With Kaya Scodelario and January Jones on the payroll, it’s frankly astonishing “Spinning Out” landed on Netflix earlier this month with little fanfare. The natural assumption? This figure skating series must be terrible. As it turns out, while that’s not totally wide of the mark, creator Samantha Stratton (“Mr. Mercedes”) also has a couple of tidbits in store for viewers that might be worthwhile – even those with zero interest in the chilly sport or similarly chilly human interplay.
“Spinning Out” is two parts a sincere, nuanced tale of the jarring intersection between mental illness and aspiration, and three parts an overbaked, sickly-sweet melodrama that desperately tries – and fails – to tug at the heartstrings. The former gripping and the latter cloying, each aspect is palpably at odds with the other from start to finish, which results in a strange, uncomfortable, and irritating overall viewing experience.
In this 10-episode drama, Scodelario (“Crawl”) plays Kat Baker, a young, bipolar figure skater from Sun Valley, Idaho. After sustaining a horrific and very public head injury during sectionals, she’s offered the chance to ditch her humdrum job waiting tables at a local hotel to revive her career as a pairs figure skater. Reluctantly, she partners with spoiled, but talented, rich kid Justin (Evan Roderick), and with support from affable Soviet-born coach Dasha (Svetlana Efremova) and feisty best friend Jenn (Amanda Zhou), the pair gives it a shot.
Anguished by distressing memories of the accident and with shattered confidence, the spiky but magnetic Olympic hopeful edges towards her hopes, putting up the best fight she’s got. But this unfamiliar new life on the ice proves a challenge, one made all the worse by strained relations with mercurial, bipolar mom Carol (January Jones of “Mad Men” fame) – a ‘momager’ with long-buried, baby-ruined Olympic dreams of her own – and unhappy little sister Serena (Willow Shields) – herself a skater, and a good one at that.
Perhaps one of the show’s best features grows from Stratton’s insistence on crafting characters we haven’t seen time and time again, giving the audience a story-driven by real people with genuine, believable layers.
But for all that, there’s an awful lot of soapiness in the mix here, so dialogue and behavior stumble towards the ludicrous now and then. Jones suffers the most in this respect – not that it’s her fault – but she does an often-heinous, almost lithium-immune Carol justice by tapping into her experience of playing Betty Draper, a woman ill-suited to motherhood yet adoring of her children. Anyhow, in any series bursting with this much bipolar energy, surely some incongruity is to be expected, no?
If it’s a world-rocking, female-led sports series you’re after, it might best to look elsewhere. Maybe try on “Spinning Out” for size, and if it’s not the comfortable fit you’d hoped for, knockout women’s wrestling dramedy “GLOW” is likely a better choice – as it tackles the female-led sports drama genre in an overall superior way. If you’re okay with the soapy drama, however, “Spinning Out” is aimed at you.
That said, the lack of tonal clarity and excessive sentimentality are achingly surplus to requirement, offering such little dramatic tension they ultimately force “Spinning Out” to…well, to spin out. [C]