The Televangelist: Does "Bunheads" Have The Right Moves?

Each Friday in The Televangelists, one of our writers examines the met and missed potential of television.

Fans of the retired TV series Gilmore Girls learned to expect certain things from the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, during its seven-season run. Things like the quirky small-town setting, charmingly humorous dialogue, a strong supporting cast, acoustic guitar strumming in the background, a bold sprinkling of pop culture references, and a savvy-yet-rebellious lead female who ditched the life expected of her in exchange for blazing her own trail come rain or shine.

All of those elements make an unsurprising appearance on Sherman-Palladino’s new ABC series, Bunheads–along with several familiar faces from Stars Hollow, including actress/Broadway alum Kelly Bishop, who played the formidable Emily Gilmore, playing an equally formidable ballet mistress. Another former Broadway star, Sutton Foster, takes the forefront as Michelle, a professional ballerina turned Vegas showgirl turned fledgling housewife.

The show’s pilot finds her stuck in the background of a sleazy dead-end production, unable to get even an audition for something better. Carrying regrets from her past and fearful for her future prospects in show business, Michelle agrees to a spontaneous engagement (and, in true Vegas fashion, equally spur of the moment wedding) to an older admirer from out of town who promises to take of care of her. Her arrival in his small-town California home is greeted by numerous biting rumors (She’s a stripper! She’s a pole dancer! She’s a hooker!) and not a little open hostility from the gossipy natives. Most skeptical of all is her new mother-in-law (Bishop), who runs the local ballet studio with an expert hand and slightly severe gaze.

Michelle is determined to make her new life work out, and is even committed to finding the sparks in her marriage of convenience despite her doubts. Admirable, certainly, but the end of the episode leaves both Michelle and the audience wondering what could possibly come next for her.

It’s hard to say what direction Bunheads will take as the series continues, but I’m willing to make a few predictions.

Firstly, like Gilmore Girls, the show will focus on the dynamics of female relationships. The chemistry between Foster and Bishop is interesting, and the overall cast leans heavily on female characters. If the past is any indication, we can look forward to those characters being well-developed beyond the surface characteristics displayed in the first episode.

Secondly, come expecting dramedy. One particularly entertaining scene in the pilot features Michelle’s husband gently reaching out to her during a moment of sadness–while employing a Godzilla analogy. Tender moments and tense ones are equally fair game for witty comic relief.

Finally, if Ms. Sherman-Palladino’s new endeavor hopes to have the same kind of success and lasting resonance that Gilmore Girls did, she’ll need to bring the same positive heart to it as well. Her writing is at its best when she finds the charm in the little things, even the awkward moments and family fights. While Gilmore fans may feel the déjà vu on occasion, there’s new ground to cover as well, and the ballet world presents many an opportunity for laughter and heartache alike.

Bunheads has potential. Let’s just hope it can live up to that past its debut.

About Faith Newport

Faith Newport writes, knits, drinks lattes, and sings in the shower in a small Midwestern town. She lives with two cats, too many books, and her very patient husband. Follow her on Twitter @knittybarista.

  • http://goannatree.com Anna

    I was intrigued by the pilot. The end of the pilot was a little predictable and I’m hoping that it lives up to its potential.

  • http://www.facebook.com/religionwriter Jim Davis

    I started watching the show on the strength of “Gilmore
    Girls,” but gave it up this season. Aside from the chatter — which seems faster and more frantic than ever — the show veered more into the lives of the mid-teen girls, including how and when to lose their virginity. Clearly not aimed at my demographic.