Take Black Swan and I, Tonya, and put them into a series with your favourite stars from the dystopian novels you read when you were 14 and just realising how far from perfect the world was as Marx moved into your life, and you have Spinning Out.
In short, the show tracks the struggle of skating star, Kat Baker (I see you, Teresa from Maze Runner) as she overcomes her fear of re-entering competitive skating after a disastrous fall on the ice. Dasha, a no-nonsense Russian coach, sees potential in our faulty but phenomenal protagonist, and offers her a career in pair skating with a talented-rich-obviously-good-looking-bad-boy whose privilege has burdened him with a troubled past. It’s just too good a potential plotline to miss out on: isn’t that how we all make life decisions?
The fact that this is all set in the realm of ice-skating, aside from that it’s just really cool to watch, is significant. Ice skaters must maintain an image of perfection. Their personal lives are expected to reflect that same flawless image, no matter how false it is, and this show tackles that issue head on. Kat and her mother have bipolar disorder, and having seen the brutality of the sport towards those with mental health problems, Kat’s mother advises her to keep this a secret. This overtly puts a strain on their relationship; and with a sister ( I see you, Primrose Everdeen from The Hunger Games) who also ice-skates and is constantly held up as an example of perfect clear-headedness in an attack against Kat by their mother, the all-American family image does not quite fit the American dream.
It sounds a lot like I, Tonya in that sense; but if you think of I, Tonya as tackling the issue of mental health in ice-skating through dark humour and satire, Spinning Out presents the drama and gravity of the situation by being grounded in sad reality. Exploration of the impact of mental health on a single person is then extended to mental health’s effect on a variety of relationships from the romantic to the professional, with family and friends wedged in between. As a television series, it has the time and space to do that; and its overt focus on developing these complicated relationships skilfully absorbs the viewer completely into the drama without romanticising mental health in sport.
It’s key to remember that this show is targeting the “woke” because that is how Netflix is going to both capitalise from social movements and divert attention from the unequal pay between Matt Smith and Claire Foy from the Crown. I remember ticking off the woke checklist in my head after watching the first two episodes and then realising that quite a big point was missing. Where’s our token LGBTQ+ character? In fear of ousting an excellent reveal, rest assured that it passes the test with all the flying colours of the rainbow flag.
In the face of all that Netflix is throwing at us, with most to-watch lists being topped by the new series of You and The Witcher, it’s easy to disregard Spinning Out as a much-to-do-about-nothing teen drama. Well it’s not; and as something which brilliantly tackles a taboo-topic, it deserves a space on your to-watch lists. Thank you for “staying woke”, Netflix.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons