Tonight’s new Bunheads episode, “It’s Not a Mint”, begins with Sasha experiencing every new renter’s worst nightmare: a possible burglary. Maybe. She arrives home with groceries in arms and finds her front door standing wide open. She smartly opts not to go inside, clumsily drops her groceries, and calls for help. The other Bunheads’ phones all go to voice mail. Her neighbor Mrs. Weidemeyer won’t answer the door. Sasha even turns to Siri to dial 911 for her because dialing three whole digits is too much work. Unfortunately her iPhone comes preloaded with the standard sitcom version of Siri that’s equipped with the hearing of a senile grandmother. (To be fair, it’s for the best that every fictional version of Siri malfunctions. If it worked according to specs, I’d roll my eyes and accuse the show of product placement. Siri just can’t win.)
Rescue arrives in the form of her dashing suitor, Roman. Sasha directs to him of numerous weapons of choice to arm himself against intruders — baseball bat under the couch, tennis racket by the fireplace, My Pretty Pony umbrella in the closet, backup baseball bat in the bedroom closet, or crowbar under the bed. Sasha has surely taken all those true-crime stories to heart and prepared her defenses well. One flaw in her plan: there’s no intruder — she apparently failed to shut the front door on her way out. Then more rescuers arrive — Boo and her parents. Boo’s dad even brought his own sledgehammer. They charge about the place, triple-checking and securing and shouting confirmation at each other from opposite rooms. Everyone agrees on two things: there’s no intruder, and there’s a spider in the bathroom that may be powerful enough to kill them all, weapons or not.
Otherwise, tonight was a special “bottle episode” — another sitcom tradition in which the whole story takes place in a single setting, either as a creative experiment or as a budget-cutting measure. In this case, what wasn’t spent on sets and camera setups was instead spent on bringing in the supporting cast all at once. The premise: a forest fire has sent the entire town of Paradise into emergency mode. Every citizen except Michelle naturally knows the drill: west-siders and east-siders each have their own assigned evacuation centers. For east-siders, said center is the dance academy. The designated captain of the east-side center is Bash (Sean Gunn), the eccentric barista last seen sparring with Michelle at his coffee shop. Bash wears his role well and boldly wears his cap that says “CAP” to signify to ordinary folks that he’s the captain. He’s very proud of his CAP cap. Someday when Bunheads merchandise becomes all the rage, I hope to see a hat sporting a photo of Bash in uniform, so I can buy my very own “CAP cap” cap.
With Fanny out of town (again? still? repeatedly? forever?), her role as evac center co-captain is bequeathed upon Michelle, despite her protests and complete lack of training. As the offscreen fire presumably rages, cast members enter and check in at the tables — Bash has A through W, Michelle has X through Z. Bash is nothing if not pragmatic about their difference in check-in skill levels. Thus does the dance academy become overrun with:
* Our four primary Bunheads, of course.
* Michelle’s best friend Talia (Angelina McCoy), who’s in town preparing for mundane wedded bliss to her beloved relic Rick. Amidst all the chaos, Talia decides, why not get married now? Granted, the fire complicates matters, particularly the part where Rick would somehow have to enter town despite the fire and roadblocks.
* Truly Stone (Stacey Oristano), who all but uses puppy-dog eyes to persuade Talia to let her be Maid of Honor, which Truly has always wanted to be for someone, anyone. Truly spends the episode living her dream and designing her own dress, eventually crafting a getup she describes as a cross between Beyoncé, Pippa Middleton, and Edward Scissorhands. Knowing zilch about the one in the middle, I’ll take her word for it.
* Truly’s sister Milly (Liza Weil), who cuts in line at check-in and dares anyone to tattle on her. Michelle asks for a stool pigeon, but is greeted with silence and loss of all eye contact from everyone else behind Milly. Mutters Michelle for the record, “Note that the group successfully avoided being wished into the cornfield.” (Milly’s perplexed response: “Why does everyone keep making the same cornfield joke?” Type-A overachievers like Milly have no patience for Rod Serling.)
* Milly’s personal chef Helga and her masseuse Eliza. Because Milly has certain requirements of life, you see.
* Jeff Tobey, the annoying young waiter down at the Oyster Bar.
* Boo’s boyfriend Carl Cramer. Because strange things happen to people when they’re cooped up with others for too long, Carl and Jeff bond over their mutual admiration of Hope Springs, last year’s romantic flick about old folks rekindling their flame through therapy. To Boo’s dismay, Carl and Jeff begin giving each other Tommy Lee Jones impression tips, finding several hundred ways to say, “I like ranch chips!” in voices that sound closer to Sling Blade than to Mr. Jones. They even rehearse their own impromptu dueling-TLJs two-man-show, which proves to the world that men under 25 should not attempt this impersonation without trained supervision or natural Southern accents. Things go even more south when Jeff’s version appears to be doubling as a subtle attempt to flirt with Boo. After a brief sissy-fight, Tommy and Tommy split over creative differences.
* Dez (Paul James Jordan), best friend to Melanie’s icky brother Charlie, who reflexively avoids check-in by sneaking in through the door in the pets-only room. Melanie continues despising him on principle, but begrudgingly accepts photography tips from him and, when he tells a sweet story about a dog he used to have, doesn’t immediately punch him in the face. When he drops all pretense and asks why they can’t date, she struggles to come up with a valid response in lieu of a knee-jerk “Ew.” By the episode’s end she’s not grimacing at him anymore.
