Bunheads may be the most unappealing name for a TV show since Cougar Town. But if the first episode is any indication, the new show from Amy Sherman-Palladino may be good enough that we don’t care what it’s called.
The show takes its title from the preferred hairstyle of ballet dancers. Sutton Foster, the star of Bunheads, plays former ballerina Michelle Simms, who gets drunk and impulsively marries the guy from Ferris Bueller (Alan Ruck) so she can get out of Vegas. Unfortunately, Ruck’s character Hubbell Flowers lives with his mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop, who played Emily Gilmore) in the small town of Paradise, California, where the residents are all up in each other’s business in a very Stars-Hollow-ish way.
Such Gilmore Girls references are the main reason I was skeptical of Bunheads. Advance reviews of the show noted the culture clash of three generations of women and the fast, snappy dialogue that made us hang on Rory and Lorelai’s every word. I wanted to believe that Sherman-Palladino could bring her distinct voice to another story, but The Return of Jezebel James, her last attempt, was so flat that I refused to get excited.
That was before I watched.
Foster is no Lauren Graham clone, but the Gilmore spirit is alive and well in Bunheads. While Michelle doesn’t match Lorelai in number of quips per minute — at least not yet — she has the same ability to be optimistic and regretful simultaneously.
The regret comes from being a classically trained ballet dancer who ends up a Las Vegas showgirl and is getting to old to be considered for anything else. Hubbell is smitten with Michelle and lavishes her with attention and gifts whenever a business trip brings him to town. His kindness and description of the beautiful view from his bedroom are enough for Michelle to say yes to his marriage proposal. He forgets to tell her the part about living with his mom.
Fanny also had a ballet career, which was waylaid by pregnancy, and runs a dance studio with four very different teenage girls with varying levels of talent and ambition.
Michelle connects with the girls immediately (of course) and eventually seems to win over Fanny, at least in part. A scene in which Fanny and Michelle do shots and then take to the dance floor in the town bar is one of the episode’s highlights.
We don’t get much more than an introduction to the other Paradise players this week, but they are quirky and well meaning, if not altogether welcoming of the “stripper from Tahoe.” Some of the story elements are a little forced, including the shocking event at the end of the episode, but I like Bunheads enough to not care whether it makes perfect sense. In fact, I’m glad to have a new show to watch that doesn’t require more of me than to enjoy what’s happening in the moment.
Foster, a two-time Tony Award winner, grew on me during the episode. At first, I was worried that she was doing a Velma Kelly imitation, but once the story got going either she relaxed into the character or I quit noticing. Either way, I want to see more of her. And I look forward to seeing more of the dynamic between all of the female characters that we met this week.
I’m eager to hear how you liked Bunheads. I don’t see much subtext fodder, although it features strong women and at least one probably gay dad. But we’ll keep watching and see if we can find some SnapCap potential. If you’d like to see Bunheads recaps, let us know in the comments.
What did you think? Will you keep watching?