December 28, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Flesh and Bone”


Starz cut its losses quickly on FLESH AND BONE, which had been ordered as the first season of a continuing series, but was declared to be a finite miniseries before it had even started airing.  That late shift made tonight’s finale even more awkward and unsatisfying than it might have been, but Moira Walley-Beckett’s series had much bigger problems than that, more than justifying the network’s decision.

The idea of a dark, psychosexual soap set at an elite ballet company was perfectly serviceable, and far from new, going back at least to 1948’s The Red Shoes, and showing up as recently as Black Swan.  Walley-Beckett made liberal use of the tropes of the genre, such as emotionally troubled but brilliantly talented ingenue Claire (Sarah Hay), desperately aging prima ballerina Kiira (Irina Dvorovenko), and monstrously manipulative company head Paul (Ben Daniels).

In this rendition, though, none of the steps were graceful enough.  Walley-Beckett gave Claire a doozy of a backstory:  raised by a drunken, abusive father, she took refuge in the incestuous arms of her brother Bryan (John Helman), with whom she had a child given up for adoption.  That original sin marked both siblings (Claire worked in a strip club run by Russian gangsters when she wasn’t doing arabesques; Bryan was a grim and sometimes violent ex-Marine), but as a character, Claire was constructed as recessive to the point of blankness, arising from her torpor periodically to do something random or destructive.  It would take a truly great actress to capture the raging undercurrents intended to be under that emotional zombieism, and Hay simply didn’t have the experience or star power to pull it off.  (Claire was such a void that Raychel Diane Weiner’s Daphne, a rich girl with less lurid family issues, came awfully close to taking over the show’s center with much less screen time.)

Daniels wasn’t able to rise above the sheer cartoonishness of dreadful Paul, and Dvorovenko had little to work with as Kiira.  Walley-Beckett’s worst move, though, was the creation of Romeo (Damon Herriman), the homeless guy who lived in and around Claire’s apartment building.  Romeo was the kind of writer’s pretension who should have been decisively cut from the script by the second draft:  he spoke mysterious wisdom to all would listen, and marked up Claire’s beloved copy of “The Velveteen Rabbit” to tell his own allegorical fantasy saga.  (He was like Robin Williams’ character in The Fisher King without any humor or emotional grounding.)

The finale centered, as these things do, on the ballet company’s opening night, where Claire was unexpectedly making her debut in the gala’s brand-new ballet because last week Kiira, bowing to her own age and Claire’s genius, had abruptly retired.  Amid extremely generous chunks of Ethan Stiefel’s original choreography, which seemed to take up 20 minutes of the supersized episode, Romeo finally did the Big Crazy Thing we’d been waiting for him to do since the premiere:  striding in a suit of “armor” made up of bottle caps (really), he slayed Bryan, whom he’d decided was Claire’s “dragon”.  When the show ended, Claire still didn’t know this:  having become the toast of the town, she stared enigmatically at herself in the mirror, and refused to reveal any of her thoughts and emotions to Paul, which at least made her consistent with the way she’d treated viewers all season.

Although Walley-Beckett was a senior writer/producer on Breaking Bad, Flesh and Bone had none of that show’s tight construction or surprising characters.  It was also shot on what appeared to be a budget too tight for visual stylishness (Alik Sakharov, who directed the finale, was able to do very little with the gala sequences), much of it in what was presumably a deliberate yellowish murk.  The show had its moments of exciting intensity, as in the Thanksgiving episode where Paul terrorized the dancers just because he was in a mood, but ultimately its footing was all wrong, and it tripped and fell far too often.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."