Bunheads – Episode 1 & 2 Review – “My Thoughts”

You know what the best thing about having a blog is? The way you get to interact with people who have the same interests as you (television!) and they get to know your tastes pretty well after a while. So I wasn’t surprised when many readers commented, tweeted and emailed that I should check out the new show Bunheads. Why? Because y’all already knew of my intense love for Gilmore Girls, and Bunheads was created by the brains behind Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino.

To be honest, I’ve got quite a beef with Amy S-P. Yes, she created one of my all-time favorite TV shows. She created one of my all-time favorite characters in Lorelai Gilmore, she built a town of wonderful and weird characters, developed wonderfully layered relationships and wrote sharp, witty, memorable, quick=paced dialogue. All of that I love.

But I blame her. I blame her for the demise of the show. A lot of people cite the show’s last season as the weakest. Yeah, Lorelai marrying Christopher was moronic. But as I mentioned in my DVD Flashback Friday review of the show long ago, I considered season seven merely damage-control after the show was sent to hell in a hand basket in season six, Amy’s last season as showrunner.

The problems of season six? The fight between Rory and Lorelai was too drawn out, Lorelai and Luke NEVER should have broken up for a second time, and, oh yeah, remember the time Luke had a LONG LOST DAUGHTER? These were things the show never fully recovered from.

But I was willing to let that go and watch the first two episodes of Bunheads with an open mind, so let’s talk about the show.

Yep, you’re not 25.

The premise: A Vegas showgirl realizes she’s too old to get the dance parts she wants, and in a moment of drunken desperation marries and runs away with an admirer. Hubbell, the guy, had been showering her with gifts, flowers and dinner every month and promised to take care of her at his beautiful seaside home. There, she realizes he lives with his eccentric mother who, of course, owns a dance studio. Mom is angry but eventually bonds with her new daughter-in-law over shots, and at the end of the episode we learn that Hubbell was killed in a car accident.

I had mixed feelings about the Bunheads pilot. First, let’s talk about our leading lady Michelle, played by Sutton Foster. There are definitely shades of Lorelai Gilmore in Michelle – tough and sarcastic in that damaged, go-it-alone way. But Sutton Foster doesn’t have the sparkle and charisma of Lauren Graham’s pinkie finger in her entire body, and that’s painfully clear in her performance. If I’m going to get into this show, more effort needs to be made to make Michelle a very different character than Lorelai.

Kelly Bishop used to be a dancer!

It’s particularly obvious in her scenes with Kelly Bishop. Kelly Bishop played Emily Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, and has a fantastic sharp wit that’s again used here. She delivers her lines in a very similar way to Emily Gilmore, but the role is completely different. I love Kelly Bishop and I’m excited to see her on TV again, but on Gilmore Girls her exchanges with Lorelai were always so good because the two actors were so evenly matched. Here, she dances circles (Ha! A pun on purpose, deal with it!) around Michelle when it comes to dialogue. There’s something too comatose about how Michelle speaks that irked me in the pilot.

I also had a couple problems with what we saw of the characters in the town. I was thrilled to see Mindy Riggins of Friday Night Lights back on TV playing Truly, a local clothing store owner who’s in love with Hubbell. But once she finishes grieving the loss of her one true love, the whole breathy, anxious thing needs to stop. It’s not funny enough to not get on my nerves.

The dialogue still has that quippy, fast-paced vibe that Amy Sherman-Palladino practically has trademarked, though there was one scene that had me absolutely cringing. When Hubbell told Michelle why she should stay, because he understood her and knew what she wanted in life. Did anyone else hear him say that she wanted to laugh and travel and be surprised, etc. and think “Isn’t this Tyra Colette’s college admissions essay from Friday Night Lights? Maybe we should go back down to the party and ask her sister Mindy.” Seriously, I kept waiting for Michelle to say “Are you quoting Friday Night Lights to me right now?” but it never happened.

The show also has a problem with overall feeling too Gilmore Girls-y. The music sounded like an exact replica of what played on Gilmore Girls, and the wacky small-town vibe is almost exactly the same. There was even a dance studio on Gilmore Girls, granted it wasn’t as center-stage (Ha! Dance puns galore.) as it is here. And there are other differences – clearly, the four young dance students we were introduced to this week will be more important characters than anyone other than Rory on Gilmore Girls. Normally I wouldn’t want to compare two shows so heavily just because the same person created them, but the similarities basically punch you in the face.

From reading this review, you’d think I didn’t like the show – and that’s not true. I liked the “big-boned” (by ballerina standards, that’s still thin) dance student Boo, and the idea of Michelle becoming a mentor for her. I love Kelly Bishop, and I was excited to see Gilmore Girls town member Gypsy all dolled up as another employee at Truly’s dress shop. I think this show definitely has potential, though I’m curious to see how it will manage to return to that same light tone after killing off a character at the end of the pilot. I liked the pilot enough, though, to tune in for another episode, so let’s talk about that…

“For Fanny”

Bonding! Through the power of dance!

The second episode focused on Fanny (Kelly Bishop) spiraling out of control as she planned a memorial service for Hubbell, and Michelle eventually stepping in to plan something more simple. Tonally, it was a bit strange. There were definitely funny moments, but it was hard to look past the profound sadness of the main plot point. It was a strange choice, starting the show off on this note.

We also saw another Gilmore Girls alum appear. Gregg Henry, who played the ultra-intimidating Mitchum Huntzberger, showed up as the surfer-dude owner of a local dive bar (and did anyone think his wife looked familiar? she reminded me of Luke’s sister Liz on Gilmore Girls) and word on the Internet is that Chris Eigman who played Lorelai’s least-likable love interest Jason “Digger” Stiles has also been cast. With all the other similarities between Amy S-P’s two shows, I’m not sure reusing so many cast members is such a good idea.

I saw the end twist coming from a mile away – in fact, I knew it would happen as soon as the death bomb was dropped at the end of the pilot. Hubbell had changed his will on the way back from Las Vegas and left everything to Michelle. The writers needed a way to make her stay in town, after all.

I’m interested to see where the show will go from here, with Michelle living in the house and running the studio with Fanny. I worry that by focusing so much of this episode on the death of a character central to our main characters, we haven’t really been shown exactly what this show is going to be about yet. The scene where the girls began sobbing about their guilt over going to a movie instead of grieving for Fanny’s son was awkward and uncomfortable for me. I didn’t buy their tears, and it wasn’t the kind of smart, true material Amy Sherman-Palladino used to be able to give Rory and her friends.

But I’ll stick around for now. What do you guys think?