By Kristen Baldwin
May 14, 2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Credit: Patrick Harbron/AMC
  • TV Show
  • AMC

Dietland is about an overweight writer struggling to find self-acceptance and purpose while surrounded by conventionally beautiful women at the teen magazine where she works. No, wait — that’s not quite right. Dietland is about an overweight writer at a teen magazine who gets drawn into a mysterious female-empowerment community led by a charismatic guru. Well, actually, Dietland is about an overweight writer who somehow gets involved with a violent all-female vigilante group that targets sexual predators.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure what Dietland really wants to be. In the first three episodes, the new AMC drama — based on Sarai Walker’s 2015 bestseller and executive produced by Marti Noxon — is unable to blend the novel’s intersecting storylines into a cohesive whole, instead delivering a hodgepodge of interesting feminist musings and irritating surrealist whimsy.

Joy Nash stars as Plum Kettle, a plus-sized freelancer who ghostwrites an advice column for Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies, Julianna Margulies’ wig), the desperately vain editrix of the teen magazine Daisy Chain. Having struggled with diets all her life, Plum is saving up for weight-loss surgery when she meets Julia (Blue Bloods’ Tamara Tunie), the captivating manager of the magazine’s beauty closet, who nonetheless rails against the media’s “dissatisfaction industrial complex” and urges Plum to help her spread “truth” to Daisy Chain’s young female readers. Julia’s intern Leeta (Good Girls Revolt’s Erin Darke) introduces Plum to Verena Baptist (Big Little Lies’ Robin Weigart), a weight-loss-empire heiress turned founder of Calliope House, a group whose mission is to help women “fight inequality and misogyny.” She wants Plum to skip the surgery and join her on a journey to self-acceptance.

Meanwhile, a sinister group named “Jennifer” is murdering rapists and other assorted perverts across the country, tossing their dead bodies off bridges and out of planes for maximum national-news impact. Somehow, this reign of terror relates to Plum’s story — which she narrates in voiceover from the future — but the many strands of Dietland‘s narrative remain quite tangled by the end of episode three. This makes the show’s fanciful elements (animated interstitials, an extended hallucination involving a talking Bengal tiger) even more frustrating, as they seem to come at the expense of actual information that would deepen our understanding of, and interest in, these characters.

The disappointment of Dietland is particularly disheartening given the excellent cast, led by Nash, who is effectively understated in her portrayal of the affable but unhappy Plum. Margulies brings an entertaining, icy edge to Kitty without undermining her brittle vulnerability, while Tunie’s Julia pivots easily from magnanimous to intimidating and back again. And is there any actor more consistently flawless than Robin Weigert? It’s still unclear whether Verena Baptist is a force for good or evil in Dietland‘s universe, but Weigert’s innate warmth and silky, soothing delivery makes all of her scenes intensely watchable.

With Noxon (UnREAL, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Private Practice) at the helm, there’s good reason to hope that Dietland can right itself after this rocky start. The show’s perennially relevant subject matter — body image, rape culture, institutionalized sexism — is of course more timely than ever, and the individual storylines are compelling, if disjointed. Getting hooked on Dietland will take patience that viewers may not have. As it stands now, the drama is like a diet itself — easy to start, and even easier to abandon.

Dietland premieres June 4 on AMC.

Dietland (TV Show)

  • TV Show
  • In Season
  • Marti Noxon
  • AMC