Every once in a while, I like to talk about TV. Because yes, I’m a TV watcher. And I enjoy it, dammit!
This week, I watched the first episode of Flesh and Bone, a new “limited series” on Starz… and proceeded to binge-watch all eight episodes over the weekend. Which is a lot of gritty ballet drama to absorb in a short time… but hey, I was hooked, and before I knew it, I was too far gone to stop.
So, Flesh and Bone. What’s it about?
Here’s the official trailer:
Soooo… not exactly a feel-good sort of series.
Flesh and Bone tells the story of Claire, a young woman who starts the series by running away from her family home in Pittsburgh, where clearly — judging by the padlock on her bedroom door — there are issues. Arriving in New York, Claire auditions for the American Ballet Company, and despite almost getting pitched out on her ear, she ultimately lands a position with the company.
The company is headed by Artistic Director Paul Grayson, a high-strung former dancer who demands absolute control over his dancers and who uses emotional manipulation and threats to get what he wants. While he’s initially ready to kick Claire out over a minor infraction, once he sees her dance, he realizes he has a star on his hands.
Claire, meanwhile, has to deal with living on her own in the big city, the pressure of being singled out, and the constant malicious gossip from the other members of the company.
The supporting characters include a prima ballerina, Kiira, who’s not willing to give up without a fight, Claire’s anorexic and hostile roommate Mia, and Romeo, the delusional homeless man who lives on the roof of Claire’s building, who seems to have appointed himself Claire’s protector.
All this, plus some glorious dancing, makes for riveting television.
If you’ve seen other ballet movies or TV shows, the standard ballet tropes will jump right out at you: An egomanaical artistic director. A statuesque former ballerina as the company manager. Rehearsals run by a Russian lady with a teeny dog. Catty comments from the other dancers about the new girl. Sexual tensions permeating the company. Sexual favors given and received for advancement. Sexual demands by a powerful donor. An aging prima ballerina feeling displaced by the fresh young talent.
Oh, and stripper poles. Yup. Stripper poles. (You’ll see.)
Despite some familiar themes and cliched moments, there’s also grace and power — although it’s mixed in with scenes of harsh ugliness. Still, check out the haunting opening sequence:
Doesn’t that just make you… feel?
Flesh and Bone is definitely more than meets the eye. For example, there’s a big, dark secret lurking in Claire’s past. There’s a shocking reveal at the end of the first episode — but even then, when we think we’re beginning to understand, it turns out that there’s so much more to it.
The same is true of so much about this series. You could look at Flesh and Bone as just another ballet show, but that description really doesn’t capture the full picture of what F&B is all about. I thoroughly enjoyed the complexity of the relationships, the unpredictability of the push and pull between artistic glory and human grittiness, and the lovely directing and artistry that keeps the beauty in balance with the blood and sweat.
Starz is defining Flesh and Bone and a limited run season, eight episodes and done. No second season is planned, which is too bad, as far as I’m concerned. The show does have a great ending, but I could definitely envision much more story left to tell. If Starz changes its mind and decides to do more, I’d gladly watch.
Oh, and a final fun fact: If you were a fan of Center Stage, the 2000 ballet movie, then you have one more reason to check out Flesh and Bone. Because Sascha Radetsky from Center Stage dances in F&B as well, and he’s just so… awesome.
(For more on the Center Stage/Flesh and Bone connection, check out this piece from Vulture.)
Have you watched Flesh and Bone yet? Do you intend to? Share your thoughts in the comments!