* Perfect Cosette and her brother Frankie (Jeanine Mason and Niko Pepaj), whom Ginny targets with creepy stalker stares all episode long, eying him as he changes into a “Volunteer” T-shirt to assist with evac center needs, and even succumbing to sniffing his jacket when he’s not around. No, Ginny hasn’t lost her mind at all. She’s merely one relationship away from having “CODEPENDENT 4EVAR” tattooed across her forehead. Just the same, despite their dust-up last week, Cosette does Ginny a favor and tells Frankie that Ginny’s interested in drawing lessons. This lie is exactly the breakthrough Ginny needed. Whether this represents genuine kindness or Cosette conducting an experiment at Ginny’s expense remains to be seen.
* Random families who may or may not be anyone in future episodes: Frank, Niki, and Kim Bradshaw; Georgie and Morty Attenburg; and Roger and Cissy Champlain. Mark them well now, just in case one or all of them return in future seasons as new antagonists or adult tap-dance students.
A moment of minor panic occurrs when Bash learns that westside evacuees are being treated to a top-notch juggling act and a rousing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” so audacious, they’re even singing the apocryphal second verse. (My wife insists the other verses are real. Sure they are, honey. Sure they are.) Michelle responds by pulling rank on her Bunheads and digging through the back room for old props to use. Thus do they unearth a set of miners’ helmets, purchased by Fanny as part of a planned show that would’ve been a tribute to the coal-mining father from the play/movie Billy Elliot. With zero prep time and a dozen-plus matching costumes likewise materializing from nowhere in all the right sizes (no one’s grown taller or fuller since then?), every dancer on site performs in unison for this week’s musical centerpiece, an excerpt from which was posted online previously. It’s not ballet, but it beats making up your own National Anthem.
This odd evening raises questions as it goes, some of which it answers:
* Why does Michelle squirm out of being Maid of Honor, as the most obvious choice in the room? As we learn, not because she thinks Truly deserves it, but because she’s skeptical about whether or not Talia and Rick will work. More to the point, Rick is so old (I can hear Johnny Carson fans in the back row yelling, “HOW OLD IS HE?”) that he and Talia aren’t likely to have forty or fifty years to spend together like the average, increasingly rare dream couple. Michelle still regrets that she and Hubbell had all of a single day before his tragic accident. Talia appreciates the playing of the widow card, but moves forward with her plans anyway. Michelle recognizes the difference, but resolves to support her friend nonetheless…especially when Talia blurts out that she’s pregnant. Michelle panics and offers to help raise the tyke-to-be (dubbing her proposal “2 Broke Girls and a Baby”), but is gently rebuffed.
* When Cosette tells a parable about a half-eaten African antelope to explain why she’s about to help Ginny, did she have to ruin the ending of Skyfall for many who haven’t seen it yet? It’s kind of a great film that ought to be seen spoiler-free. Not cool, Cosette.
* How can someone as young as Sasha drop a reference to dancer/social skeptic Louise Brooks? As previously established, the Bunheads seem to have watched every movie ever from 1929 to the present. Or they’re all very well-preserved ninety-year-olds.
* How did Rick bypass all the fire-related obstacles? A certain desperate Maid of Honor asked dear sister Milly to have him transported in with her private helicopter. Because she has one of those, of course. Though Milly isn’t the mushy type, her answer as to why she did so at considerable expense is merely, “Weddings are important. Or so I’ve heard,” along with a brief, possibly sincere smile.
* Who dropped a condom upstairs in the dance academy changing room? A shocked Michelle attempts to trick an answer out of her four Bunheads, but they all appear as stunned as she is. Says a seemingly innocent Boo about the colorful packaging, “That was a condom? Not a mint?” Hence we have episode title. We also hear Boo in TMI overdrive as she reveals that as soon as her mom found out she was dating Carl, her mom ordered her to start “the pill” immediately, regardless of their physicality status. Way to role-model, Nanette. Meanwhile, this question remains unanswered…for now.
* What about the fire? Oh, yeah, that. It’s put out. We also learn that Paradise’s volunteer firefighters include among their ranks none other than Godot, Michelle’s bartender surfer oceanographer not-quite-boyfriend. We’re told to expect much more of him next week…in the Bunheads winter finale! (That was fast.)
Our closing musical number: the tune that accompanies the dance number from the abandoned Jackie Elliot: the Coal Miner’s Musical — “I Predict” by the ’80s New Wave brother-duo who called themselves Sparks. In my day I only knew them for the minor track “Angst in My Pants”, but they were apparently a little bigger overseas.
Please note this official music video is rated TV-PG for scenes of Hitler burlesque terror.
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Missing an episode of Bunheads? Be sure to check ABC Family’s official site for recent episodes posted online, consult your local Video On Demand provider, spend money on them over at iTunes, try Hulu if you’re so inclined, or check out past episode recaps here at MCC. Your handy episode checklist is provided below, along with recap links where available. Enjoy!
6/18/2012: “For Fanny”
6/25/2012: “Inherit the Wind”
7/9/2012: “Better Luck Next Year”
7/16/2012: “Money for Nothing”
7/23/2012: “Movie Truck”
7/30/2012: “What’s Your Damage, Heather”
8/6/2012: “Blank Up, It’s Time”
8/13/2012: “No One Takes Khaleesi’s Dragons”
8/20/2012: “A Nutcracker in Paradise”
1/7/2013: “You Wanna See Something?”
1/14/2013: “Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor”
1/21/2013: “I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky”
1/28/2013: “The Astronaut and the Ballerina”
2/4/2013: “Take the Vicuna”
2/11/2013: “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit“