If I’m completely honest, I was a little apprehensive about Bunheads. I love Amy Sherman-Palladino with my entire heart and soul–I was practically raised on Gilmore Girls (with a helping of Friends and Dr. Quinn). I also love ballet and watching dancers dance. I’ve never been a very good dancer, and I’ve never been able to command my body the way dancers do, so I love watching people who can.
So why was I apprehensive? Well, in case you missed the ads while you were watching Disney movies on ABC Family (I mean, how else do you spend your weekends?), Bunheads is about an “aging” (read: 25) Vegas show girl named Michelle (Sutton Foster). She’s pursued by the rich, not very charming, businessman Hubbell (Alan Ruck, also known as Cameron from Ferris Bueller). When Michelle gets snubbed at an audition, she realizes that in the crazy world of dance (much like the crazy world of modeling and pitching baseball), people peak a lot younger than in other industries. So she gets drunk with Hubbell, and agrees to marry him.
Let’s re-read that last sentence: Michelle, who up to this point has been dodging Hubbell’s monthly visits like the plague (even, on one occasion, faking the flu), who referred to Hubbell as “basically a stalker,” agrees to marry him and move to his sleepy coastal town. And Hubbell, who buys Michelle expensive presents even though she avoids his calls and visits, accepts Michelle’s “yes” even though she is clearly drunk and upset. He meant well, but who on earth thinks that this will turn out well?
Plus in all the promos there was this shot of Michelle and Hubbell walking into their house and it’s just filled to the ceiling with knick-knacks and pictures and stuffed animals and if that doesn’t scream “serial killer!” (or at the VERY least “unstable!”) I don’t know what does. I mean, come on, one episode of Gilmore Girls totally centered on Lorelai and Rory housesitting for a guy whose house was eerily similar to Hubbell’s house, and he was definitely crazy.
So I was apprehensive. But I gave it a try because a) it’s Amy Sherman-Palladino, b) it’s about DANCERS, c) I like to support female show-runners as a female myself. And you guys. This show did not disappoint.
One of the best aspects of Gilmore Girls is the three generation dynamic between Lorelai, her daughter Rory and her mother Emily. On Bunheads, that’s the same, except it’s between Fanny, her daughter-in-law Michelle, and four of Fanny’s ballet students– Melanie, Sasha, Ginny and Boo. Fanny is played by the wonderful, the indomitable Kelly Bishop (who previously played Emily Gilmore in Gilmore Girls), and there are definitely flashes of Emily in Fanny’s character… if Emily wore flowing skirts, taught dance and decorated her house with stuffed animals and Buddha statues. You know how it is.
The four bunheads are all wonderfully different and vibrant and adorable. You can tell that the only reason they’re really friends is because they’re all the same age and they grew up in the same tiny town with no movie theater, where the highlight of your Friday night is when the librarian leaves the public library unlocked so you can sneak in and read. Yeah. The point is, they’re all very different girls, and their dynamic is honest and genuine. They bicker, they lash out, they show off, and they comfort each other.
My favorite is probably Ginny, who has to wear two sports bras under her leotard to quell her ample bosom (been there, sister friend!), and wonders out loud… why couldn’t she have inherited her mother’s nose instead?
Or maybe Boo, who wants to dance so, so badly, but she doesn’t have the “classic” dancer’s body. Her passion for her art and her willingness to work hard transcends the physical limitations other people place on her.
I also like Sasha–brash, bitchy, talented Sasha–who has all the talent and none of the drive. Michelle makes a brief comparison to herself at Sasha’s age. Sasha is a little too forceful (like Michelle herself) for me to love her wholeheartedly. And she must have proclaimed, in a loud voice, that she was BORED, DAMMIT, at least three times in the pilot, so that was kind of annoying, but I can see her potential as a character and I’m excited to see what happens. Sasha is the kind of girl who is a dancer because she looks like a dancer and because she doesn’t have to work at it. She doesn’t have Boo’s drive or passion. I’m interested to see how her relationship to ballet evolves.
There’s also rambunctious Melanie, but it’s a little hard to pinpoint her character. I’m sure her time will come, but right now she seems a little bit like a Sasha clone.
Besides the three generations of women, there are other obvious Gilmore Girls parallels–the same score (and I have to say, hearing that music again feels like coming home), the same snappy dialogue and charming town of quirky busybodies. But it’s also starkly different: set in California, not Connecticut; focusing on dancing instead of pop culture. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s fingerprints are all over this show, but it’s a different animal than Gilmore Girls–in the best way possible.
After 42 minutes, all of my apprehensions were washed away and replaced with pure, glowing love for Amy Sherman-Palladino, dancers, and Bunheads. I’m excited to have a new show to focus on this summer–even if it’s just for 10 weeks.
The pilot of Bunheads is available for FREE download from iTunes! This means you have very little excuse not to try it out. It’s also available on Hulu. Bunheads airs Mondays at 9/8c on ABC Family.