etflix rom-com series Survival of the Thickest stars comedian Michelle Buteau as a plus-size stylist Mavis Beaumont, aged 38, who hopes to climb the shaky ladder of the fashion world under the shadow of her co-worker and boyfriend of five years, Jacque portrayed by Taylor Sele.
Within fifteen minutes of the first episode, Mavis catches Jacque with a skinny-model version of herself. Although she proudly embraces her self-described ‘drumstick-emoji physique,’ the pain of the betrayal deepens.
“If someone cheats on Halle Berry, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, how can that man cheat on Halle Berry?’” she bemoans. “But if someone cheats on someone like me, a thick girl with problem areas? They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I get it.’”
There is some truth to what she says, though. A plus-sized woman and anyone who doesn’t fall within the narrow definition of straight, white and skinny often find themselves overlooked, marginalised or otherwise not taken seriously in romantic narratives.
Mavis is now single and left with no choice but to start over. Despite a messy breakup, the 38-year-old provides a lighthearted and empathetic look at a woman’s struggle to reinvent herself.
She quickly realises that infidelity has disrupted everything in her life, not just her relationship. Leaving her upscale Manhattan apartment that she once shared with her ex, Mavis moves into a cramped Brooklyn apartment with a bizarre stranger, Jade essayed by Liza Treyger.
The story follows Mavis through the eight-episode season as she navigates the challenges of life after the breakup, awkwardly adjusting to her newly single life. With her ex gone, the aspiring stylist struggles to find clients since he was a well-connected photographer referring people to her.
Survivor of the Thickest falls into the same genre as shows such as Grace and Frankie which explore the notion that age doesn’t shield one from life’s storms. Infidelity, betrayal and the end of long-term relationships can shake anybody’s sense of stability and confidence.
Mavis shares a close bond with her two best friends, Khalil and Marley. Comedian Tone Bell essays the role of Khalil, a former player steering his first serious relationship. Tasha Smith plays Marley, a confident professional at work but more cautious as she explores her sexuality following a divorce.
Survival of the Thickest attempts to portray a woman’s quest for self-discovery, willingness to embrace change and pursuit of an unapologetic self. However, it fails to show that very same boldness. It lacks a spark of audacity — whether that’s a keener wit, a more daring blend of narratives, or a willingness to let its characters explore the untamed and the unconventional.
Instinctively, the three know when to offer comfort or straightforward advice. They are kind-hearted individuals with witty humour and relatable romantic challenges.
There is genuine camaraderie among them that could make the series centre on hanging out. It nearly adopts a hangout comedy approach. Spending time together, however, requires time, and Survival of the Thickest does not have much of it.
The series also sheds light on Mavis’s professional journey. After being stuck in a permanent assistant role for years, she finally starts pursuing independent styling assignments, focusing on styling women often disregarded by the fashion industry.
As a snobbish former supermodel struggling to accept her shift to a larger dress size, Garcelle Beauvais gives an enjoyable performance. Nicola Byer, another Netflix-familiar face, makes a guest appearance as one of Mavis’s clients.
Given that the narrative scarcely drifts into the realm of body positivity, a workplace sitcom could easily be built upon its underlying concept.
Survival of the Thickest sneaks in yet another theme: it occasionally revisits the familiar empowerment trend prevalent in much of today’s content aimed at female and queer audiences. It would have been interesting to have explored the fates of a plus-sized stylist and her clientele with a more contemporary and ambitious approach.
The series lacks a distinct identity due to its lack of clear direction, the uneven development of the main character and the recurrence of empowerment-feminism clichés in the scripts. The series is tenacious in trying to encompass multiple facets without really exploring any one of them in detail. It struggles to maintain a sense of coherence amid its many plotlines.
While Survival of the Thickest attempts to portray a woman’s quest for self-discovery, willingness to embrace change and pursuit of an unapologetic self, it fails to show that very same boldness. It lacks a spark of audacity — whether that’s a keener wit, a more daring blend of narratives, or a willingness to let its characters explore the untamed and the unconventional.
It is safe to say that the disjointed plot and poorly developed characters render it downright unimpressive and unworthy of most people’s time.
The author is a freelance contributor