Bunheads was the best new show of the summer, and it just so happens to be kicking off the second half of its first season on ABC Family tonight (January 7th, 9/8c). If you haven’t checked out Gilmore Girls‘ creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s latest show about fast-talking ladies who live in a delightful small town then you’re missing out: it’s charming, warm, funny and features some truly unique dance numbers. Now is the perfect time to jump into the series, but in case you need a few incentives, here is everything you need to know to get caught up before the winter premiere:
At the center of Bunheads, is Michelle (Sutton Foster), a former Vegas showgirl, who impulsively marries a nice guy she barely knows named Hubbell (Alan Ruck). Less than 24 hours later, Hubbell dies, leaving Michelle in possession of his house in the small town of Paradise, California, much to the distress of his bohemian, dancer mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop). To put it mildly, this leaves Michelle a little freaked out.
She is a character who has been running from adult responsibility her entire life. (For the Gilmore Girls fans among us, imagine Lorelai Gilmore if she had never had a kid.) Living in Paradise offers Michelle an opportunity to find stability and a purpose as she begins to mentor a young group of ballet students Fanny teaches, but she has a habit of self-sabotaging out of a fear of failure. At the end of the first half of season one, Michelle left Paradise after accidentally macing all of the dancers during a performance of The Nutcracker. She saw the accident as further proof that she wasn’t cut out for a life with roots, but I have a feeling she won’t be able to stay away for long.
(One more thing you should know about Michelle: Foster, her portrayer, is giving one of the most nuanced comedic performances on television right now.)
Teen storylines can be dicey for any number of reasons from inexperienced young actors to writers leaning a little too heavily on the angst button, but Sherman-Palladino has always written fascinating teen characters, and the four on Bunheads are no exception. So far, the most fleshed out of the four are Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), a ballerina, who struggles with her body image, and Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), who is the best dancer in the class, but has a troubled home life that is encouraging her to indulge her rebellious streak. However, before the break, Ginny (Bailey Buntain) came out of nowhere and began stealing the show with her fast-talking, old-before-her-time routine. Melanie (Emma Dumont) is lagging behind in the characterization department, with her only defining features thus far being a general kookiness and a twin brother who both Boo and Ginny have had crushes on, but she still fits in nicely with the other girls.
It took a few episodes, but the series has settled into a nice rhythm with its teen stories, balancing general teenage growing pains with burgeoning love stories and dancer-specific issues. Happily all four girls are talented enough to pull off Sherman-Palladino’s trademark rat-a-tat, screwball dialogue, which makes watching their stories unfold all the more fun.
If you were a Gilmore Girls fan, you really have no excuse for not watching Bunheads. Don’t tune in expecting the series to be a carbon copy, but Sherman-Palladino, like other small screen auteurs, does have a distinct style that runs through all of her projects. The main reason why Paradise looks like Stars Hollow is a cosmetic one: both towns are populated by residents who look strikingly similar. Sherman-Palladino has recruited many of the talented regulars from Gilmore Girls to play townsfolk in Paradise. So don’t be surprised when you see Kirk (Sean Gunn) pouring complicated coffees in his new role as a very serious barista, Zach (Todd Lowe) as an eye-patch-wearing plumber, or Mitchum (Gregg Henry) as a surfer dude/restauranteur.
The most notable cast crossover is the incomparable Kelly Bishop as Fanny. Emily Gilmore is such a memorable character that it seems like it would be impossible to accept Bishop as anyone else, but she has infused so much energy and depth into Fanny as she grieves her son and adjusts to her new wacky daughter-in-law that Emily seems worlds away.
The cast overlaps give Bunheads an instant sense of familiarity, while still allowing it to build its own unique world. Happily, it’s a trend Sherman-Palladino appears to be sticking with as Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls‘ Paris) is said to be guesting soon.
From Glee to Smash, there are plenty of shows where the characters routinely break into song and dance numbers these days, but Bunheads is managing to do a lot more with much less. Dance routines are used sparingly, but when the ballerinas, or Michelle, do get to perform, the routines tend to be showstoppers. There have been lighthearted numbers like the hilariously off-kilter Paper or Plastic dance, and breathtaking character-driven routines like Sasha’s moody interpretation of Istanbul. All of the young actors are dancers first, and they, along with Broadway star Foster, are bringing a level of talent to the screen that is unparalleled.
The most important thing you need to know about Bunheads, is that it moves at its own pace. Early on, some critics seemed baffled by its lack of forward momentum, but Sherman-Palladino has never been overly concerned with plot. She writes rich characters and killer dialogue, and plot is the thing that occurs between bouts of banter.
Watch it for the sweet friendships between the ballerinas, or Fanny’s quest to build a life that isn’t centered on her son, or to see if Michelle finally figures out how to commit to…well, anything. Bunheads is completely character-driven, and trust me, the characters are such a pleasure to spend time with, you won’t miss the complicated mythologies and convoluted backstories that most shows seem required to come with these days.
Will you be tuning in to Bunheads tonight? Sound off in the comments!
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