I was 12 when I quit. Thank goodness, because according to Flesh & Bone (Lightbox), it's addictive and really bad for you. Sure, giving up ballet meant I would never get into the company of my dreams. But it also meant I wouldn't casually lose a toenail, be humiliated if my phone rang during class, or be told to "get the girls out" at a company party. My sadistic brother wouldn't come looking for me, a homeless guy wouldn't give me drugs and my jealous new flatmate wouldn't be a complete biotch.
All of this happens to troubled ingenue Claire in the creepy but compelling new series from Breaking Bad's Moira Walley-Beckett. Just as Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan explored the ugliness lurking beneath the beauty of ballet, this unsettling drama finds depraved new levels for the characters to sink to for their art.
Sarah Hay (also of Black Swan) is well cast as the new girl in the American Ballet Company. She's naive, sensitive, vulnerable. She's also brilliant, and thrown into the principal role overnight, turning nearly everyone into her nemesis. If you thought Glee was catty, try surviving a day in this studio.
Everyone is insecure about their place in the company, particularly ageing principal dancer Kiira, who is sleeping with the boss and on drugs. The straight guy wants to shag Claire. So does a wealthy Frenchman who she's virtually set up with as payment for sponsorship. If there's a theme developing it's that the dancers are expected to, well, perform. Even the semi-friendly one gives lap-dances at a seedy club. All of which gives the first episode a kind of bleak humourlessness. But by the second ep, this nasty little melodrama has become quite addictive. And because it's ballet, there's always something pretty to look at, even if some of it borders on cliche.
It's led by a cast of world-class dancers who are exquisite to watch, even if they're just warming up in the background. Little details make it more authentic too - Claire's green-eyed flatmate keeps her pointe shoes in the fridge. Like Breaking Bad, Flesh & Bone admirably shows, rather than tells, many of its disturbing scenes playing out without much dialogue. When it does come, it's pithy and dark.
"We make gravity our bitch," smirks Paul (Ben Daniels), the mercurial head of the company, who looks like a rugged Ethan Stiefel. The former American Ballet Theatre star and artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet for three years, Stiefel is also the show's choreographer. Judging by his congenial public appearances, it's doubtful he'd have resorted to the dismissive cruelty of his TV alter ego. If that were the case, few would continue to dance beyond the age of 12.
Speaking of series based on films, Fargo (midway through season two, 8.30pm, Tuesdays, SoHo) is a sardonic match to the Coen brothers' flick of 1996, and so far, just as good as the first season, if not better. Suck on that, True Detective. It leans just as heavily on stylistic touches, the wintry Minnesotan landscape as much a character as the cheery North Dakota accent, and the strong cast - Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Donovan, Jean Smart and Nick Offerman - gelling to create the grittiest, funniest drama on air.
Meanwhile, the show cleverly reflects a time of cultural change, whether it's showing a woman in charge (Smart's crime family matriarch) or throwing in an awkward conversation between Lou Solverson and Ronald Reagan at the urinal.
For what was a relatively simple set-up of a murder gone wrong, the plot keeps finding new ways to surprise, the latest the bloody attacks meaning a war between crime factions is well and truly under way. Aw geez.