Survival of the Thickest

Survival of the Thickest
Survival of the Thickest
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Survival of the Thickest is a romantic comedy series that stars comedian Michelle Buteau and serves as a great introduction to her talent, which has been underutilized until now. After years of supporting roles, she finally gets to be the star, bringing us along on a funny and relatable journey about finding oneself after a bad breakup. Mavis Beaumont (Buteau), 38-year-old struggling plus-size stylist, wants to make it in fashion with her five-year boyfriend and coworker Jacque (Taylor Sele).

But everything falls apart when Mavis walks in on Jacque with another woman – “the skinny model version” of Mavis whose boobs she just double taped for a photoshoot. Over the course of eight episodes, we see a heartbroken and furious Mavis deal with life after love.

She leaves their chic flat for “a Brooklyn armpit.” “These floors look like the stage of Hamilton,” quips Marley (hilarious Tasha Smith), Mavis’ high-powered friend. She’s got to rebuild her career roster, untangling her successes from Jacque’s influence. But through this forced independence Mavis also rediscovers herself, staying true to her tribe while learning from a rotating cast of eccentric romantic interests and styling clients.

Loosely based on Buteau’s essay collection of the same name, Survival of the Thickest shines as a raunchy offbeat exploration into post-uncoupling Mavis. The show — co-created by Buteau and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel — is unabashedly fun and chaotic; it wants you to laugh loudly, gasp audibly and cringe alongside its bumbling single lady.

The Netflix series transcends what we’re allowed to see when women are growing up on screen. This isn’t white twentysomething experiencing timely arrival-of-young-adult heartache fare. This is older, plus-size, Black woman Mavis. Written to implode. To explode. To start again.

Mavis randomly moves in with Jade (Liza Treyger), her white roommate who has porous boundaries and an affinity for olive oil and an (alarmingly) impressive array of appropriated Black hair styles. Mavis gives a blowjob to a hot Italian she just met (Marouane Zotti), getting gum stuck in Luca’s nether regions along the way. It’s funny, but it doesn’t happen at Mavis’ expense; it’s funny because it feels like somebody trying to get their power back.

Even after being cheated on, love for Jacque still lingers somewhere inside of Mavis. She battles between the extremity of what he did and how safe he makes her feel; she can’t help but love him a little bit more for making her forget how much she hates herself sometimes too – which is another layer of humanity: a complex inability to turn away from the one who hurt you.

Survival of the Thickest falls into a category of shows about growing up that prove age doesn’t provide insulation from life’s shitstorm (Insecure, Grace and Frankie). People cheat on partners. Long-term relationships end. Interpersonal mayhem and turmoil can turn all expectations of security upside down; then it becomes about finding the strength within yourself to pick up those pieces and try again – because like Mavis before us all we have left is our ability to rally back

Mavis Buteau is brave and charming, and she’s a born leader; in supporting roles leading up to this show (notably her comedy specials), she has shown some of the range that she brings to the fore here. She’s also a kickass comedian: “You don’t have to look like a virgin from Bridgerton,” Buteau tells a styling client fretting over body image before delivering one roundhouse zinger after another.

But in the more dramatic moments required of this show, as well — moments that ask her to embody Mavis’ anxiety about what comes next for her — she handles herself just fine. And, confronted with grief during early run-ins with her ex, it turns out there’s nothing but depth beneath that hearty exterior.

And then, beyond her work as an actor putting on a performance at the center of this thing, the world around Mavis is so glossy and bright. It should be noted how often — and how beautifully — stylist Keia Bounds has dressed her; not once does Buteau get stuck in any drab plus-size fashion cliches. Her wardrobe ranges from a black beret dotted with hearts to an all-red power suit; each outfit matches Mavis’ teeming energy level perfectly and seems designed specifically to pull off various Technicolors of the world.

I do think we could’ve spent more time getting to know Mavis’ growing group of queer friends and clients; instead, we spend too much of our limited minutes following around Khalil (Tone Bell), who’s supposed to be her fuckboy bestie but quickly feels more like scenery whose romantic life gets too big a spotlight shined on it. Peppermint is far too commanding an entertainer to be given such little screen time or story as she is here – granted only enough lines for us to understand that she thinks very highly of Mavis’ talent.

I’ll also say that it does, at times, fall victim to the classic Netflix sheen (oh boy do so many shows on this platform both sound and look like one another). Most of the soundtrack is either a mash of TikTok’s top 100 or anonymous pop music; you could shuffle the songs in this show and never know when one ended and the next began.

Still, Survival of the Thickest is delightful — easy going and real but not bloody about the knees feeling too much like reality. She’s a gift, Buteau — an outlandish and cringy gift that doesn’t mind getting honest.

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