by Alaina Fox
The new Netflix drama series Tiny Pretty Things reminds me of myself. It was full of potential, but somewhere along the way, something went horribly wrong. You’re horrified, but at the same time, you can’t wait to see what happens next.
After scrolling through various social media sites — which was definitely for research purposes and not procrastination on scholarship essays — I’ve found that there is a pretty clear consensus: Tiny Pretty Things is less of a trainwreck, and more of a car crash. Its downfalls are all too common, and although it’s the same mess we’ve all seen a million times, we can’t tear our eyes away.
The show follows Neveah Stroyer, a Black teenager who gets the opportunity to dance at the prestigious Archer School of Ballet (ASB) after a former student falls from a roof and slips into a coma. As Neveah struggles to find her way in ASB’s fiercely competitive and toxic environment, she stumbles into questions every time she searches for answers. Who pushed the girl, and why? When, if ever, does health take priority over performance? How much will each dancer sacrifice to climb the social ladder? How many of them are in danger?
Based on a 2015 novel of the same name by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, Tiny Pretty Things had a goldmine of stellar material to work with. However, in its ten episodes, it fails to live up to its potential. It throws in unnecessary, convoluted content and struggles to maintain believability.
The most obvious place to start is the sexual content. While the characters are teenagers, likely in the range of 16-18, the show seems to have challenged itself to pack as many sex scenes as possible into each hour-long episode, even though the scenes add little if any substance to the plot. Anytime a meaningful conversation occurs during one of these scenes, it could have just as easily taken place in a hallway. The unnecessary sexualization of teenagers distracts from the plot and feels like a cheap attention grab to distract viewers from the many, many problems with the show’s writing and directing.
Additionally, despite having an attempt at a subplot challenging sexual assault, the show portrays problematic behaviors as inconsequential. In one scene, a boy forces himself onto his roommate even after explicitly being told no. The incident never gets any acknowledgment, and nothing changes in the dynamic or relationship. The same issue arises with a relationship between a teenage student and a grown man. By leaving it unaddressed, the show does a grave disservice to its audience.
Beyond the content issues, the writing feels stilted at times. Television critic Lucy Mangan lamented that the script, “sounds as if it has been typed by ballerinas with their feet at the end of a very hard day at the barre.” While that characterization seems excessively harsh to me, it’s true that the narration and dialogue leave much to be desired. The characters’ conversations rarely if ever sound anything like teenagers’ authentic communications, and random, unnecessary cliches are often cringe-worthy enough to distract from the story. Also, some subplots — such as an out of the blue romance at the last minute with little build-up — feel forced and pointless.
That said, there’s a reason I binged the season: Tiny Pretty Things has redeeming qualities. First of all, the music slaps. The soundtrack features stars such as Red Velvet, a popular K-pop group; Halsey, whose songs and music videos have earned more awards than I can count; Harry Styles, who seems to be in the headlines on a daily basis; and Hozier, the only man I’d go straight for. There are also plenty of less well-known artists, providing new songs to obsessively replay for weeks to come.
Beyond the music, the dancing is gorgeous. The actors and actresses all come from prestigious dance backgrounds, and it shows. I found myself watching some dance scenes over and over again, stunned by the emotions they evoked.
While I’m reluctant to admit it, the plot was also compelling. Was it predictable? Well, for people with brain cells, probably, but I have the privilege of being mindless, so I was able to enjoy all the twists and turns.
All in all, if you’re looking for some mindless media to consume, Tiny Pretty Things is an entertaining option. However, as with all content, remember to be critical of the problematic aspects.
(Sources: Netflix, The Guardian)
Photo courtesy IMDb