Starz’ Flesh and Bone is creator Moira Walley-Beckett’s elegy to dance. She poetically reflects on the beautiful and troubling world of ballet: fear, anorexia, drugs, sex, and exploitation. The show reaches some great highs, but far too many lows to mark it as a critic or viewer darling. It largely serves the ballet audience with its painstaking dance realism. As Beckett said, “It’s not just pretty. We’re watching them sweat and breathe and leap and soar. It’s not editing magic, or magical realism. It’s down and dirty.” The show’s opening is promising, but the series isn’t able to soar which is disappointing.
The title sequence is mesmerizing, and it beautifully captures NYC and dance; though the music is subpar. The use of war title cards in the series is one of many choices that illustrate the pedestrian quality of the show. The series does not, at least to episode 4, show any strong correlation to war other than the character who is back from war. And though dancers, particularly ballerinas are known as disciplined and responsive to leadership, the dancers on this show aren’t really explored enough to show them as warriors. Even more troubling, is the Beckett’s need to tell the audience how to watch the show, highlighting how little respect she has for the audience and their ability to understand and interpret the show.
War Title Cards
- Bulling Through: To force through an unsafe situation to extricate soldiers from danger Title Card, Episode 1
- Cannon Fodder: An expendable soldier whose life is sacrificed for strategic advantage. Title Card, Episode 2
- Reconnaissance: Gathering vital data about enemy forces or features of an environment for later analysis. Title Card, Episode 3
- Boogie Dark: Term used by soldiers to describe the total darkness found at night a blackness that devours light. Title Card, Episode 4
Flesh and Bone is the story of Paul Grayson (Ben Daniels), the egomaniac artistic director of the American Ballet Company (ABC), who upends his company’s season when he unwittingly finds Claire (Sara Hay), a brilliant but troubled dancer. Eager to showcase her talent so that he can once again be the talk of NYC, he commissions a new ballet. Paul is a seriously flawed, manipulative, narcissist who exploits those around him to fill the whole performing has left in his life. When he gives the dancers what should be an inspirational talk it is still largely about him, “we are stepping into the now.” This is also true of his relationship with his new star; he tells her, “never forget you’re mine,” and he means it. Whatever he does for her, it is to serve his best interests. He is too broken to care for anyone. Ben Daniels’ performance is over-the-top, but his American accent is good which is great because he has the show’s best lines. His lack of depth or complexity is due to the writing as much as his skills. The character is quite typical and cliché as a dance director.
Claire is an atypical ballerina. She left dance for several years, at twenty-one, she still appears naive in the studio, and her body type is more voluptuous than all the other dancers. She is more Misty Copeland than Julie Kent; she has the body of an athletic woman but the emotional and social skills of an adolescent. Interestingly, when we finally see Claire dance, we don’t see her footwork and much of her performance is interpreted through Paul and Kira’s responses. This is quite surprising given the excitement over Claire’s dancing.
We first meet her in her childhood bedroom which is decorated with a young girl’s obsessive relationship with ballet: pinks, ballet shoes, posters, and a padlock on the inside of her door. She leaves Pittsburgh and her home in fear and soon the one she fears will track her down. Though she is painted as the ingenue, she shows her ability to manage difficult people in several instances, leaving the viewer to wonder if she is more than she presents herself to be. Four episodes in, her character has yet to be clearly defined beyond cliché or trite dialogue. Claire’s most poignant moment is when she unmasks, taking a hard look at herself in the mirror. Though there are some needless nude scenes, this scene works as she is truly discovering or defining who she is and wants to be.
The show focuses on Claire’s journey to finding herself and on the selfish, self-centered nature of ballerinas. The show does stop short of delving deeply into specific ways the dancers undermine each other aside from gossip and ego-busting remarks. This keeps the show from getting gritty and instead it pivots to a high-end gentlemen’s club. The show is best when if focuses on movement on the stage or stripper-pole. While viewers may connect with the Claire, Mia, Kira and Daphne stories, this show has missed the mark!
Unlike Starz’s other shows: Power, Outlander and Survivor’s Remorse, Flesh and Bone isn’t innovative or unique in its premise, storytelling or approach. Beckett’s problem is that she does not know what story she wants to tell so she flits between the familiar beats of Showgirls and Black Swan without choreographing her own unique dance. Claire’s horrific past is dangled instead of explored. And the rest of the dancers all have stories of their own, but none is addressed satisfactorily. So performances (dance and actors) are lost on a show with cliché and trite writing. Couple this with a lack of diversity, needless use of nudity and useless battle term title cards leave us with a show that fails the actors and their gifts. Flesh and Bone has the aroma and sweetness of cotton candy; enjoying it is a momentary joy that disappears too quickly for you to really delve deep or explore its complexity (or lack thereof) before it is all gone.
Originally Posted November 9, 2015