As an avid YA reader, I feel like I know a thing or two about dealing with adaptations.
I’ve lived through Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and even Pretty Little Liars (until it got ridiculous in season three) and I believe I know what makes an adaptation both good and bad, but mostly how to separate both pieces of media. Word and film don’t always translate; I get it, I really do.
So when Netflix announced a new YA adaptation called Tiny Pretty Things, based on a book of the same name by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, which I personally have not read, I was intrigued to check it out. I also ran out of things to watch but I digress. I hadn’t heard much about the series prior to watching but it seemed like it had something to say.
Boy, was I wrong.
I’m not really sure who this adapted series is particularly for but I can tell you one thing: it is absolutely not for teenagers. Unless the scope of media targeted towards teens has changed since I was one but even my 26 year old brain could not comprehend what I was watching, and since I’m still rather invested in select teen dramas of today I don’t think that’s the case here. I was baffled, shocked, and even a little dismayed, at how this show was structured. And that was only after the first ten minutes of the first episode!
Let’s backtrack a bit before I get into my grievances. According to Netflix, the show is about ballerina Neveah who recently arrives at a prestigious ballet school in Chicago, the Archer School, and learns various dark and disturbing secrets throughout the school, as well as hiding a few of her own. Sounds fun, right? It’s like your basic YA plot line. I’m not quite sure what Netflix was going for when producing this show but I can tell you that it did not deliver on what was promised.
I have three main issues with Tiny Pretty Things, which I will discuss in detail, but I do want to preface by saying my opinions are based on the show itself, not on how good of an adaptation it is. I can’t make that judgement because I haven’t read the books.
Problem number one: there is no plot at all
I think the writers really took their comp title of Pretty Little Liars a little too seriously because much like that show, Tiny Pretty Things has no plot to even speak of. Are there little meaningless, micro plots we’re forced to follow over the course of ten episodes? Sure. Is there an overarching plot to connect each episode and acts as the driving force for the whole season? Not really. You could argue that the mystery of what happened to Cassie, a ballerina who fell but was also maybe pushed off the roof of a four story building and is now in a coma, is the main connecting plot but it also seemed like the characters only wanted to talk about it for five minutes each episode and then forget about it completely. By the end of the season, you yourself don’t even care about what happened to Cassie because no one else does either. You think Neveah’s role is to uncover the truth about Cassie’s accident but she doesn’t. You think there’s going to be some kind of power struggle with her and the veteran girls. There isn’t. You could probably take out a single character in each episode and things would go on as normal because no one and nothing matters to the intangible plot of the show. The writers are too worried with subplot after subplot for each character that there’s no room left to actually deal with the main driving plot. With too many micro plots involving characters that bring nothing to the table, it’s near impossible to keep a viewer from asking themselves, “why am I still watching this?” Nothing develops, nothing gets better, and there is never any satisfying conclusion to a single plot line in the extent of the ten episodes. Strike one.
Problem Number Two: The Writing and Acting are So Abysmally Bad That I can’t Pick Which Is Worse
Let’s start with the writing: it feels like it’s written by a bunch of Gen X adults that believe they understand Gen Z culture but have no clue what they’re doing. While I am a Millennial myself and also don’t quite understand Gen Z culture, I’m pretty sure that it’s not whatever the teens on Tiny Pretty Things are doing. Whether they’re jumping to conclusions with no evidence or justification or spewing cliche after cliche in what should be basic conversations, it’s evident after just ten minutes that these writers don’t know how to write teenagers. To be fair, they also don’t know how to write adults other than Topher, a school teacher and choreographer, and Alan, the physiotherapist, who seem to be the last two people with braincells at the Archer. I mean, hell, the writers had the kids record a video for YouTube as promotion and titled the video “Dance Video” all while expecting thousands of hits to roll in. What is that? Laziness? Total detachment from reality? I don’t know. Beyond that, the characters all feel like basic cliched stereotypes, especially those of colour, and the writers don’t even bother to flesh out or layer a single character. I’m sure they think they have, but they haven’t. Of course, without a concrete plot and no structure, it makes sense that this show has bad writing. But to me, what really highlighted the terrible writing was the stale as white bread acting, taking already bad lines to beyond cringeworthy territory. I get that they were more concerned with casting people who could actually dance ballet since this is a show about ballet, but it’s very clear that the dance talent was far more important than the acting talent. Though the dancing was quite lovely throughout the show, and the dancers are talented in their craft, they aren’t so talented at acting. For a lot of them this was their first acting job which, again, I totally understand, but it felt like the producers didn’t really care that they couldn’t act well or the directors simply didn’t know how to give the actors direction. And it showed time and time again. When you have bad writing, you can mask it with decently good acting performances; when you have bad writing and bad acting, nothing can really cover how much of a mess you’ve created. Strike two.
Problem Number Three: There Are Butts Everywhere
Remember how this was supposed to be a YA adaptation? I didn’t know that that meant you could have unnecessary nudity in what felt like every single episode. And while I don’t consider myself a prude in any way, I still did not expect to see full on butts, on multiple occasions, for nothing other than what felt like cheap gratuity. I get if you want to make your show edgier and a little steamier than the typical CW teen drama because Netflix gives you a little more freedom and leniency but this was too much. It might’ve been by my fifth episode where before I started it I had to basically pray to the heavens for there to not be a butt in the episode. And I was let down consistently. Actually that’s not true; I can confirm there’s not a single butt in episode eight or ten. Every other episode? Butts everywhere. And again I get it, it’s a teen show and they wanted to show how it’s an age where teenagers are exploring and experimenting but no one asked for this. I certainly didn’t. And if you’re a parent and know that your 15 year old has read this book, however they may have gotten their hands on it, you also know that they’re gonna want to watch the show, too. But because all this excessive nudity and sex scenes, the original intended audience can’t even watch it. Older audiences won’t want to watch it because it’s another one of those soapy teen shows, and the teens can’t watch it because of the unnecessarily overboard explicit content. And yet, this is still based on a YA book. It’s also apparently about ballet but I’m pretty sure there were more butts than ballet. Strike three, you’re out.
I really wish that Tiny Pretty Things was bad simply because it’s a bad adaptation, which I’m sure it is but I can’t attest to that. But to me, while I was forcing myself to get through this ten episode train wreck, it felt like every ounce of this series from beginning to end is what makes it a terrible mess. Even with a bad show you can find something redeemable, like a good acting performance or a mildly good plot line, but nothing can save this one. I wish it was the good kind of train wreck where the characters are intentionally bad people and the plots are beyond comprehension but you’re still entertained, much like the bag of crazy that’s You. But it’s not. The show is just plain bad.
I always say you have to be careful with a book adaptation but I meant that you needed to prepare yourself for changes in the story, not that a basic YA book would be turned into soft core porn with a little bit of ballet. And I didn’t even mention that the ballet the school is performing is one about Jack The Ripper! In the words of John Mulaney, we don’t have time to unpack ALL of that.
Save your brain. Don’t watch this show.