Let me put out a disclaimer: I don't give a crap about ballet. It is not a subject that makes me giddy, and it is not something I personally seek out as entertainment. Despite that fact, I have become wrapped up in Amy Sherman-Palladino's, the creator of one of the most under-awarded shows of the last decade Gilmore Girls, newest series Bunheads. The initial setup is a little kooky, a Las Vegas showgirl drunkenly marries a big fan of hers, and ends up in Paradise, CA, a sleepy little town where Hubbell's mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop) runs a dance studio. When Hubbell is unexpectedly killed in a car accident, Michelle (Sutton Foster) and Fanny are left to pick up the pieces, and more importantly, Michelle must find a purpose for the rest of her life. Along the way we learn the lives of four of Fanny's best students as they grow up, and face the changes of a teenage life.
Bunheads is a sharp, funny, and original series that has been a perfect delight for summer television. And luckily, for those of us who don't get ballet, there is not so much of it that I ever get bored or annoyed. Even more lucky is that this wonderful set of wacky charaters, not unlike those we saw in Gilmore Girls (heck some are even the same actors, ps - I missed Kirk!), are beautifully portrayed by some great actors, young and old. At the top of the pack are Kelly Bishop and Sutton Foster. Kelly plays a hippie version of Emily Gilmore, and is still a scene-stealer, a constant reminder that she was robbed for seven straight years of a well-deserved Emmy nomination. But the real revelation is Sutton Foster. Like Lorelei Gilmore before her, Michelle Simms is witty, all-knowning, strong, and at times vulernable, and she whizzes through the pop-culture references, and sarcastic comments with ease. But make no mistake, Sutton Foster is not trying to be Lauren Graham. She has created her own unique character that proves that Foster can make the move from Broadway star to television star.
Despite my praise, I hope that as Bunheads takes a break before its winter return, that Sherman-Palladino and her team make a few changes. First, Foster is an incredible singer and dancer, and we never get enough of it. Second, and probably the most glaring problem the series has faced so far, is what to do with Hubbell. After his death they sort of ignored him for about a month. And as the big break was coming up, they decided to bring him back, but the move felt awkward. I want to see them use Hubbell's death more efficiently, and tie up Michelle's two possible romances, or at least continue them so as they make sense for the continuing storyline.
Beyond those few points, Bunheads has been a refreshing site on summer cable TV. It is not a show based on action, but on characters, and their relationships with one another. While its ratings may not guarantee another renewal, which is a huge shame, its team should be proud of the work they have done. And I do hope that ABC gives it another chance, because it is not often that a TV show takes such care of its characters, without sacrificing its integrity or its entertainment value. Its season finale was a nice Dead Poets Society cliffhanger, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Grade - B+