Bunheads – ABC Family

First, a quick programming note – I am on vacation most of this week, so there will probably be fewer posts than normal and it may take me longer to approve comments. But I will be checking in!

Bunheads is the type of show that isn’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. Though I will admit to watching the show Greek during its run (and, as a former sorority girl, enjoying it), ABC Family isn’t a channel that I spend a whole lot of time perusing. Their programming is aimed at a younger demographic, though a disturbing number of my acquaintances are big fans of Pretty Little Liars. As someone who never took ballet classes as a little girl and was unceremoniously informed by a former boyfriend that I had two left feet, I wasn’t necessarily drawn to Bunhead’s focus on the world of dance. But I was a fan of the show Gilmore Girls – at least until they introduced the character of April – and its rapid fire dialogue and quirky characters. Gilmore Girls always kind of reminded me of West Wing in pacing, if not in content. So when I heard that Bunheads was the new show by Gilmore Girls showrunner and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and she was reuniting with the fabulous Kelly Bishop (the former Gilmore matriarch Emily), I decided that it was worth at least a look.

In the pilot of Bunheads we meet the dancer Michelle (Sutton Foster), who is getting a little too old to have not received her big break yet. She’s making ends meet as a showgirl in Vegas, but the difficulty she has in even getting an audition and the constant rejection are beginning to wear on her. Her chance at stardom may have passed her by; in her latest audition, the director didn’t even let her dance. She was summarily dismissed as too old. After that humiliation and consuming large amounts of alcohol, Michelle gives in to the charms of her doting admirer Hubbell (Alan Ruck aka Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), who offers her a way out of Vegas and promises to take care of her. She spontaneously marries him and he takes her to live with him in Paradise, California.

Paradise doesn’t live up to its name, however. Michelle is horrified to discover that small town doesn’t even have a movie theater; for fun on Friday nights, the local teenagers sneak into the town library. Hubbell also omitted the fact that he shares his home with his mother Fanny (Bishop), who is none too pleased that her son has impulsively gotten married and brought home his new bride unannounced. The townspeople do not welcome her with open arms either; the only people that Michelle easily connects with are the young women who take classes at Fanny’s dance studio.

While I generally liked the pilot of Bunheads, it paled in comparison to Gilmore Girls. I don’t know that they will be able to capture that same magic. Sutton Foster is very good with Sherman-Palladino’s rat-a-tat language and has very good rapport with Bishop. But while I was watching, my mind kept drifting to how Lauren Graham (Parenthood), Gilmore Girls’ leading lady, would have read the lines. This not necessarily a critique of Foster; I am just more used to Graham’s delivery and chemistry with Bishop after seven years. In time as Foster grows into the role and her character develops, I’m sure the comparison will lessen. As someone who has done plenty of time on Broadway, Foster brings authenticity to the scenes in the dance studio, which should be a strength of the show. Bishop is no slouch in this area either, as she is a former Tony award winning actress who starred in A Chorus Line.

Unless ABC Family changes their programming model, I imagine that this show is going to focus more on the four girls in Fanny’s dance class that we were introduced to in the pilot. From what little I know about the network’s other shows, their primary emphasis tends to be on the relationships and lives of young women, not on adults. If that is their plan, they are going to have to develop those characters more fully than they did in the first episode. The bold strokes of their personalities are established, but they will have to become for fully realized to become interesting week to week.

There is a plot twist in the finale that did give me some pause. The ending of the pilot is tonally inconsistent with the rest of the show and the development came out of nowhere. I’m just not sure where the show is going to go from that ending. It didn’t feel organic and felt forced. If they want the show to return to the tone that 90% of the pilot established, they will have their work cut out from them.

One other issue I see with the show is the title; I’m not sure that Bunheads is going to make a lot of people tune in. The title of a show is important to potential viewers – just ask the good people of Cougartown.

Bunheads is a fine little show, but I don’t know that it will make it into my regular viewing rotation. While I always enjoy Kelly Bishop and Sutton Foster shows some real promise in her first starring television role, I’m probably more likely to re-watch my Gilmore Girls DVDs. I may give it a few more episodes to see if it will draw me in; it has definite promise, but the pilot didn’t 100% convince me.

Bunheads debuts tonight on ABC Family at 9 pm ET.

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