Netflix is an outrageously annoying content machine, producing more new TV shows and films than any one person can possibly watch in a lifetime if they want to also remain a productive member of society. Luckily for Netflix, I have no desire to interact with people or ever leave my house, so I watched all 10 episodes of the streaming service's upcoming figure skating drama series Spinning Out in an embarrassingly short amount of time. And let me tell you: Spinning Out is not great television -- it would not even qualify as good most of the time -- but that does not prevent me from loving it.
Created by Samantha Stratton, the show stars Kaya Scodelario as Kat Baker, a talented skater whose dreams of reaching the Olympics are derailed after a devastating fall in competition. The first season follows Kat's attempt to revitalize her skating career, this time as a pairs skater with the rich and naturally gifted Justin Davis (Evan Roderick). As she learns to skate with a partner for the first time, Kat is forced to confront the anxiety and fear that has been her constant companion and kept her from attempting the jump that left her with a head injury and stalled her career. It's not really a spoiler to say she eventually lands the jump in question (and then some) -- it wouldn't be a TV show if she didn't -- but Kat's struggles aren't limited to the ice either.
Early on in the show it is revealed Kat has bipolar disorder, something only her mother, Carol (January Jones), a former figure skater who also lives with the illness, and her younger sister, Serena (The Hunger Games' Willow Shields), know. Fearing people will look at her differently if they know, Kat works diligently to hide her illness from Justin, their coach, Dasha (Svetlana Efremova), her coworker (and half-hearted love interest) Marcus (Mitchell Edwards), and her friend Jenn (Amanda Zhou). It works for a while, but when Kat convinces herself she'll be a better skater without her medication, the truth inevitably comes out -- and does so in predictably unfortunate and dramatic fashion, too. The revelation not only threatens to disrupt Kat and Justin's chance to make it to nationals (and eventually the Olympics) but also their chance at a relationship, because yes, obviously there is sexual tension between them.
A show like Spinning Out isn't going to win Netflix any awards come Emmy season -- the series impresses with its ability to hide when it swaps out its stars (who appear to do their own skating when it doesn't involve the hard stuff) for professionals, but as far we know, there's no Emmy for that -- and the writing is not as deep or thoughtful as the show thinks it is. And yet, that doesn't really affect the show's ability to entertain. Unlike Starz's 2015 seriesFlesh and Bone, which attempted to give ballet the dark and gritty treatment but came off as bleak and uninspiring, Spinning Out offers insight into a physically grueling and emotionally taxing sport while injecting its story with some soapier elements to take the edge off. There's a catty rival pairs team, a predictable romance between Carol and Serena's new coach, Mitch (Will Kemp), and a subplot involving Justin's young stepmom having a baby. Also, everyone has really lovely winter coats. So while the show takes itself plenty seriously, viewers aren't really required to do the same. In fact, I'd argue against it, because otherwise you'll just find yourself unsatisfied.
Beneath the sparkles and illusion netting is a middling story about a fractured family and the toll mental illness can take on not just the individual living with it day-to-day but also their family and friends. Attempting to tell a deeper story like this elevates the show beyond its generic premise of an athlete trying to recapture her glory days, but the show doesn't always portray Kat's or Carol's mental illness as responsibly as it could or should -- sometimes the message that comes through is not one of empathy or understanding but rather one of shame.
Meanwhile, the inclusion of a storyline involving a doctor using his position and influence to sleep with a vulnerable 16-year-old figure skater -- and then have a young woman who's dating said doctor not believe her when the truth comes out -- almost feels like a last-minute addition, which doesn't allow for the writers to give it the proper weight a serious issue like this deserves. Making things worse, the season ends before we get a real, practical resolution, so although its existence here shines a light on an important and timely issue (while not the same, you can draw connections to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal that recently rocked the gymnastics world and its affect on young athletes), it's half-baked at best.
So, if you go in expecting Spinning Out to be a Serious Drama and do any real work to erase the stigma of mental illness or thoughtfully address issues young athletes might face, you'll likely be disappointed. But if you go in looking for an overly dramatic show in the vein of Dance Academy but about competitive figure skating that also includes a must-see guest appearance from two-time Olympian and national treasure Johnny Weir as a rival skater, you'll have a much better viewing experience. The key here is to manage your expectations and accept that not everything has to be prestige television to be enjoyable. Because there is definitely an audience who will find happiness in Spinning Out's Cutting Edge-like narrative and over-the-top theatrics, and their interests should not be discounted. Despite what some would have you believe, there is room at the table for this kind of content. Peak TV might force us to filter our TV viewing in a way we haven't had to before -- there is only so much time in the day -- but it's time to stop acting like serious awards contenders, cerebral dramas, or water cooler shows offering pointed social commentary are the only things worth watching on TV. If you go around thinking like that, life would be pretty boring.
TV Guide Rating: 2/5
Spinning Out's first season is now streaming on Netflix.
(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.)