With the outbreak of the Covid-19, 2020 has become a pinnacle year for streaming services. With theaters closed and the Covid-19 vaccine only just beginning to be distributed, it may still be some time before we can consume entertainment like we used to. Luckily, in the meantime, streaming services have really stepped up to provide a plethora of new content to keep us all entertained. Among these newer titles is Netflix’s Tiny Pretty Things. Based on the novel written by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaiporta, Tiny Pretty Things follows the story of the cutthroat world of ballet, where a tragic accident opens room for the admission of a driven, underprivileged student. Debuting on Netflix this past Monday, the show has been described as ‘Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars’, and the description certainly fits. Despite being newly released, the show looks and feels akin to many popular CW and ABC Family shows that were hits in the early 2000s. With hair-flipping mean girls, cold mothers, and plenty of teenage angst, had this been released 15 to 10 years ago it would’ve been a hit. But instead, as a product of the age of 2020, Tiny Pretty Things feels unoriginal, uninspired, and dated. With shows like Riverdale, Outer Banks, and Thirteen Reasons Why captivating the attention of today’s teens any competing content needs to offer more compelling narratives than just another variation on the 2000’s teen dramas.
The show begins interesting enough, we see the image of a carefree Cassie (Anna Maiche) dancing on the ledge of her school’s Chicago rooftop. Her steps are careful, precise, and elegant, as is her subsequent fall from the building, after being pushed by a mysterious hood figure. Cassie narrates the series from her comatose state, filling in viewers about the gory details of the corrupt world of ballet. We then cut to Neveah, a ballet-loving teen from Inglewood who’s been offered a full ride to Archers School, the former school of her idol, Delia Whitlaw (Tory Trowbridge). While Neveah is more than excited to attend her new school, her high-hopes are soon shattered by the uncomfortable reality that the school has only admitted her as a means to direct the attention off of Cassie’s tragic incident. Despite this shattering reveal, Neveah takes this realization in stride and sets out to do what she came here for – dance. Her first class, however, is particularly brutal. It would seem there is an apparent hierarchy in the dance studio and Queen B, Bette Whitlaw (Casimere Jollette) is anxious to let Neveah know it. “Petit Rat” quickly becomes Bette’s new racist nickname for Neveah. But the show is quick to redefine the term rat as simply a ballerina who is young, pretty, and poor so that we can’t be offended. A fellow student and ballerina, Shane (Brennan Cost), luckily steps in and helps get our protagonist some new shoes that will help her make an impression during class. Besides his role as the only outwardly queer character on the show, he gets pigeonholed as the best friend for the remainder of the show. Last, but not least we meet June Park ( Daniela Norman), a high-strung dancer from the UK, whose parental pressure demands perfection from her. As Cassie’s former roommate, she offers audiences more insight into the mysterious circumstances around her accident.
Other characters introduced in the pilot include a deadbeat cop that can’t seem to let Cassie’s case go (Jess Salgueiro), Nabil (Michael Hsu Rosen) a dancer from France, and Cassie’s boyfriend, Oren Lennox (Baron Cowperthwaite) Bette’s cocky boyfriend, Monique DuBois (Lauren Holly) head of the City Works Ballet school, struggling to bring prestige back to the school’s name, and Ramon (Bayardo De Mugeria) the hot-tempered Ballet composer who begins receiving strange texts about his past. The pilot ends with a determined Neveah, stripping down to swim with her classmates, after a tense school hosted, dinner party. Neveah plunges into the water, willingly embracing her new life and friends while Bette stares on in disgust. However, danger presents itself once more, when Neveah returns to her dorm room and discovers a white rose with a cryptic letter. While Neveah finds it endearing, viewers know the darkness lurking beneath the message, as Cassie was given a white rose before being pushed off the roof.
Overall, Tiny Little Things seems to fail to hit the mark. Its diverse cast is overshadowed by the pilot’s interest in honing in on the problems of the white characters. When characters of color are allowed screentime, they fall into stereotypical behavior patterns, so outdated it will make you cringe. On top of this, the show’s darker themes are never fully realized. Unlike Pretty Little Liars or even 13 Reasons Why, the pilot never takes a turn where the stakes are sufficiently raised and danger seems imminent. Instead, the show offers gory depictions of the consequences of this very particular lifestyle without giving any clear context so that it resonates with audiences. For example, in one sequence, we see Bette with busted bloodied feet, then one of Oren forcing himself to throw up before checking his meticulously organized meal diary. This scene is meant to showcase the brutality of the dance world, yet fails to introduce viewers into the world of dance first. As a result, the images come across as gratuitous rather than compelling. It seems to me that, Tiny Little Things, is a TV show out of time. Where it’s mystery plotline and highschool drama driven plotline would’ve thrived 10 years ago, now serves as its chief weakness. To clarify, Tiny Little Things isn’t horrible or so problematic that it’s unwatchable. However, in an age with endless choices for entertainment not horrible, it is simply not enough to pull in audiences’ attention. It seems to me that this YA adaptation, perhaps needed a bit more work before its release.