Pointe and shoot

Bal­let drama dis­ap­points; es­pi­onage se­ries laugh­ably bad

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - aRAD OSWALD WATCH­ING TV

ON the sur­face, there doesn’t seem to be much in com­mon be­tween in­ter­na­tional es­pi­onage and elite bal­let danc­ing.

As it turns out, how­ever, they do share this: they’re both sub­jects that can be han­dled in a ham-fisted man­ner by the pro­duc­ers of TV drama se­ries.

The po­ten­tial for such high-level hack­ery is on full dis­play in a cou­ple of new se­ries pre­mièring this week — Flesh and Bone, a bal­let-themed soap opera that gets the steps and leaps right but the sub­tleties all wrong, and Agent X, a Bond-clone spy ad­ven­ture that’s so ridicu­lously bad it oc­ca­sion­ally be­comes hi­lar­i­ous.

Flesh and Bone, which ar­rives Sun­day at 8 p.m. on Su­per Chan­nel, is pro­duced for U.S. cable’s Starz net­work (home of Spar­ta­cus, DaVinci’s De­mons and Black Sails), mean­ing it has plenty of lat­i­tude when it comes to over­heated emo­tions and gra­tu­itous nu­dity. Its artsy premise in­volves a young woman named Claire Rob­bins (played by Sarah Hay), who es­capes what ap­pears to be a vi­o­lently abu­sive home life in Pitts­burgh and flees to New York, where she in­tends to try out for the pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can Bal­let Com­pany.

For­tu­nately, her run for free­dom co­in­cides with the com­pany’s an­nual pre­sea­son au­di­tions, so Claire shows up in the Big Ap­ple just in time to strap on her pointe shoes along with dozens of other would-be pro­fes­sional dancers hop­ing to grab one of the few open spots in the troupe.

De­spite be­ing with­drawn, word­less and seem­ingly re­signed to a place far in the back­ground, Claire some­how catches the eye of the flam­boy­ant, de­mand­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor, Paul Grayson (Ben Daniels), and makes it through to the fi­nal stage of try­outs.

She’s of­fered tem­po­rary lodg­ing with one of the troupe’s dancers, and ar­rives at the apart­ment just in time to in­ter­rupt a bit of sex­ual writhing that has no real plot-ad­vance­ment pur­pose but as­sures that the Flesh part of the ti­tle keeps it in line with the Starz ethos.

On Day 2 of the au­di­tion, Claire’s cell­phone rings dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly in­tense part of the ses­sion, prompt­ing Paul to ban­ish her from the room, won­der­ing aloud why he kept such a trashy bump­kin around in the first place. But just as she’s about to slink tear­fully from the stu­dio, Paul de­cides to up the ante, forc­ing her to em­bar­rass her­self by per­form­ing a dif­fi­cult dance se­quence, solo, in front of the group.

Rather than com­pound­ing her shame, the ex­er­cise el­e­vates Claire — she nails it, and Paul, gob­s­macked, re­al­izes he might have a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion star on his hands, his to mould and shape and groom to his ev­ery cre­ative whim. To say it’s a pre­dictable turn of events is an un­der­state­ment of prima pro­por­tions.

And it’s far from the only tired idea trot­ted out be­tween Flesh and Bone’s con­sid­er­able and im­pres­sive dance se­quences: there’s also a top bal­le­rina with a huge ego and an even big­ger drug prob­lem; a new-bestie dancer pal for Claire who in­tro­duces her to a way to turn her bal­let tal­ents into ex­tra in­come (yes, that’s right, it’s a strip club!); and a fe­male sec­ond-in­com­mand to the artis­tic di­rec­tor who’s Rus­sian, evil and con­stantly car­ries a tiny white dog.

It’s too bad, be­cause Flesh and Bone could have been so much more. Its pro­duc­ers got the most dif­fi­cult part right — the danc­ing — and then some­how for­got that even the most art­ful dis­play of bal­letic beauty needs to be un­der­pinned by a cred­i­ble, work­able sto­ry­line. As dis­ap­point­ing as it is, Flesh and

Bone is leaps ahead of Agent X, the made-for-U.S.-cable spy “thriller” that pre­mières Tues­day at 8 p.m. on Bravo. The se­ries boasts an im­pres­sive cast, led by Sharon Stone (who’s also an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer), James Earl Jones and Ger­ald McRaney, but its dra­matic nar­ra­tive is so pre­pos­ter­ous and its pre­sen­ta­tion is so clumsy that it’s likely to pro­voke a laugh-out-loud re­ac­tion its cre­ators clearly never sought or ex­pected.

Stone plays newly in­stalled U.S. Vice-Pres­i­dent Natalie Mac­cabee, whose first day on the job is high­lighted by the dis­cov­ery that a key she’s given at her new Wash­ing­ton, D.C., res­i­dence ac­tu­ally opens much more than the front door — it also pro­vides coded en­try to a se­cret lair hid­den deep in the bow­els of the struc­ture, where the veep’s real work as han­dler of her coun­try’s sin­gu­lar topse­cret es­pi­onage weapon gets done.

The key fits into a hole above the fire­place in her home’s li­brary; when she turns it, a book­case swings open and she fol­lows a stone-walled tun­nel, with but­ler-ish fig­ure Malcolm Mil­lar (McRaney) in tow, to a bunker that houses a bunch of techno-gad­getry and the sole copy of the real U.S. con­sti­tu­tion con­tain­ing a se­cret ex­tra sec­tion that pre­scribes “An agent of un­known iden­tity is hereby au­tho­rized to serve at the dis­cre­tion of the vice-pres­i­dent for the pur­pose of aid­ing the re­pub­lic in times of dire peril.”

The cur­rent in­car­na­tion of this Amer­i­can ver­sion of li­censed-to-kill Agent 007 is John Case (Jeff Heph­ner) and, yes, he’s quite a case. Hand­some, skilled and ruth­less, he can do what­ever the veep com­mands, us­ing what­ever means nec­es­sary while still af­ford­ing PO­TUS a hands-off layer of plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.

What fol­lows is a se­ries of spy-guy hero­ics by Case — in­clud­ing sev­eral com­i­cally clumsy fight scenes and a ros­ter of straight-from-cen­tral­cast­ing vil­lains us­ing mostly Rus­sian (and con­sis­tently bad) ac­cents — and Stone of­fer­ing up a se­ries of var­i­ously shocked, con­fused and won­der­struck fa­cial re­ac­tions.

One can only won­der if she’s us­ing her thes­pian skills to por­tray what’s in the script or just gen­uinely sur­prised that she some­how got her­self into this mess as both an ac­tor and a pro­ducer. Sim­ply put, Agent X is a se­ries... why?

So, there you have it — two new shows with noth­ing much in com­mon ex­cept the fact they’re both pretty bad.

STARZ

Sarah Hay as Claire Rob­bins (in­set) with Ben Daniels as Paul.

BRAVO

Sharon Stone and Jeff Heph­ner in Agent X.

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