Bunheads: Pilot

Welcome to our first weekly post about the new ABC Family/ABC Spark show Bunheads here at TheTelevixen! Those of you who have read my other recaps here know that I’ve usually covered procedurals, which lend themselves to a certain format; since it’s not really clear yet exactly what Bunheads is going to be, I’m going to take the opportunity to get outside that format, at least for now. Though who knows – in the future there may wind up being a Ballet Issue of the Week, etc. We’ll see.

So. Now that everyone’s seen the pilot, I can finally say what I’ve been wanting to say for weeks, which is What the heck is this show? From the marketing and the way ABC Family works in general, I expected Michelle’s marriage to result from a quick fling with a hot young guy, and for the rest of the show to have newlywed cuteness and mother-in-law conflicts in the background while teen dancer drama was foregrounded. Instead, we got something much more adult, in both subject matter and tone. Both Hubbell and the town are a little creepy at first, and the house is so obviously another woman’s house that for a good chunk of the episode I felt like I was watching what would happen if Mary Shannon from In Plain Sight were suddenly dropped in the middle of Rebecca. (Someone really should check out that house’s attic, just to be safe.) And then right when it’s looking like Hubbell and Michelle might actually be happy together, and Michelle and Fanny might find common ground – they up and kill Hubbell off!

I’m sure they’ll bring in another love interest for Michelle soon, but I don’t even really care, because obviously the best part of this show is the dynamic between Michelle and Fanny. Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop are both great actresses and play off each other marvelously. Most of Foster’s previous work has been on stage, and there were a few line readings that struck me as more theater than television, but I’m sure she’ll settle in. And Bishop is magnificent; there’s been a lot of comparison of Fanny to Emily Gilmore, of course, but while they both present a front of acerbic propriety, there are subtle differences. Both use their public personas as cover for personal demons and insecurities, but while Emily discovers that the life she always wanted and planned won’t necessarily work out the way she intended, Fanny is covering for the fact that the life she’s wound up in isn’t what she wanted at all.

And this, of course, is the primary point of connection between Fanny and Michelle. The exchange that really hooked me on the show came late in the episode, as they tried to put their differences aside and bond a little for Hubbell’s sake:

Fanny: “You squandered a lot of potential.”
Michelle: “I know.”
Fanny: “Are you sorry?”
Michelle: “Every day of my life.”

On the great majority of shows, especially shows aimed at teens, this conversation would go very differently. Fanny and Michelle would admit that things didn’t go as planned, sure, but then they’d insist that it all turned out for the best, or that they’d clearly wound up with the lives they were meant to have, or that maybe they were headed for something even better. I expected Fanny to at least point out that her mistakes were worth it because she wound up with her beloved son, but he didn’t even come up in the conversation. Instead, no: they both knew that they’d squandered their potential, and they both regret it, and they just get on with things. I love that the conversation went that way, and I hope they keep this more adult, darker tone in future episodes.

This episode spent a lot more time and energy on Michelle and Fanny than it did on the young dancers, and it’s unclear whether that will be the norm or whether it was just necessary for getting through all the exposition in the pilot. They have set the four main girls up to have a nice mix of personalities and interpersonal dynamics, and there are any number of issues they could get into, from body image to the secretly gay dad to normal teen relationship drama. Boo is clearly singled out to be the audience’s early favorite, though I’m looking forward to learning more about all of them. And the scene in which Michelle runs them through a faux audition was so ridiculously adorable that I hope we get lots more along those lines. (“Ain’t She Sweet” is stuck in all of your heads, too, right?)

There’s one more issue I have to mention: The stunning lack of diversity. Aside from the random guy Michelle dances with at the bar (and possibly Rose Abdoo’s character), Paradise seems to be entirely white, and that is unacceptable. There are, of course, plenty of small towns that are virtually all white – I grew up in one – but this isn’t a documentary. Paradise, like Stars Hollow before it, is not very realistic in any other way, so why keep this one bit of demographic realism as a lazy default? It’s 2012. Do better, show.

Next week, we will presumably be dealing with the fallout from Hubbell’s death, and I’m curious to see how long they try to drag out the question of whether Michelle will stay in Paradise, since obviously she will. Will there be some sort of inheritance issue? They did make a point of saying that the house belonged to Hubbell, not his mother. And how will the real auditions go? Watch ABC Family or ABC Spark next Monday at 9/8c and then head back here to discuss!

(Photo courtesy of ABC Family.)

2 thoughts on “Bunheads: Pilot

  1. GIRL.

    I don’t understand this show at all. And you’re right that both Hubbell and the town come off a bit creepy. It certainly doesn’t have the immediate charm of Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow–but I like that it isn’t *as* cutesy (thought, in terms of characters, it seems close enough–especially since some are even recycled).

    But I know for a fact I would’ve connected with this show a lot more if they hadn’t killed off the character I liked best in the pilot. I needed far more back story on this guy and why he was so into the acerbic Michelle who obviously didn’t love him. I live for unrequited love stories and absolutely loved how willing Michelle was to go with Hubbell on this (though I suspect killing him off will force her to grow as a character in ways she wouldn’t have if she’d been able to keep him as a crutch).

    I really wish this had been on The CW. There’d still be kids but they’d probably have more edge. As it stands, the kids are my least favorite part of this thing, with Kelly Bishop being my favorite (now that we’ve lost Alan Ruck).

  2. I only saw one commercial for the show, so really didn’t have any expectations. No kids, so I don’t watch a lot of ABCFamily, but I have to say the show surprised me on several levels. Seemed more than the typical kids show. I’m definitely going to give it another try.

    I liked the interaction between Michelle and Fanny, between Michelle and the girls, and I think I would have come to like Michelle and Hubbell. Must say the ending totally floored me. And yes, “Ain’t she Sweet” has been in my head all day.

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