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AMC's 'Dietland' is a Different Treat with Many Flavors
June 3, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

AMC’s new series Dietland achieves the remarkable feat of not feeling like anything else currently on television. Like a diet itself, it feels valuable while sometimes seeming hard to quantify, shape and digest.

That makes it one part fascinating and one part elusive, which perhaps not by coincidence puts the viewer in the same situation as the lead character, Plum Kettle (Joy Nash).

Dietland launches Monday at 9 p.m. ET with back-to-back episodes, which in this case is a splendid idea, since the first episode finishes with a sort of early cliffhanger.

It also should be noted that while Julianna Margulies (with Nash, top) stars in Dietland, it’s not a Margulies vehicle. She’s terrific, in a role that lets her show off her comic timing. But despite just coming off the acclaimed Good Wife, she seems content here to share the spotlight.

In the wider picture, Dietland might be called satiric drama, dealing with serious, profound, long-standing women’s issues while weaving in contemporary pop-culture humor.

Plum works for a women’s magazine with the weird name Daisy Chain. It was launched years ago, Plum explains, to offer the tips, advice and information that would help women “become better wives.”

Now, under the editorship of Margulies’s Kitty Montgomery, it tackles more cutting-edge issues. It isn’t exactly feminist, but it does cater to, for instance, single women who just can’t find love.

That’s where Plum comes in. She ghostwrites an advice column, under Kitty’s name, responding to the letters from thousands of those troubled readers.

Kitty applauds Plum’s common sense and compassion, ignoring the acute irony that Plum herself is one of those women.

Plum is plus-size, to employ one of our many contemporary body-image euphemisms, and she lives a rather solitary life punctuated by sharp-edged phone calls from her successful mother (Debra Monk) and brief semi-confessions to her best friend Steven (Trammel Tillman).

An art history major in college, Plum dreamed of bigger things and has now convinced herself the best she can hope for is to succeed at small. She’s hoping that weight-loss surgery will give her a better shot at some of the things she now sees no way of getting.

Enter Leeta (Erin Darke), a strange young women who turns out to be an agent for Julia Smith (Tamara Tunie). Julia tells Plum that the owner of the multi-media conglomerate that publishes Daisy Chain, Stanley Austen (Campbell Brown), belongs to what Julia calls “the dissatisfaction-industrial complex.”

Their mission, she says, is to convince all of us and especially women that they don’t look good enough. This creates mass unhappiness that Austen and his co-conspirators promise they can fix if women just buy their products.

Except the dissatisfaction never lifts, because there’s always something that’s still wrong, or something else that’s wrong. It’s a perpetual motion machine.

Julia asks Plum to join the fight against all this, knowing that Plum makes her living as a cog in the machine.

It forces a challenging choice on Plum and, of course, raises the hard question of whether Julia is right.

If she is, Plum promptly responds, what could possibly be done about it? That’s where those thousands of unhappy women who write her letters come in, because almost every one has become convinced there’s something wrong with her.

Kitty plays a prominent role here, some of it smartly and some of it as a foil. When Plum says she’s gotten a lot of letters lately from young women who are cutting themselves, Kitty says that she nicked her shin while shaving her legs the other day and was fascinated by the “perfection” in the drop of blood that fell to the floor.

So yes, Kitty says breezily, she understands the fascination of cutting.

Okay.

Subplots pop up as well. Kitty has hired rough-edged Detective Dominic O’Shea (Adam Rothenberg) to investigate a hack into Daisy Chain’s computer system, and the detective seems to take an interest in Plum.

Plum assumes he’s just another “fetishist” who has no real interest in Plum the person.

Things in general get darker before they get lighter, which makes sense given the implications of the premise here. Dietland is a meal with a lot of flavors.

 
 
 
 
 
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