“Tiny Pretty Things” has all the trappings of a Netflix hit: an attractive, talented cast, a niche sub-culture and an uncomplicated premise. The showrunners had the support of a major streaming service, an enviable budget and a gorgeous cast. But despite all its advantages, “Tiny Pretty Things” is another empty, well-funded Netflix original. Watching the series manifests as a headache of ridiculous events and poor writing. The show tries to distract from its poor storytelling skills with nude glutes and ballet shots, utilizing its incredible cast of professional dancers. But not even the slowest shots of well-defined, muscled thighs can distract from the persistent flaws of “Tiny Pretty Things.”
Set in a premiere ballet academy in Chicago, the series follows the troubled professional and personal lives of seven dancers as they navigate corrupt institutions, sexual violence, eating disorders and student-teacher relationships. After Cassie (Anna Maiche, “The French Teacher”), the top ballet student, falls off a roof, a spot at the dance academy opens up for up-and-coming dancer Naveah, played by Kylie Jefferson. She meets new female dance rivals and is introduced to a cut-throat dance world. However, looming over her shoulder is the mystery of what truly happened to her predecessor.
The premise of Cassie’s rooftop fall, albeit flashy and intriguing, inaccurately frames the show as a dark and suspenseful high school mystery. However, the show’s drama does not hinge upon Cassie’s mysterious past. Her fall ends up being a dramatic event with little contribution to most of the show’s plot. To presume any kind of intention or critical foresight on the part of the show’s writers is misguided optimism. “Tiny Pretty Things” constantly neglects the most basic fundamentals of suspense-dramas: suspense and plausibility.
Recognizing a show’s sub-genre can contextualize its genre-specific eccentricities and help audiences suspend disbelief for more outlandish content. There are different expectations for cheesy, broadcast television shows like “Gilmore Girls” and more soapy, low-brow network dramas like “Degrassi.” The show has dramatic elements, soapy elements and psychological elements, but none of them work together to create a cohesive narrative. The show’s inability to stick to any formula is almost comical. By oversaturating itself with nudity, meaningless conflicts and odd dreamscape interludes, it’s a wonder why anyone would want to endure this confusing mess of a pilot.
Moreover, every attempt to address delicate topics — such as Islamophobia, dubious consent and sexual violence — is hamfisted. In a single scene, one character fusses at his roommate for being Muslim and justifies his racism by disclosing that his father died in the Middle East. The way the show presents his racism feels antiquated as American television is no longer afraid to spotlight or engage in discourse about Islamophobia. The show’s brief inclusion of overt Islamophobia is less revolutionary and more ridiculous. The character is never berated for his racist actions and his discomfort is intended to give the show depth but it is not explored nor criticized.
Additionally, valid criticisms about body-dysphoria are cheapened by incessant interjections of Naveah’s dreams. In the show, every dramatic confrontation happens in a sauna. The gulf between the earnest and the ridiculous makes “Tiny Pretty Things” nearly impossible to take seriously.
The only way to consume the show, as with many Netflix originals, is to binge it, indiscriminately and mindlessly. Trying to parse out the good from the bad only leads to needing three Ibuprofen and a midday nap. The show’s greatest strength is the talent of its professionally trained dancing cast, but the beautiful ballet scenes are eclipsed by poor writing and directing decisions. “Tiny Pretty Things” makes you feel silly for attempting to think hard about its initial mystery.
Daily Arts Writer Elizabeth Yoon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.