Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers from Spinning Out‘s first season.
After a string of seasons from popularly renewed shows such as You, starring Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley, Netflix introduced the new year with something different: a sports drama.
Netflix’s new series, Spinning Out, features a number of familiar faces, such as Kaya Scodelario from The Maze Runner and January Jones from Mad Men. The show also features Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, who adds a nice touch to the series. The drama centers around romance, mental illness, abuse and race through dizzying, yet exhilarating twists and turns that are consistent with the atmosphere and overall ambience of the show.
Spinning Out follows Kat (Scodelario), a young figure skater whose dreams are crowded by a graphic head injury, which is shown within the first few minutes of the premiere. Her injury triggers bipolar disorder (an illness Kat’s mother suffers from) after seemingly no prior symptoms.
Kat is in constant turmoil as she recovers from this newfound issue in her life while dealing with her mother, Carol (Jones), who seems to favor her younger sister Serena (The Hunger Games‘ Willow Shields). Kat is soon granted the opportunity to work with Justin Davis (Evan Roderick)—whose father owns the hotel she works for—in order to reclaim her spot and confidence as a top figure-skater.
Those who are with her during this ride, such as Jenn (Amanda Zhou), Marcus (Mitchell Edwards) and Dasha (Svetlana Efremova), seem like only secondary characters at first glance. However, they help carry the plot with their own intricate storylines.
At first, I wasn’t even sure the series was worth watching and those critics’ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes certainly weren’t helping. Starting off, the showed seemed as if it were heading in a clichéd direction. Kat is afraid to skate again. Someone sees the light in her. She’s offered a coveted opportunity. She has a rival competing for that opportunity. She falls in love and that’s it.
In fact, it kind of does follow this format, but not down to a T. In reality, said “mean girl” (Kaitlyn Leeb) doesn’t even majorly linger over her head or around for more than two episodes. In fact, this very complaint about “clichés” is what’s most unique about the show. There are, of course, clichés (life is pretty clichéd after all), but when characters are complicated, well-done even, humanized to the point where events don’t feel as soap opera-ish as it may seem at times, you can move past the storyline.
One of the biggest themes of the show is mental illness, particularly the stigma and shame surrounding it. As mentioned before, both Kat and her mother, Carol, suffer from bipolar disorder in varying ways.
Kat is seen through many points of the series suffering from a manic episode (which I greatly appreciate in comparison to the typically incorrect portrayal of the illness) where she impulsively acts in an overly enthusiastic psychosis. Meanwhile, her mother’s episodes are shown with bouts of anger and compulsive motions.
The series is almost spot on with this element. It’s a misconception that everyone with mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, is severely affected in the same way, specifically by acting with extreme violence. However, in this series, the two characters suffering from the disorder face very different symptoms.
I love the fact that Kat’s infatuation with her love interest, Justin, didn’t magically cure her. However, this fact doesn’t take away from their fairly stereotypical actions and how their romance counteracts the overarching theme of ridding stigma surrounding the illness.
I’m not convinced the way it illustrates bipolar disorder does much to destigmatize it. The writers seemed focused on using mania to fuel drama.
But I’m interested to see if anyone with that diagnosis does a write up on the show—I’d love to hear their take on the portrayal.
— FigureSkatingMisc (@figureskatingm1) January 2, 2020
Another major underlying aspect of this series is abuse. Kat’s younger sister, Serena, is seen acting differently around the first supposed perpetrator, Mitch (Will Kemp), who’s her coach. This allegation, of course, doesn’t hold weight. The random suggestion of an inappropriate action Mitch did is inconsistent with the intended good nature of his character. The good of this incidence is that it mentions the sexual abuse that does go on in sports (such as with Larry Nassar), particularly with primarily female victims.
Do I think the execution of this abuse was done well? Not necessarily. The shock of the assaulter being the doctor, whose role was pretty irrelevant until he was interested in Jenn, was a plot twist. It was random and slightly inconsistent with Serena’s behavior and the assumed direction of the show. I think there should have been more consideration in this plotline.
The most accurate, but most minor aspect, of the show is racism. I’m glad that the show acknowledged its place in a primarily white town, with hardly any blacks, as many series try to stray away from by including a token character here and there to avoid the conversation.
Marcus’ character is a calm, level-headed character that is a nice accessory to the chaos featured throughout the film. One of his main plotlines is the very aspect of his race and the baggage he carries with it. His issues range from racial profiling, his experiences with unfair treatment from the police, being the only minority in his town following his passion for skiing and even interracial dating.
Marcus is not treated as someone just there to fill a spot for the show. As with nearly all the characters consistently shown, the series impressively adds depth beyond his primary focus.
All in all, Spinning Out is by no means perfect. I mean, that season finale was quite anti-climatic and a slight letdown to the nerve-wracking undertone throughout the series. I’m also unsure of, with everything that’s happened, how an entire second season will be in comparison to the first.
However, the series has a certain flair that’s hard to come by. I’m certainly interested in a second season, but I think with certain real-life elements (such as in Serena’s storyline) there needs to be a more delicate approach and intention rather than a plot-driving tactic.
Featured Image via: IMDB