Review – Bunheads
Bunheads – ABC Family – 9:00/8:00pm Monday – USA
Bunheads is the new ABC Family comedy-drama from Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan you should already know whether you want to tune in for the Sherman-Palladino’s latest effort because nobody does heart-warming small town stores packed full of rapid fire dialogue that’s littered with pop culture references quite like Amy Sherman-Palladino does. Bunheads is a return to form for the writer who we last saw misfire with the awkward The Return Of Jezebel James.
Bunheads tells the story of Michelle Simms (Sutton Foster), a Vegas showgirl who feels she’s on the wrong side of twenty-five when she’s turned down for an audition before even getting a chance to perform. Down on her luck, drunk and desperate to get out of her crappy apartment Michelle agrees to marry her long-time admirer Hubbell (Alan Ruck) even though she doesn’t love him, after he promises to take care of her and take her away from Vegas and back to the small town he calls home. In lesser hands this premise would feel far more contrived than it comes across here – Michelle’s mouth-that-doesn’t stop and her self-deprecating wit make her a charming, if slightly grating, hero.
As we kick things off in Las Vegas Bunheads initially feels like it might be some kind of cross between Smash and The L.A. Complex where putting on a show meets the crushing reality of broken dreams. However, as Michelle and Hubbell drive towards the coast and to the small seaside town of Paradise Bunheads arrives in a world familiar to any Sherman-Palladino fan, a world filled with quirky but loveable locals unafraid to stick their noses into somebody else’s business. Hubbell takes Michelle to their new house with its beautiful ocean views and Hubbell’s mother, Fanny, played by none other than Kelly Bishop (Emily Gilmore from Gilmore Girls). Fanny isn’t as stuck up as Emily was but she’s just as quick with a one-liner and while Fanny and Michelle initially butt heads they soon find an understanding through the world of dance.
Fanny is the teacher at the local dance academy where we meet four teenage girls; the bitchy one, the goofy one, the one who lacks confidence and the short one. Like most Sherman-Palladino characters they at first appear to be simple stereotypes but time will no doubt reveal more layers to these girls. Bunheads is at its best in the pilot when Michelle is showing the girls what a real audition is like – until that point the show had been a little shaky, like it what it was trying to do but wasn’t quite there yet. When Michelle meets the girls, though, the show just clicks into place.
Bunheads is a funny, charming and downright sweet comedy-drama. The only off-point is that Sutton Foster is giving a performance that is a little too Lorelai Gilmore-y. Foster has great comic timing but it sometimes feels like she’s playing a different character to herself. Once Foster is able to settle into the character the show will be right on track. This is the best drama to appear on ABC Family since the equally as charming Huge, sadly it looks like Bunheads’ also inherited Huge’s low-ratings. The nice thing about ABC Family is that they don’t yank underperforming shows from the schedule – at the very least we’ll get a season of Bunheads and odds are that season is going to be delightful, funny and very Sherman-Palladino-y.
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