On its en pointe surface, Starz’s latest drama “Flesh and Bone” revolves largely around the highly competitive, sacrifice-all nature of the professional ballet world. Young women starve themselves, cope with drug addiction, lose toenails and often stop getting their periods, all in the name of the greater art.
Go beyond the original pitch, however, and at its core this is a series about stripping down — literally and figuratively. No wonder the eight-episode run has drawn inevitable comparisons to “Showgirls.”
The protagonist, Claire Robbins (Sarah Hay) is the typical girl-with-a-dream we’ve seen so often in the past. She flees her Pittsburgh home when her sexually abusive brother returns from war in order to pursue her dream at the American Ballet Company in New York. As she miraculously makes the cut and rises to the top (invoking jealousy among her fellow corps members along the way), she peels back the layers of her abuse in order to find her artistic expression.
To help her along the way is star-maker Paul Grayson (Ben Daniels), the larger-than-life artistic director who is quick to remind the girls they belongs to him. Behaving like a street-corner pimp possessive of his property, Grayson’s treatment of the dancers is a form of abuse, one that borders on molestation and mind games designed to separate the “stars” from the weaklings and validate his God complex.
Then there is the pole life. Claire’s co-worker Daphne (Raychel Diane Weiner) is presented early on as the dancer living it up. Her apartment is the envy of all the other girls, while she spends her off time on yachts partaking in worldwide adventures. Of course there’s no way to sustain such a living on a professional ballerina’s salary and so she quickly lets Claire in on her secret life as a stripper — a life Claire gets sucked into. It’s an alluring world meant as a distraction to Claire’s greater purpose, but one that draws her in regardless as she tries to take back her sexuality.
“Flesh and Bone” is a tale of corruption and desire; a story designed to once again look at what happens to innocence when it is shattered by big world expectations in a hard city. Sure we’ve seen it before, but here it’s at least punctured by some beautiful choreography and strong acting by a cast that’s comprised of mostly dancers.
Dark and twisted, the show’s writing may feel familiar to some as it is helmed by former “Breaking Bad” scribe Moira Walley-Beckett. What it’s doing on Starz remains to be seen though, as the network has already switched gears by declaring the show a limited series rather than moving forward with the original full-series plan — not exactly a big vote of confidence in the creative direction. Unfortunately the end result is a cast of supporting characters that fall flat without the proper development, and a lead that never quite opens up to the audience. Sure, they’re all stripped right down to the “Flesh and Bone,” but they’re never quite built back up, and that’s where the real tragedy lies.
“Flesh and Bone” premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Starz. All eight episodes will also be available that day On Demand and Starz Play.