What I thought about: Spinning Out

From the gashes in Justin’s leg and the crack in Kat’s skull, to the racism, loneliness, and crippling bipolar disorder, Spinning Out cuts deep. This is a rare example of a trailer failing to sell a show properly – I took a punt and loved it.

Kaya Scodelario is excellent in this, by the way.

What’s it about?
Kat Baker (Kaya Scodelario) lives (at first) with her younger sister, Serena (Willow Shields, of Hunger Games fame), and mother Carol. They’re a family of figure skaters – Carol having dropped out of the sport after having Kat a fairly young age. Kat’s about to take a test to be a skating coach, her dreams of making it to the Olympics as a figure skater were dashed since she cracked her head on the ice in a bad fall. She’s been too afraid to land a proper skating jump ever since, so coaching is her last shot.

Or is it? Well, no, that would be rather boring. Kat predictably fails the test, but is spotted by Dasha, a coach for the talented pair skater, Justin Davis. What follows is their incredibly turbulent journey to try to compete together as pair skaters – with Justin promising never to let Kat fall.

What do I like about it?
You get a cool insight into life as a figure skater. The show is full of little details, like the chatty, fiercely competitive mums who swap passive aggressive comments about how their kid is better than the others, and the determination of the skaters who get up at 5AM every day so they can arrive in time for the first session on the ice, every single day. Skating is, as you will come to learn, full of sacrifices.

There’s also a varied spread of characters – Justin is a rich kid who parties (a bit too much), Kat is harbouring a dark secret about her mental health, her best friend is nursing a hip injury but feeling pressured to continue skating, Serena battles loneliness despite being a successful junior skater, and her coach is coming out of a messy divorce. Whilst the plot for some of them is quite spotty, I still got incredibly invested in their lives both on, and off, the rink.

What do I not like about it?
The plot is choppy, especially towards the end, and character behaviour is sometimes off. Time-keeping is also non-existent, with weeks of time having flashed by in an instant without any cues besides a character casually dropping a line like ‘we’ve been doing this for weeks now!’.

But you know what? For better or for worse, for no tangible, objective, reason, Spinning Out is one of my favourite shows of the year. It’s hard to explain why, but it just is.

Worth a watch?
I certainly think so, unless you’re sure you have no interest in a drama set around figure skating.

By the way…

  • The show features numerous body doubles from the Canadian national skating team.
  • Although I’m sad to see it cancelled after one season, I do think it works well as a standalone series.

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What I thought about: Dating Around (Season 2)

With its carefully choreographed camera angles and unique story-telling structure, this American take on First Dates is refreshing, cute, and genuinely brought a smile to my face more often than not.

The smooth panning shots and excellent colour grading make this show an especially cosy watch.

What’s it about?
Five first dates, one follow-up. Each episode of Dating Around follows one central person and the five dates they go on. Each date is shown simultaneously and smoothly using a unique structure. The central person might be shown asking a question to Date Number Two, and in the next shot we see Date Number Three answering it.

Two important differences to First Dates. Firstly, Dating Around puts food and drink on the back burner and lets the daters cover some pretty deep conversational ground. Secondly, the final few moments of each episode don’t involve two people awkwardly announcing whether they’d see each other again (neither of them wanting to go first for fear of being rejected). Instead, the closing moments of each episode sees the central person casually hanging around, awaiting the arrival of their chosen second date. The producers tease us with shots of random passers-by, making us wait with baited breath to see if they chose the person we were rooting for from the earlier dates.

What do I like about it?
Everything about the show – from the colour grading, cinematic camera angles, narrative devices, and the final ‘second date’ reveal, is more cosy and inviting than the harsh CCTV-style we see in First Dates. Don’t get me wrong, I like First Dates too, but Dating Around certainly feels more suited to its American participants, who will excitedly talk about where they came from before they settled in New Orleans, where this season is filmed. I’m not sure us Brits could be that excited talking about our hometown of Skegness or Guildford (no offence to those places).

It’s for this reason that I found myself having a smile on my face more often than not, as I enjoyed seeing the diverse range of dates warming up to each other and forming what, occasionally, looked like some pretty deep connections. Speaking of diversity, there’s plenty of it here – especially in the age and sexuality department. That said, Season 1 had a dedicated episode for seniors, which was missing this time around.

What do I not like about it?
Very little. Episodes are 30 minutes and therefore very bingeable. The show is warm and inviting – perfect for watching with friends, family, or significant others. I just wished we got to see a little more into the post-show lives of the participants. Besides the second-date reveal, we are completely left in the dark.

Worth a watch?
Yes, especially if you like this kind of show. You don’t need to have seen Season 1, but you might as well!

