This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
- Another batshit series to binge.
- Another glorious season of Schitt’s Creek.
- Mariah Carey can’t catch a New Year’s break.
- The bleak reality of five months with no Friends.
- Margot Robbie’s conservative Twitter account.
Maybe one of the most unexpected trends to arise from the streaming era is shamelessness. No narrative device is too ludicrous, no juggling of sensitive themes is too problematic, no commitment to tone is too deranged, and no kitchen sink can be too full of plot twists, themes, genres, and tropes.
Outrageousness used to be such an anomaly that, for all the derision it could sometimes invite, it was revered. (There’s a reason people still won’t shut up about Smash.) But now that type of full-throttle, devil-may-care storytelling, the kind meant to keep you bingeing on endless, bloated hours of television until you’re bleary in the eyes and bulging at the waist, is practically rote.
It’s the norm. It’s everywhere on streaming services now. It’s to the point that we crave its lunacy, even while acknowledging its badness. It’s a faux-gritty teen-ish drama about the cutthroat world of figure skating and also sex, poverty, and mental illness (???). It’s “oh my god yessss that sounds just like my thing!” in response to that plot description. It’s Spinning Out on Netflix.
Of course, it’s hardly new for the obscenely ridiculous and the deadly serious to copulate on TV. That kind of interbreeding birthed the species of TV that Spinning Out belongs to ages ago. But something seems even more calculating about the massive shovel with which this one heaps on trashiness in tandem with deadpan gravity, as if pandering to fans of the genre rather than servicing the story.
These shows are the labradoodles of TV, and even the creator of that breed called it his life’s regret: “I opened a Pandora box and released a Frankenstein monster.” Now, Frankenstein takes to the ice.
In the premiere of Spinning Out, we meet Kat, played by Kaya Scoledario, the actress who played Effie in the original British version of Skins, an icon of whimsical brooding and making basic teens “feel seen” despite having nothing in common with her Bristol-based existential ruckus.
She’s a once-promising figure skater who suffered a brutal fall that zapped her of all her confidence. That she inherited bipolar disorder from her domineering mother, Carol, played by Mad Men’s Betty Draper herself, January Jones, makes it all the more difficult for her to silence her demons and meet her goal of being a coach.
While deriding Kat as a disappointment of potential, Carol diverts her Mama Rose of figure skating energy to her younger daughter, Serena (The Hunger Games’ Willow Shields), who has the strength and power of youth but none of Kat’s former “It factor.”
As Kat harrumphs her way through the Sun Valley ice rink where these characters seem to live, a dream-saving opportunity presents itself to her: If she agrees to be the new partner for a hothead male skater (Evan Roderick’s Justin, who has seemingly skated right off the Google search results for “hot douche bag”), his father will pay for her training.
“Oh my god, it’s The Cutting Edge!” you’ll coo, and you’re sort of right. “With hints of I, Tonya,” you’ll continue, which yes.
The series is at its best as an exposé of the sacrifices entire families make in order to train an Olympic-caliber skater, and the ways in which generational poverty and mental illness are derided in the luxury sport. That it manages to imbue this with some realistic irreverence is even better. “I could whack her knee with a bat? Or is that too ’90s?” Kat’s best friend Jenn (the scene-stealing Amanda Zhou) quips about a rival skater.
But the series is also not smart enough to know that is when it’s best. There are love triangles upon love triangles that would give the nation’s foremost geometry experts a headache. There are soap opera twists so fast and spiraling that Tara Lipinski herself would get dizzy.
It’s a mess of contradictions. Things are fascinatingly gruesome and blunt—a skater accidentally impales her foot with her own skate—but also cringe-inducingly maudlin and melodramatic. There are admirable explorations of depression and bipolar disorder, the hereditary nature of mental illness, and stigmas against those battling it, yet these threads become so narratively manipulative they border on irresponsible.
The end result, though, is a series that everyone will say is “bingeable,” a word that is both meaningless and essential in today’s criticism. It alludes to the intangible nature of a series, good or bad, that will keep the viewer coming back for more. But it’s also a word that operates independent of quality.
Spinning Out is highly bingeable. It’s also bad. I recommend it. You wouldn’t care either way.