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There appears to be a divide brewing between critics and audiences over Netflix’s Insatiable.
After the dark comedy bowed on the streaming service earlier this month, it earned a dire 10 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics referred to Insatiable, in which a fat-girl-turned-beauty queen (Debby Ryan) gets revenge on the classmates who tormented her, as “trite,” “way over the top,” “unfunny,” and “a bloated mess that’s labor-intensive to get through.”
Wait, actually, that was just one review. Lorraine Ali of the Los Angeles Times added that Insatiable “makes Norbit feel like a comedic masterpiece,” while Variety’s Sonia Saraiya said the show feels like it was written by robots, calling it the “exact sort of muddled glop that Netflix’s algorithm might come up with on its own.”
Other reviewers managed to be even more damning.
“It turns out the show is not as bad as you imagined,” wrote Jen Chaney at Vulture. “It’s actually worse. Like, worse in ways that you can’t even anticipate. Insatiable is impressive in its capacity offend a vast array of ideologies, including the notion that TV in 2018 should really be a hell of a lot smarter and more nuanced than this.”
Despite the critical drubbing, audiences appear to be loving Insatiable—which drew criticism before its debut for how it handles the protagonist’s weight loss storyline. A petition calling for the program’s removal accused it of “fat shaming.”
To date, 84 percent of Rotten Tomatoes users who reviewed Insatiable gave it a positive score — giving it an overall rating of 4.2 stars out of 5. For reference, that score is 11 percent higher than the slow-burn smash Sharp Objects and four points higher than fellow HBO drama Succession, which Vulture recently dubbed the “breakout show of the summer.”
In fact, Insatiable currently holds the title of “most popular” show on Rotten Tomatoes. It has been reviewed 1,700 times since its Aug. 10 premiere. That’s twice as many as Sharp Objects, which debuted a month earlier. The total is more reviews than GLOW—another Netflix original— has garnered in two seasons.
Such an overwhelming response might suggest that Insatiable is a word-of-mouth sensation, the kind of populist fare that the critical establishment hates but the “people” love.
In its write-up on the show, the British music magazine NME noted the “Batman v. Superman sized chasm between critics and real people with Netflix subscriptions.” While critics slammed the Zack Snyder-directed superhero flick with a woeful 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, fans were more forgiving. Sixty-three percent of users enjoyed the blockbuster hit, which made $870 million worldwide.
But surveying Insatiable’s reviews, there’s far more than meets the eye. A vast majority of Rotten Tomatoes users who say they liked the program appear to be either bots or fake profiles created to boost its audience rating.
INTO examined 100 of Insatiable’s most passionate raves — the five-star ratings boosting its stellar 4.2 score. To determine the likelihood that the rating came from a fake account, this publication placed reviewers into six categories: 1) No Previous Reviews, 2) One Review, 3) Two to Five Reviews, 4) More Than Five Reviews, 5) Profiles With Dead Links, and 6) No Profile.
By that measure, a near-unanimous 96 percent of all user reviews were suspect at best.
More than a third (or 36 percent) of users who “liked” Insatiable had never previously reviewed a single film or TV show on Rotten Tomatoes. Six percent of audience members had only sounded off once before, and most of those reviews were tallied in the past 24 hours. Sample titles include The Meg, Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, and The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time. All earned positive scores.
What’s more, 56 percent of audience reviews either linked to an apparently dead profile or weren’t listed under any public profile at all.
Let’s examine a sampling of those anonymous reviews, many of which call out Insatiable’s biggest critics. Posted on Tuesday, one review from such a user defends how the show handles its weightier topics — including body acceptance, sexual assault, and LGBTQ visibility.
Notably, one of the show’s leads comes out halfway through its first season. Like every other issue it tackles, Insatiable deals with the revelation extremely poorly. When disgraced lawyer Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts) ends up in a throuple with his estranged wife (Alyssa Milano) and new beau (Christopher Gorham), Armstrong denies the possibility he could swing both ways: “Bisexuals are like demons or aliens. They don’t exist.”
The incognito reviewer concluded Insatiable “highlights some of the ridiculousness of the current progressive culture.”
“This show is hilarious, it’s enjoyable,” he continued. “[…] It has a satiric play of a number of issues and I think plays well to the awkward, not socially correct reality of life. I really enjoyed it.”
“Sharp and deliciously incorrect,” claimed another unattributed Rotten Tomatoes review posted to the site the day before. “Definitely, not for the sensitive of heart, but for those who don’t know who they are and are willing to go completely nuts to find themselves.”
“Very enjoyable,” added a third viewer in this category. “The huge difference in score between critics and audience once again validates that critics always seem to be so far up their own asses that they can’t find a show good if it doesn’t echo the ‘politically correct’ opinions that have been set in stone, but are slowly crumbling. They don’t even care if the series itself is entertaining. It’s all about politics for them.”
Only a very small number of the highly positive audience scores came from individuals who frequently post reviews to the site. Just four percent of five-star ratings came from Rotten Tomatoes users who had authored two or more reviews. Only one person had written more than five.
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This isn’t the first time that the legitimacy of Rotten Tomatoes reviews has been called into question.
A marketing campaign for the biopic Gotti blasted film critics as “trolls behind the keyboard” back in June when the movie earned better reviews from audiences than viewers. Mashable reported at the time that the Kevin Connolly-directed film, starring John Travolta as the infamous crime boss, nabbed a 68 percent score from Rotten Tomatoes users (although that rating has plummeted to a 53 percent since).
In contrast, not a single professional film critic gave it positive marks. Reviewers called it “woefully incoherent” and an “unmitigated disaster.”
Reporters noted that—just as in the case of Insatiable—there was a reason for the discrepancy: Many of the positive audience reviews were from either private accounts or users who had never written a review before. When Mashable reached out to Rotten Tomatoes for comment, the aggregation website responded that “all of the ratings and reviews were left by real users.”
“This likely only implies that they weren’t posted by bots, not that they’re actually legitimate reviews,” noted journalist Kellen Beck.
INTO reached out to both Fandango (which owns Rotten Tomatoes) and Netflix for a response to this story but did not hear back before publication time. The article will be updated should either party respond.
Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.