An Ex-Dancer’s Review of Tiny Pretty Things

Sorry to be the person to say this, but…. The book was better in so many ways. I danced for 17 years and experienced first hand how toxic the world can be. However, toxic-ness is ripe for drama, so when I read the synopsis for the book, I instantly picked it up and began reading. I finished it within two days because it was hard to put down. I loved the complicated characters. You rooted for everyone, even if they did terrible things and the constant drama. When Netflix announced the show, I was so excited, but upon watching it, I was disappointed. Here's the good and the bad.

The Good:

LGBTQ content was equal to straight content 

Often in shows, we will see an extended sex scene from a straight couple, but then a gay sex scene is glossed over. Or we may see an oversexualized version of a lesbian sex scene, which is just playing to the male gaze and fantasy. Tiny Pretty Things did not shy away from sexuality at all, no matter orientation. 

Oren was curious and engaging in sexual activity with his roommate and friend, who identified as gay. He ended up breaking things off because he had feelings for a female character, but I think it's really important to show men that they are allowed to be curious without being judged or stereotyped as anything. I didn't understand why I felt so uncomfortable during some of the male sex scenes until I realized it was because it was the first time I'd seen this on TV, where the male body was being sexualized to that extent. These scenes were shot from the gay male gaze and also the female gaze. Seeing a female body sexualized on television is so common that we don't even bat an eye, so I welcomed Tiny Pretty Things' fresh perspective. Every scene was shot for the intended audience and to their gaze. As it should be. 

Friendship Between Bette and June

I love a good complicated friendship between women. You can see how they both would do anything for each other and would do anything to be at the top, which then ends up conflicting. They stab each other in the back multiple times but also have no one else. It’s a toxic friendship but realistic given the circumstances. Two perfectionist friends in a high-pressure environment can be challenging to navigate. It's unlikely that two people who were each other's competition would have a healthy friendship, and it leads to some juicy drama. 

Male eating disorder portrayal

In the next bit, I talk about the problematic nature of mental health; however, I praise the show for tackling male eating disorders. 10-15% of those diagnosed with Anorexia or Bulimia are male, but many men avoid seeking treatment for eating disorders because it is highly stigmatized and considered a female issue. Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illness, so it is crucial to portray them on screen. It can help people feel less alone, work through their feelings on the issue and even gain the confidence to seek help (if done well). 

The Bad 

The choice of ballet

In the books, it was the Nutcracker, which most youth ballet programs perform. The choice to do Jack the Ripper after their classmate was pushed off of the building and is lying in a coma, was ridiculous. And not the good kind. It was an unnecessary plot move and wasn’t rooted in reality. As if they would let high school students do a ballet about murdering women. Not to mention, I really wanted to hear The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.  

Graphic teen sex scenes

I thought how they chose to do the sex scenes was truly groundbreaking and important. However, these are supposed to be teenagers and there was a lot of nudity. It was off-putting at times. Not only that, they also glossed over how perfectionism relates to mental health challenges.

I felt they could have done a better job to show how the mind can deteriorate in these situations. These dancers are sleep deprived, pushing their bodies to do things they aren’t supposed to do and forced to look a certain way. This would drive anyone to a bad place mentally, and possibly do bad things. The movie The Black Swan, showed the dance world as a psychological thriller. It allowed the audience to feel empathy for characters who do bad things. Whereas in Tiny Pretty Things the motives were not fully explained. It led to a sub-par drama where I didn’t feel attached to most characters. 

The Lack of Dancing

I wish there was more dancing involved. It was a lot of rehearsing, smouldering looks and deception and not enough jumping and turning for me. The cast is truly talented and I want to see it. Unfortunately, the show is very surface level. It creates many problems, but we never really know the motive behind each character. There are so many emotional outbursts that come out of nowhere and it’s riddled with cliches. Everyone is bad, but we don’t get the why, which makes it hard to be sympathetic to most characters. They also attempt to talk about some serious issues, that should be portrayed on screen, but show just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a show meant to be binged on a weekend and quickly forgotten, which is a disappointment to the fans of the book. 

But something book nerds are used to.