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'Dietland': A Feminist Comedy That Hurts

Julianna Margulies is the bad boss in a bizarre 'Devil Wears Prada'-like satire of the fat-shaming industry

spinner image Julianna Margulies standing in a kitchen.
Julianna Margulies stars as Kitty Montgomery, a chic and ruthless magazine editor, in the new series “Dietland.”
Patrick Harbron/AMC

Where to watch: AMC

Air date: Monday, June 4, 9 p.m. ET

Dietland is the timeliest 10-part TV series you can imagine, and also about the weirdest, because it’s like several shows packed into one. First, it’s a comeback vehicle for Julianna Margulies, who turns 52 next Friday and in this role looks even more attractive than she did in the long-running CBS series The Good Wife. She plays Kitty Montgomery, the dim yet cunning editor of Daisy Chain, a young women’s beauty magazine that serves as the flagship of the “the dissatisfaction industrial complex.” Margulies, whose best roles are associated with having a big heart (and earning 10 Emmy nominations), turns out to be really good at being amusingly evil.

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Kitty would love to read, but who has the time when there’s so much blindingly colorful, figure-hugging high-end couture to shop for? So she hires the far smarter Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) to ghostwrite her column that answers the letters from hurting girls who write for advice on what to do about self-doubt, self-cutting, bulimia and other problems that Kitty couldn't care less about. Kitty is mean to Plum in a Devil Wears Prada way.

spinner image Joy Nash standing on a scale.
While battling her own personal demons, Plum Kettle (Joy Nash) ghostwrites a magazine advice column about weight loss and other issues.
Patrick Harbron/AMC

But wait, there’s more than just a bad-boss comedy. Plum , the central heroine of the show, weighs close to 300 pounds. And while she yearns to gastric-bypass her way into a perfect little red dress and fantasizes about her future svelte self (whom she has given the thin-sounding name “Alicia” — the name of Margulies' character in Good Wife), this slender self exists to make the point that Plum is just fine the way she is. The show’s creator, Marti Noxon, 53, made the 2017 Sundance Film Festival hit To the Bone about her own eating disorder, and Nash is a fan of Marilyn Wann’s book Fat! So? Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size. You’d expect a show about a fat female to be a Hollywood makeover fantasy where she gets that red dress, but Dietland is an attack on that whole idea, and on anti-woman acts ranging from catcalls on the street to Harvey Weinstein-like assaults.

It’s sometimes a violent attack. Kitty defends a photographer who abuses women and is accused of rape, but a group of women vigilantes kidnap him and force him to admit his crimes on video. On Dietland, when it’s raining men, the men tend to go splat on the sidewalk. This isn’t quite the feminism Plum had in mind. She’s more in tune with a less violent feminist-crusader character, Verena Baptist (Big Little Lies’ Robin Weigert, 48), who tries to talk her out of surgery. Verena exposed her own family’s successful weight-loss business, and now she’s a crusader using her ill-gotten fortune to atone for the company's anti-woman legacy.

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As feminist consciousness is peaking — even triumphing — all over our culture, it’s the ideal moment for a show like Dietland. If viewers can handle a satirical publishing-industry comedy that also is a murderous revenge fantasy, a screed against fat-shaming, and a show full of wild animated fantasy passages and extended hallucinations expressing the heroine’s deepest fears, it could be the Handmaid’s Tale-like success of the season — and proof that the #MeToo movement can spawn a hit.

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