ABC Spark’s ballet dramedy Bunheads aired it’s mid-season finale last night, and while I’m glad the show got a deserved renewal I still think there’s room for improvement. I’ve written about the show twice over the course of its ten episodes, and the lack of reviews hasn’t been due to a disinterest in the show. I watch every week, usually the next day on DVR, and have generally enjoyed what I’ve seen.
I think the problems of Bunheads boil down to three things:
- Too many Gilmore similarities
- Weird tonal shifts regarding the death of Hubbell, which happened at the end of the pilot
- A lack of progress when it comes to Michelle and her role in Paradise as a town, and the dance studio
In both of my previous reviews I’ve commented on how reminiscent (or copycat, if you want to be harsh) the show is of showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino’s previous work, Gilmore Girls. Many readers have agreed with me, some of you have told me to get over it. And I’d love to just put that gripe aside, I really would. Gilmore Girls is one of my favorite shows, and I’m abnormally familiar with it. But even if I’d only seen a handful of Gilmore episodes and even if I didn’t know about the Amy S-P connection, the similarities would stll jump out and punch me in the face.
Just look at the penultimate episode, “No One Takes Khaleesi’s Dragons”. (Great title and pop culture reference, BTW.) The episode opened with our main character, a tall, fast-talking, quippy brunette, itching for a caffeine fix. Familiar guitar strumming and la-la-la-la’s play in the background. And then a familiar face shows up – that’s right, KIRK serves the coffee in this universe.
Ack. It was so bizarro-Gilmore that it was impossible not to keep thinking “Kirk. Kirk. Kirk. Fake Lorelai. Kirk. Where’s Luke?” Nothing against Sean Gunn – he was funny and weird as the barista with an inflated sense of importance – but I couldn’t see him as anyone other than Kirk.
The tone and writing style of Bunheads is already so similar that when Palladino recycles actors, it becomes too much.
Death of a Salesman
The second problem I mentioned was more evident in the mid-season finale. Michelle had a dream featuring Hubbell, and once again we were reminded of how she got to Paradise, and how the show only sometimes acknowledges that. Sure, it was brought up that time Michelle had a panic attack when sleeping with another guy, but there have been long stretches where I’ve actually been able to forget poor Hubs altogether.
Killing off Hubbell in episode one was a bold choice, and I’m not sure how the writers should have handled it in the following episodes. But ignoring it completely most weeks, and dropping it back into the story once in a while, has not been a particularly successful strategy. At this point, we got the dream sequence with Hubbell and Michelle and I think that was effective, so it might be best to sort of just move on.
My last complaint is that I’d hoped to see a little more progress with Michelle and her new life by now. For a while there, I thought things were going great. Michelle was taking on more responsibility at the dance studio, and after the cupcake road trip she and Truly were becoming friends, rather than just two people who tolerate one another. And then the very next week, Michelle was back to looking at Truly like she’s an alien and Truly was back to sighing because Michelle does everything wrong.
I thought we were making progress when Fanny mentioned to Michelle that she might go away to Montana with her boyfriend, because Michelle would be running the studio in her absence. I love the witty exchanges between Michelle and Fanny, but I’m not sure the show has ever gotten that relationship quite right. Having Fanny drop in and check in on the studio once in a while, and complain about how Michelle was running it while being begrudgingly grateful, that seems like a good place for the characters to be. I’m not sure what to expect of them in the next season.
“A Nutcracker in Paradise”
That said, I did enjoy the episode. I didn’t expect to like the teen characters as much as I do. The show has done a good job of actually making the interpersonal dramas of the girls’ lives interesting. Boo is a likable underdog, and her profession of love for Carl in this episode was quite sweet. I like that while Sasha has often been depicted as a mean girl, we’ve also been allowed to know where that comes from, and she does have an endearing, mature sarcasm that I can appreciate. Ginny and Melanie could be expanded a little beyond perky and witty, respectively, but I like them. (Though while Rory’s ability to chatter away in witty pop culture references was always explained by her having Lorelai as a mom, I often wonder how these kids know so many movies from before their time. I love that most of them knew “O Captain! My Captain!” but really, that’s strange for a group of fifteen year olds.)
In the episode, Michelle ruined Fanny’s production of The Nutcracker by accidentally spraying all the dancers with her “pretty mace”. Then she accidentally ruined Fanny’s lifelong casual relationship, though I think that perhaps we’re being tricked in that regard. I wouldn’t be surprised if next season we learn that Michael actually just ran off to cancel his land sale in Montana or something.
Bunheads will return with more episodes in the winter, and while it’s certainly easier to find the time to watch in the TV dead-zone of summer, I’ll tune in. What about you guys?