By the way…

  • One of this season’s participants has hinted at a possible ‘where are they now’ episode, saying that Netflix asked him to ‘keep coy’ about his love life for now.
  • One of the dates in Episode 3 is polyamorous and only dates bisexual women. See if you can guess which one it is.

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What I thought about: My Secret Romance

My first foray into Korean television is this ridiculous romantic comedy whose premise is truly absurd and which stretched on for far longer than it had to. I still finished it, though.

The show goes into multi-camera slow-motion whenever something like this happens.

What’s it about?
Three years ago, Yoo-mi, a struggling nutritionist student, caught a bus to her mother’s third wedding at a seaside resort. On the bus, she met Jin-wook, a chaebol heir (that means he’s the son of a wealthy businessman). A spoiled brat, Jin-wook had been sent to the same resort for hard work and discipline. Long, painfully comedic story short, the pair have a one night stand.

Fast forward to the present day, and Yoo-mi has achieved her dream of becoming a qualified nutritionist and begins her first proper placement at a large conglomerate in the city. As she soon finds out, Jin-wook is the CEO of the company, and he never quite forgot about the night he shared with Yoo-mi. What follows is a nonsensical plot – all you need to know is that it is, after all, a romance story.

What do I like about it?
It can be funny. Jin-wook’s personal assistant is hilarious – sharp, professional, but good friend to him when he needs to be, he wears patterned suits to impress his crush (one of the other staff at the canteen). In fact, there’s a theme here – much of the supporting cast were really quite good, such as Yoo-mi’s best friend from school, a popular travel author who owns his own bar (literally, ‘Beer and Book’), exudes an effortlessly cool vibe.

And, credit where it’s due, actor Sung Hoon fulfils his role as an attractive lead character with what has to be the most chiselled jawline I have ever seen.

What do I not like about it?
Two things stick out to me. Firstly, the show’s entire premise is ridiculous – this guy is so emotionally damaged that he never moved on from a one night stand he had three years ago? And she ends up working in his company’s canteen? I suppose this is completely international – is it supposed to be funnier this way? I’m not sure western viewers will find comedy in this.

Secondly, without going into the plot too much, it felt a lot like Jin-wook was massively abusing his position as Yoo-mi’s ultimate boss. It seemed a bit abusive. But it is romantic – Yoo-mi gets a happy ending, it’s all fine. I just cringed a lot whenever Jin-wook would exercise some kind of control over her in a way that made her appear uncomfortable. I suppose this is another cultural difference, perhaps?

Worth a watch?
Not really. This is rather different to western TV and honestly, not even worth it for the plot. But do go ahead if you’re curious – I was.

By the way…

  • Yoo-mi is played by K-Pop idol Song Ji-eun
  • One episode has Jin-wook meet with an overseas investor. I have NO idea what country this guy was supposed to be from. He spoke English in a weird sort of Dutch-American accent.

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Quickfire round: The Half of It

What is love? One of the best lines in this quirky LGBT romance movie answers that question, shall we say, boldly. It’s just a shame that it fails to tie everything together nicely by the end of its runtime.

I have no idea why Netflix marketing thought this was the best shot to use for media publications.

Ellie Chu is a high-school genius who writes paid essays for her classmates – it’s much needed money, given the work-shy state of her father. Knowing how good Ellie is for words, underperforming (and far too nice) jock, Paul Munsky, asks her to write a love letter to his crush. But, friendless and bullied, Ellie has never known what love is, so she ironically plagiarises an old movie for inspiration.

The girl in question, Aster Flores, perfectly fits the somewhat cliched mould of beautiful and popular, yet complex and misunderstood, that we often see in indie romance films like this one. Upon receiving Ellie’s letter, which was far too intellectual to have realistically come from Paul, she begins to rethink her relationship with her rich and popular boyfriend. Maybe there is some out there that gets her?

So far, so cute, so typical. But there’s a bit of a twist – Ellie is crushing on Aster just as hard as Paul is. Ellie isn’t faking it when she writes to Aster; her writing, that resonates so strongly with Aster, comes from the heart.

So, look, it’s an adorable and often funny movie. It’s beautifully shot, well paced (objectively slow, but fittingly so), and touches on the sensitive subject of unreciprocated lesbian romance. It’s no surprise that the movie won Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. However, I do have a couple of issues with it.

Firstly, Ellie comes across as remarkably confident and assertive considering she has no real friends and is often bullied, which seems a little… odd? Secondly, the movie doesn’t really come to any kind of satisfying conclusion. The best it can muster up is a sweet link to an earlier scene in the movie, producing a warm fuzzy feeling but not one of satisfaction. I suppose it’s intentional – as wild as the concept of Ellie’s pseudonymous back and forth with Aster is, the film brings it right back to reality at the end, leaving me a little dejected.

Altogether, though, this is a nice movie to watch if you like what you see in the trailer (and much better than Dangerous Lies on the scale of Netflix films).

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