After spending a lot of time attempting to review both episodes two and three of Flesh and Bone, and spinning in circles due to slow pacing and frustrating characters, reviewing the entire series at once seemed like an obvious choice. So let’s talk Flesh and Bone! If you haven’t watched any of Starz limited ballet series yet, have no fear, as this review will be spoiler free. But if you’re interested, there’s also a review of episode one that focuses more on summarizing the premiere episode.
Now, even taking in the plot and character issues, this wasn’t a bad series, it just really wasn’t a great one, and at times throughout the eight episodes it could be difficult to convince myself to keep watching. There was never that sense of desperately needing to super marathon the entire series at once. To be fair, sometimes this was more due to the increasingly dark nature of the show than it was due to the quality of the show. Flesh and Bone was never afraid to peak into the darker corners of humanity, and not once did it portray ballet as a magical world full of angelic ballerinas where art and morality prevailed.
Right from episode one, this series followed Claire (Sarah Hay), an extremely gifted ballerina who had stepped away from dance for a few years due to some ominous “family drama”. The first few minutes of the first episode find her running away from home to audition for ABC, the American Ballet Company. The program quickly recognizes her natural talent and invites Claire to join their ranks, which obviously doesn’t go far toward endearing her to the rest of the dancers.
Once Claire begins to settle in, the show begins to switch perspectives to the higher ups at ABC who are struggling to remain relevant. Paul Grayson (Ben Daniels) is the current creative director, and he quickly sees Claire as his golden ticket, rearranging the year’s schedule around the idea of having a brand new ballet choreographed, highlighting Claire. A fairly standard plot as far as classical dance plots go, but staying with the company and the struggles within would likely have ended up being a more enjoyable show than what we ended up with. Instead, Flesh and Bone went on a few side trips, most of which focused on Claire’s self-destructive behaviors and troubled (okay, extremely troubled and disturbing) past. Very quickly the show became bogged down with how much there was going on, while still feeling like there wasn’t much happening.
Claire was far from the only character who was coming from a dark and twisty place. The first episodes wasted no time in making sure we knew that absolutely all the dancers were sacrificing almost everything for their careers, including food and healthy relationships. And that’s not even getting into the drugs, stripping and otherwise sexualized atmosphere. No one here is making ballerina look like any kind of dream job.
Overall, a lot of the weight of the show was carried by Sarah Hay as Claire. As a newcomer to the acting world, she did a solid job of portraying doe-eyed, “Bambi” Claire. Not only does she do an admirable job of showing the weight of the baggage that Claire carries with her, following her to her new life, but we also get to see it literally as her sexually abusive brother, recently returned home from the military, hops on a bus to follow her to her new life as well–more likely than not in order to drag her back to her old one.
The rest of the cast, mostly made up of those in the ballet world also do a commendable job with what they had to work with. You’ll find everything from overly ambitious dancers, to skeezy men who will certainly leave you feeling uncomfortable, to an at times endearing homeless man who sometimes felt like the only bright spot in a very dark world.
One thing the show did lack, surprisingly, was actual dancing. The few moments of ballet we did get to see were usually a lot of fun, even for those approaching the show with no knowledge of the dance that it’s based around. But personally, I would have loved to see more of what it was that everyone was pooring all of their effort into in order to further flesh out the world they were living in. In the first few episodes especially, dance scenes were more often focused on the expressions of those watching them rather than the dancers themselves, which can leave you with a feeling of being told how you’re supposed to react to something, rather than letting you determine that for yourself.
In the end, I would still recommend Flesh and Bone to anyone who is a fan of the dancing community, dance shows, or even just looking for a decent limited series to try over the holidays (though not if you’re looking for any sort of holiday happy vibes). Coming from the mind of Moira Walley-Beckeyy (award winning writer and producer from Breaking Bad), there’s a lot to delve into here, just don’t expect anything mind-blowing or even all that deep. It’s entertaining and evocative at times, certainly, but this isn’t a series you’ll be coming back to again and again to re-experience.