My TV

05 July 2012

Pilot Watch (+2): Bunheads

By // TV

I’m loving Bunheads, but I put off doing the Pilot Watch until I’d given it a little more time. I needed to know that I loved it out of something more than Sutton Foster/Kelly Bishop fondness, surprise at quality on ABC Family, my ballet obsession and Gilmore Girls loyalty (it’s the first major series from creator Amy Sherman Palladino since her mother-daughter masterpiece). Add to that a premise that required the entire pilot as setup before jumping into everyday proceedings, and I was pretty sure I needed a couple weeks to wrap my head around Bunheads. On the other side of its first three episodes, despite being robbed of the ongoing presence of the wonderful Alan Ruck, I’m still loving Bunheads. They took a week off this week so I figured I’d use this time to fill you in on the good-natured, fast-talking awesomness.

*There be Spoilers Ahead*

We start with Sutton, because if you can’t buy her gawky charisma and babbling spontaneity, this show’s just not going to work for you. Years after making her Broadway name as a small town girl coming to the big city in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Ms. Foster’s starting in on the new medium as a girl from the big city whose life crashes into a small town existence. She plays a Vegas showgirl who shouldn’t have ever been a Vegas showgirl, having been classically trained at a top ballet academy. When she spontaneously (read: for plot convenience and nothing more) marries her most devoted fan, he whisks her away to his theoretically idyllic existence in a small town that’s like a funhouse mirror reflection of Stars Hollow. Everyone’s a little insane, very sheltered, and incredibly suspicious of our heroine and her little-black-dress-wearing, wine-drinking ways. But that’s all fine because her husband is Alan Ruck and his sweet-faced devotion and surprisingly competent romancing is both a highlight of the pilot and enough to keep Sutton’s character in town (No, I can’t remember her name. No, it’s not important that I do). But then, just as Sutton’s finding her feet in her hubby’s crazy town with her Very crazy live-in mother-in-law (the great, witty, unbearable Kelly Bishop), Tragedy Strikes! Or, rather, the awesomeness that is Alan Ruck is just too much for the show and Sherman Palladino murders him via car crash.

In the following episodes, we learn he managed to change his will in the few hours he was married and now Sutton owns everything (including the house his mother lives in, a giant property with woods, a lake, multiple ponds, and a car or two). If her mother-in-law weren’t such a passive-aggressive lunatic, that would all be fine since there’s really no reason for Sutton to stick around this place anyway, she should sell and make sure her mommy-in-law’s all set up. But we run into complication with the Dance Studio that’s also on the property. The dance studio Kelly Bishop’s defensive crazypants runs and Sutton finds herself drawn to. And thus, the story begins. Or, rather, is beginning. So far there’s been so much settling of affairs that it’s hard to tell exactly where the show will go beyond Sutton working at the dance studio alongside Bishop. But Amy Sherman Palladino is considered a great of family dramedy for a reason and I trust her to find things for these people to do in this limiting landscape.

Meanwhile, the B-plots are being occupied by a delightful cast of teenage ballerinas who are already my favourite thing about the show by far. There’s the tall, thin one with the flawless technique, the biting insults and the cold family. There’s her golden-hearted underdog of a friend literally named “Boo”. There’s one who’s as-of-yet less defined, but we do know she has a cute brother Boo likes. And there’s the one who looks like Megan Hilty, but if Megan Hilty played a sweet, caring, excitable 15-year-old ballerina instead of a complexly self-destructive Broadway wannabe. She’s my favourite so far because both Sasha (the mean one) and Boo (the sweet one) are a little too limited by their responsibility to contrast each other. I’m hoping, actually, that Ginny (the Megan Hilty one) has a bit of a thing for Boo since I could see the closeness there shifting as they get older and poor Amy is always being accused of white-washing everything, at least that would bring a little diversity (not the kind her accuser Shonda Rhimes was looking for, but still a start). It would also be an interesting story for the girls to play, and since they’re really capable actresses I think they would relish harder material. Just a thought. In related news, they’re all Beautiful dancers.

Like The Newsroom and so many other things before it, Bunheads is an auteur-driven entity. You don’t often hear that descriptor on such lighthearted fare but it couldn’t be more true than when dealing with Amy Sherman-Palladino. She has her own rhythms, her own style, her own character and content signatures. So if you like Amy, you’ll like Bunheads. The rest of you might think it’s a little silly.

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