This is our first episode review for Bunheads on GTTV, and boy was it an unfortunate place to begin. I, like many others, started watching the series solely because of the name attached; Amy Sherman-Palladino made a classic in Gilmore Girls back in 2000, and I was willing to give anything a chance because of this track record for bringing me joy. And this new effort, focused on the world of washed-up dancers, missed-opportunity and fresh talent, had a lot of the ingredients I wished for. Too bad it hasn’t bothered to mix them together properly.
We start the episode with an amusing possum incident. There’s nothing really amusing about it, though, as it’s a teaser trick that’s been used before. Everything about the structure of Bunheads is haphazard and unplanned, and comes across as a series a skits rather than anything resembling a television show. Gilmore Girls did it too, I remember being surprised when I first started watching it, but somehow always included a plotline and story that carried the audience through all of the eccentric townspeople and lengthy conversations. If I’m comparing the two series too much, it’s because Bunheads is inviting such action – I even heard some GG-score this week.
Sutton Foster, though lovely in her own way, comes off as a more annoying version of Lorelai, and therefore has none of the authenticity or honesty that Lauren Graham pulled off each week. Her story could easily be compelling, and wouldn’t need the stream-of-consciousness ranting, if the writing delved into the infinite well of possibilities they set up in the pilot. Michelle is a 30-something dancer who never made it, married a nice but dull man out of desperation, and moved to a town called Paradise to escape her dreadful life in Vegas. She landed herself in a dance studio, run by her mother-in-law, but refuses to teach out of fear she’ll be settling. That’s interesting, but only grazed over this week as an afterthought.
The bulk of the action takes place in the Oyster bar where Boo has gotten a part-time job. I assume this will be a new hangout for the younger characters, and occasionally Michelle, and might ground the teenage characters in a more realistic way – they can’t spend all of their time in the ballet studio, after all. Boo strikes up a friendship with the handsome bartender, son of the restaurant owners, who resolutely ignores Sasha’s brazen advances. What bothers me about the four teen characters at the moment is that we only know two of them. Boo and Sasha are interesting because they’re so different from each other, but it would be nice to get acquainted with the middle-men, too.
When Bunheads gets it right, it’s a lovely way to spend 40-minutes, but never goes deeper than that, and can too often get it horribly, disappointingly, wrong. I also love when we get real ballet performances, as we did this week, as this is where it’s unique selling point lies. Must do better, but I’m not giving up quite yet.