Once upon a time I danced ballet and watched a lot of Gilmore Girls. Grand jetés and Amy Sherman-Palladino were my thing. So it should come as absolutely no surprise that I loved Bunheads. FREAKING ADORED IT.
Bunheads has everything you loved from Gilmore Girls: quick-witted female characters, snappy dialogue, Kelly Bishop and an adorable small town (with no movie theater, which is a sin against society if you ask me). With that said, Bunheads is not Gilmore Girls.
For one thing, it’s plot is farfetched (which is to be expected from an ABC Family show).
Michelle Simms, played perfectly by the incomparable two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster, is a struggling Vegas show girl. Once upon a time she was an impressive dancer who studied at ABT also known as the American Ballet Theatre. But she was young and lacking discipline — a trait that is essential for any dancer who wants to be successful — and so she followed a friend to Vegas on a whim.
Years have passed and she’s still dancing in the chorus with feathers on her head while making Gaddafi jokes. Despite verbal quips and pure talent, Michelle is always in the background, which shouldn’t be hard to believe for anyone who knows the tough world of dance or a person who’s lost their way.
Michelle has no money, a sham of a career and lives next to a hooker who looks like she might be a distant cousin of Bruce Vilanch. So following a terrible non-audition and three martinis, Michelle decides to marry the rich, kind and lonely Hubbell Flowers, played by Alan Ruck (Yes, Cameron ya’ll). She still looks hungover while he zooms down the highway to her new home: Paradise. No, really, that’s the town’s name.
Unfortunately she finds that paradise is not quite so pleasant; Hubbell’s hard-ass mom Fanny, played by Bishop, is their roommate. Word spreads of her arrival. Or more accurately rumors claiming she’s everything from a Playboy Playmate to a stripper.
And here begins the beauty of two strong-willed women head-butting! It even leads to a spectacularly hilarious and absurd dance-off in the local pub between Michelle and Fanny. While that may be good fun and slightly ridiculous, it’s made up for by a very telling and well-written moment when these characters bond over drinks about missed opportunities and “time getting away.” A moment that is evidence of how ABC Family tempers absurdity on some of their best shows.
Of course we also meet the students from Fanny’s dancing studio. And that’s where things become predictable and boring. Their names are Melanie, Sasha, Boo and Ginny. And I’m not sure who’s who. Except that Sasha is your A-typical ballerina: slender, limber and a total bitch.
There’s also a girl who’s insecure about her technique and her body, common themes in dance films and shows (please see Dance Academy, Breaking Pointe, Center Stage or even Black Swan). This is a normal struggle for dancers since they’re always striving for aesthetic perfection, but I just wish it could have been done with more nuance here. Perhaps it’s still to early to tell. And hopefully no one will develop an eating disorder.
The girls in the studio are the least interesting aspect of the show. I think they gave them more than enough time in this pilot episode. Hopefully the focus won’t shift too gravely from Michelle and Fanny because Bishop and Foster are so likable and so thrilling to watch, it’s really all you need.
As for Hubbell [SPOILER ALERT], it looks like he’s dead. What an interesting twist at the end of the episode! Just when things were going well, he dies. And it’s a shame too because I was really enjoying his character. They did a great job of developing him in this one episode, which is essential since I’m certain the gravity of losing his presence will be a factor in many episodes to come.
All in all, it was a great show! And honestly, what else did you expect?
When you’ve got Emily Gilmore taking shots in black character shoes, Sutton Foster doing the pony and impromptu dance-offs scattered between heart-felt monologues, you’ve got yourself a hit!
Bunheads airs on ABC Family Mondays at 9pm.
Did you watch Bunheads? What did you think?