I'm really testing the waters of what's considered badass on this site, since I'm about to discuss an ABC Family show about ballerinas from the creator of Gilmore Girls. But this is the only website I write for and I want to talk Bunheads, so I'm talking Bunheads. Join me if you'd like!
Amy Sherman-Palladino has a new series on ABC Family called Bunheads. Other than a very brief attempt with the ill-fated The Return of Jezebel James in 2008, this is Sherman-Palladino's first time working in television since she left Gilmore Girls in 2006. I love Gilmore Girls; the show is wholesome and quirky with incisive, rapid-fire dialogue and tons of great characters, many of whom are eccentric townies (my favorite!). It's not for everyone - it's so very wholesome that some people may consider it vanilla, and Sherman-Palladino's whip-quick dialogue rubs a lot of people the wrong way. "Nobody talks like that" is a common criticism, the same one that drives me crazy when people discuss Diablo Cody. Nobody talks like any fiction, and I enjoy extra-clever, heightened dialogue far more than generic TV and movie-speak. If you want to watch people who talk like you, go watch mumblecore.
Anyway, Bunheads is similar in tone - sweet and quirky but with plenty of sarcastic wit to keep it from veering into saccharine territory. If Gilmore Girls wasn't for you, Bunheads probably won't be either, but I do think it's got the potential to be an even stronger show. The pilot aired on Monday, and it's terrific. You can watch it for free here.
The show stars Sutton Foster as Michelle, an American Ballet Company vet turned Vegas showgirl who's sick of life on The Strip. Alan Ruck is Hubbell, a sap who falls for her and has been trying to get her to consent to dinner with him for over a year. He catches her on a bad day, and she finally agrees. On the date she grows increasingly inebriated and eventually marries him. He takes her to his sleepy little seaside town of Paradise where she learns that he lives with his overbearing mother (Kelly Bishop!) who runs a ballet studio next door.
There are a couple of uncomfortable issues in the pilot. First, the show is dramatically not diverse. I know, complaining about whitewashed casting is so April 2012 of me, but Bunheads is really, really white. And even more problematically, Michelle agrees to marry Hubbell, a man she barely knows, after he tells her how nice his house is and says that he wants to take care of her. That is gross. But Sherman-Palladino dispenses with the obstacle of that motivation pretty quickly, so I can continue to enjoy the show in the future. It doesn't change the fact that Michelle found herself in her new situation through some disquieting means, but again, Hubbell caught her on a bad day.
That aside, Bunheads is charming and droll, a multi-generational tableau that moves at a brisk pace and offers a lot of promise. The relationship between Michelle and her mother-in-law Fanny is made very compelling by the end of the pilot, and of course seeing Kelly Bishop knock out that snappy Sherman-Palladino banter on my small screen again is a joy. The teens who take lessons at Fanny's ballet school are all great, and the ways they interact with each other, with Michelle and with Fanny are all revealing. Bunheads has a refreshing tone beautifully pitched somewhere between drama and comedy. But mostly, it's funny. It's very funny, actually. I've never seen Sutton Foster in anything before, but she has a sort of old school, dry comic goofiness that I really dig, almost like Gilda Radnor.
The pilot ends on a shocking note that will establish the rest of the series in a very intriguing dynamic that I did not see coming. Honestly, Bunheads is a blast, and I didn't really expect it to be. As a fan of Gilmore Girls and ballet, I don't know why I'm surprised, but I found myself loving the pilot much more than I anticipated. The show has a strong voice, great performances and an unconventional tone that's working for it like gangbusters. If the very idea of watching a show about ballerinas on ABC Family doesn't scare you off, I recommend giving it a shot.