Some Thoughts on Starz’s Flesh and Bone

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I don’t like to dance. If you see me out on the dance floor at a wedding, this means one of two things: 1) I am contractually obligated to be out there because I am a bridesmaid (by far the worst part of the job) or 2) I am really drunk. The latter usually isn’t enough to get me to shake my groove thing; even in an inebriated state I am far too self-conscious to be cutting a rug in front of people. I image I probably look a little something like this:

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I’ll dance around my apartment occasionally when I am alone, but seeing me dance in public is just not a frequent occurrence.

So I’m not sure that I would have given Starz’s new drama, Flesh and Bone, much thought if I wasn’t looking for ways to entertain myself and avoid boredom while recuperating from my broken ankle or if I didn’t know that the show’s creator was a writer and producer on Breaking Bad. A limited series about a ballerina trying to negotiate the world of dance in New York City isn’t necessarily tailor-made for me, despite the assurances that this a grittier look at the less than glamourous life of being a dancer. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, so when the pilot was briefly made available online I decided I had an hour to spend to see if this show was worth pursuing or not.

Flesh and Bone is the story of Claire (portrayed by actual ballerina Sarah Hay), who runs away from her Pittsburgh home to try to make it as a dancer in New York City. Claire may be a talented dancer, but she’s been left emotionally damaged and vulnerable by her familial relationships (though not fully explained in the pilot, there is a definite Flowers in the Attic vibe to her backstory). She catches the eye of creative director Paul (Ben Daniels), who thinks that she could be the future of the ballet company. The newbie rocketing to prominence doesn’t sit well with the rest of the dancers in the company and makes Claire a target of suspicion and jealousy. Will Claire be able to hold up under the pressure or will her baggage lead to her undoing?

The highlight of the series so far is definitely the choreography and dancing; I’m no expert, but the fact that a lot of the cast features dancers-turned-actors (rather than the other way around) gives these sequences authenticity. In a show that revolves around dancing, it’s hard to fake your way through that, so they wisely stacked the bench with people who actually know what they are doing. I don’t know much about ballet, but I can respect a beautiful performance and so far on Flesh and Bone, that’s what they have provided.

Unfortunately, they can’t just dance the entire time and that’s where Flesh and Bone takes a dip in quality. So far, there have been a lot of clichés and very little character development. Almost all of the supporting characters are one-dimensional and are defined by one characteristic – there’s the girl with the drug habit, the girl who is very comfortable with her sexuality, the over the top demanding and controlling creative director. You’ve seen this all before and I can’t tell if this is the result of half-cooked writing or a necessary evil of having a cast that doesn’t have much previous acting credits. I’m not particularly interested in any of these people; even Hay, whose performance I generally enjoyed, doesn’t get to play very many notes as Claire. While she is supposed to be unprepared for this life and what is expected of her, I found her wide-eyed Bambi routine to be somewhat unsatisfying. If Claire is the main character, we really should have more of an idea what is going on in her head. Perhaps there will be more advancement on the character front during the duration of this limited series, but after the pilot it was clear that there is a lot of work to be done. Also, since this is a Starz show, there is a lot of nudity and sex just for the sake of nudity and sex. So fair warning that this isn’t necessarily a show for the younger set.

I’m also not sure that in 2015 anyone is all that shocked that there is a “dark underbelly” of the ballet world. It’s a competitive, cut-throat endeavor and like any other athlete there is a lot of training and practice. Even if you haven’t seen Black Swan or other movies or TV shows focused on this world, it isn’t all that surprising that when very few ballerinas become successful that the glamour of what you see on the stage doesn’t match up with what goes on behind the scenes. There has to be more than just this contrast to make Flesh and Bone work. It isn’t clear from the pilot that they know that.

I didn’t hate Flesh and Bone, but it was just extremely underwhelming. Everything that happens in the pilot is predictable. It’s possible that the show will find its footing and actually have an interesting story to tell with interesting characters, but they better kick into gear soon as the series is only eight episodes long. I’m not the ideal audience for Flesh and Bone and there’s not much in the pilot that will convince me that I need to come back. It’s not bad, it’s just kind of boring. Outside the beautiful dancing, Flesh and Bone doesn’t feel like it really has much to say. I think that there are interesting stories to mine from the world of ballet, but Flesh and Bone fails to capitalize on that. The show just meet the barre.

Flesh and Bone debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern on Starz.

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