offering a not-so-subtle commentary about rampant hypocrisy among those who occupy the pews. Think "Chrisley Knows Best" meets "Real Housewives," only with better writing.
Perhaps foremost, "Insatiable" feels like one of those shows that validates Netflix's let's-throw-a-lot-of-stuff-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks strategy. While that produces its share of misfires, in this case it yields a show without a particularly high concept or big-name stars (Alyssa Milano plays a supporting role as Bob's wife, who, not surprisingly, has her own secret crush) that delivers simply by virtue of its execution.
"Insatiable" won't be for everybody, but thanks to Netflix's business model, it doesn't have to be. For those with a taste for its salty pleasures, the first gulp of this juicy, Southern-fried dramedy should be enough to leave them craving more.
"Insatiable" premieres Aug. 10 on Netflix.
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