Netflix’s ‘Tiny Pretty Things’ Is a Sexy, Druggy, Deeply Silly Teen ‘Black Swan’
The new series, premiering Dec. 14, involves teen sex, drugs, ballet, and an unsolved crime. It’s like “Black Swan” meets “Pretty Little Liars”—minus the fun.
As the age-old saying goes, less is more. That is, unless you are the creator of Netflix’s Tiny Pretty Things. Set at a cutthroat ballet academy, the teen drama is packed with so many characters and so much superfluous plot that a synopsis reads like the script of a Saturday Night Live Stefon sketch. Tiny Pretty Things has ballerinas, bullies, a predatory dance teacher, a pill-popping mean girl, a mother in prison for a murder, and a cop with a traumatic past alluded to only in bloody flashbacks.
There are gory, heavy-handed dream sequences involving leg amputations and cannibalism. There is a lot of improbable teen sex and infidelity. (Is the sauna where they all hang out fully nude actually on school property?!) And to top it all off, there is the main storyline—the mysterious fall of a star ballerina from the roof of a building during a drug-fueled party.
The fatal flaw of Tiny Pretty Things, though, is that in spite of all of this, it somehow manages to be extremely boring. Based on the novel of the same name by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, the show begins with tragedy when the Archer School of Ballet’s most promising student, Cassie Shore (Anna Maiche), falls from a roof and is left in a coma. To attract positive publicity and divert attention from the suspicious circumstances surrounding Cassie’s fall, the school’s headmaster, Madame Dubois (Lauren Holly), invites Neveah (Kylie Jefferson) to fill the newly-opened spot.
“Our newest arrival, here on a full-ride scholarship,” Madame Dubois says, introducing Neveah to a journalist in the first episode, “We helped a girl escape her dead-end life in Compton.” Neveah is ignored when she clarifies that she is from Inglewood. It sets the foundation for the show to explore the way its protagonist is othered and exploited in a ballet world ruled by whiteness and privilege, but with everything else going on, there is never enough time or attention paid to meaningfully addressing race.
The supporting ensemble includes Bette (Casimere Jollette), ambitious, cruel, and primed to take over Cassie’s role as queen bee; June (Daniela Norman), Neveah’s meek roommate; and Nabil (Michael Hsu Rosen), gifted dancer and the prime suspect in the Cassie incident.
Tiny Pretty Things has many of the easy-to-spot trademarks of the teen-drama genre. It is full of beautiful twentysomethings playing impossibly clear-skinned adolescents. There is the glaring lack of adult supervision, essential to making the illicit shenanigans of the characters seem believable.
Though it’s a given that these types of shows will have certain generic conventions in common, this one is so derivative that it often feels like you’re watching something you’ve seen before. The name alone calls to mind another almost-murder mystery based on a popular book series—Pretty Little Liars. The catty dialogue would not be out of place in an episode of Gossip Girl. It even channels Euphoria, HBO’s much grittier take on the teen drama space, in its hard-partying scenes, resplendent with pills, champagne, and skinny-dipping.
Essentially, it suffers from trying to do too much. Each 60-minute episode feels twice as long, and the central mystery is constantly interrupted by digressions, like when June decides to emancipate herself from her disapproving mother or when Bette attempts to sleep with her sister’s boyfriend.
Rather than upping the salacious, soapy drama, these asides merely undermine the tension that should keep you watching to the very end. Halfway through the 10 episodes, I simply stopped caring about finding out who pushed Cassie over the edge.
Unsurprisingly, the gleaming bright spot of Tiny Pretty Things is the dancing. The talented young people that make up the cast are dancers-slash-athletes first and actors second. It is mesmerizing to watch them doing what they do best—stretching with effortless grace at the barre, nailing darkly gorgeous choreography inspired by Jack the Ripper, and even dancing under the strobe lights at a nightclub. If only there were more of these sweet moments of relief.