Jennifer’s escalating vigilantism catches the attention of a downtrodden serial dieter named Plum Kettle (Joy Nash), who spends her days responding to reader letters on behalf of Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies), the editor of a beauty magazine called Daisy Chain. Kitty is a prototypical villain in the editrix mode, saddling Plum with the task of responding with apolitical truisms to letters from self-loathing teens who beg “Kitty” for her wisdom of all sorts (fitting in at school, cutting their breasts with razors). Dissatisfied with her career, and with a boss who wields thinness as a weapon, Plum is eventually drawn into the mysterious underground clique of women fighting back against anything from unrealistic beauty standards to sexual abuse.
Dietland, which premiered Monday on AMC, finds creator Marti Noxon at her most comfortable: spinning unconventional stories about complicated, rage-filled women. Though Noxon told my colleague Sophie Gilbert she first optioned Dietland two years ago, when harassment and abuse were just as commonplace but far less covered, the show feels almost impossibly of the moment. Based on Sarai Walker’s book of the same name, Dietland succeeds most when examining—and granting license to—the twin specters of female resentment and fury. The storylines about assault and retribution are satisfying, if also grisly, in an era when even sustained national conversations about predation have produced precious few cases of justice.
The antiheroines of Dietland are tired of waiting; they rise, rebel, and retaliate. Noxon’s frustration with depictions of gender violence feels alive in their hands, their knives carving through a narrative that could have easily sensationalized how women harm themselves in response to external traumas. Dietland offers a kind of grotesque visual therapy—it grants female viewers the rare permission to envision a world in which their pain is taken seriously, if not by authorities or society writ large, then at least by women powerful enough to draw blood.
The show’s most intriguing thematic decisions, unfortunately, are often undercut by muddy writing about the mundane indignities women endure. The dialogue can skew heavy-handed and didactic, the primary tenor somewhere between bored college professor and newly converted feminist vlogger. When the Jennifer recruiter Julia (Tamara Tunie) tries to convince Plum to hand over the email addresses of all the girls who have written letters to Kitty, the language she deploys sounds as though it were ripped straight from Tumblr manifestos circa 2011. She excoriates Austin Media, Daisy Chain’s parent company, her pro–natural beauty pep talk also functioning as capitalist critique:
Austin Media is part of the dissatisfaction industrial complex, a hugely profitable machine. They get us to pay them to tell us how broken we are, and then we pay for the products to fix it. But we’re never fixed, because there’s always some new way we don’t please the eye of our Big Brother beholder. I say, enough! Time to change the game!
It doesn’t help that Tunie’s uncanny accent alternates between notes of British aristocracy and Southern belle. Dietland may be satirical, but these moments feel unintentionally comical.