Stand-up comedian, actor, and host Michelle Buteau’s Netflix series, Survival of the Thickest, is thoroughly entertaining. While Michelle Buteau has appeared in films before, she plays the protagonist for the first time in the Netflix comedy-drama. In 2020, Buteau released her memoir in the form of a collection of essays titled Survival of the Thickest. The book captured Buteau’s resilient spirit during challenging times. Survival of the Thickest is inspired by her memoir, and we get glimpses of it throughout the series.
Every time Mavis Beaumont is on set, she is at her best. She is a stylist who dreams about dressing and making thick girls feel comfortable in their skin, but as a thick Black woman working in the fashion industry, creating her own brand was not easy. She focused on following the usual pattern to climb the ladder to success. Mavis is pretty much a problem solver, and at times she proves to be more talented than the lead stylist working on the project. With the prospect of becoming a lead stylist right at her doorstep, Mavis felt that her life was finally going in the right direction. Not only was her career looking brighter than ever, but her personal life was also just about perfect. She was in a long-term relationship with Jacque and was completely in love with him. They planned on getting married and having kids, and Mavis was excited about their future together. But a disaster awaited her. When she returned home early from work, she found Jacque and the model from the shoot in their bedroom. Her perfect life crumbled right before her eyes in those few seconds. Mavis’s best friend, Khalil, helped her pack her bags and move out of Jacque’s apartment. While being cheated on felt pathetic, she was all the more miserable, thinking that the woman he was with was just a skinnier version of herself. Her insecurities started to worsen, but luckily, Khalil was there to make her realize how unworthy Jacque was of her affection. Mavis soon figured that she had been living under Jacque’s shadow, especially because they were in the same field. She was doing everything that she was supposed to do and not focusing on the things that she wanted to do. Finding out that he was cheating on her was heartbreaking, but it helped Mavis reevaluate her entire life, and she finally found a purpose to her existence.
Mavis Beaumont does not require eight episodes to realize that she is beautiful. She is confident in her body, and her aim is to inspire others to feel the same way. But at the same time, she is not bulletproof. There are moments when she, too, suffers from insecurity. The fashion industry can be ruthless, but it was empowering to watch Mavis navigate through it and thrive. Survival of the Thickest is not about a thick woman learning to love herself; it rather is a celebration of marginalized bodies. By centering the series around a woman who is in her late 30s and is still figuring out her career and trying to make sense of her love life, it, in a way, flips a finger at societal expectations. There is the usual finding love trope, but thankfully, the best friend is not a part of that equation. It was also a relief to watch the supporting characters evolve through the eight episodes instead of just being there in the background. From a man scared of commitment to someone desperately trying to impress a woman, Khalil’s love life took an interesting turn. Marley was a great support for Mavis when her life fell apart. She had lived through a divorce and was stronger than ever. She encouraged Mavis to be her own person, and every time that Mavis got distracted by one of Jacque’s posts, she made it a point to help her focus on her life again. By the end of Survival of the Thickest, Marley had also discovered a few things about herself. Instead of ignoring her feelings, she started to address them, and her therapist helped her on the journey to self-realization.
Apart from their individual troubles, the series also focuses on social issues that affect the characters in more than one way. After a ‘Karen’ harassed Khalil the moment she saw him with spray paint, it led to a discussion on how most Black people are attacked in school by their white classmates. Even as a 38-year-old woman, Mavis did not know how she should have reacted to the situation. She perhaps wanted more support from her parents, but she did not blame them entirely since they were in a new country trying to adjust their lives accordingly. Survival of the Thickest also addresses how celebrities are expected to be the same size all their lives, and often they are either forced to stay away from the cameras or resort to wearing uncomfortable corsets. The innate relationship between fashion and drag gets a stage in Survival of the Thickest, and Peppermint shines as Mavis’ constant cheerleader and friend. Considering it is a comedy-drama, the breakup was as realistic as it could get. The conflict after separation and, at the same time, the fear of becoming our parents were effectively encapsulated.
Michelle Buteau is radiating as Mavis Beaumont. Her freckles and smile steal the show, and as the creator of the series, she keeps it quite real. While Survival of the Thickest is an enjoyable casual watch, the ending was not as promising. When realization comes from a broken phone, it feels a little stretched. On a positive note, there is still hope for another season. Tone Bell, as Khalil, the artist and best friend, captured the character well, and Tasha Smith, as Marley, served the girl boss energy to perfection. Taylor Sele was convincing as the apologetic, disloyal ex-boyfriend Jacque. Michelle Visage’s cameo was iconic and funny. If you are searching for a new comedy-drama show to binge-watch, Survival of the Thickest is it. It is fun, it is refreshing, and even though there are the usual tropes, it is as real as any comedy-drama on Netflix can get.