ABC Family Consigns “Bunheads” to One-Season-Wonder Status

Bunheads, ABC Family

One last Bunheads pic for the road: Bailey Buntain, Kaitlyn Jenkins, Emma Dumont, and Julia Goldani Telles.

It’s never easy when one of your favorite shows ends prematurely without a chance for a tidy series finale.

After months of stalling on a decision, ABC Family finally revealed on Monday that Bunheads has been officially canceled. Despite internet buzz among select circles that now qualify for collective relabeling as a “cult following”, ratings among the Nielsen commoners were never great, especially compared to the performance of the rest of ABC Family’s mostly teen-soap lineup.

As created by Gilmore Girls mastermind Amy Sherman-Palladino and a talented staff working with minimal resources, Bunheads was a literate, tragicomic fusion of ballet, Broadway, a female-majority cast, Sorkin-speed dialogue, showtunes, obscure entertainment punchlines from previous decades, dexterous back-and-forth rhythms, and musical numbers not set to the tune of current Top-40 hits or overplayed ’80s oldies. On a broadcast network, a show containing any two of these elements would’ve been lucky to reach episode three, even on the CW.

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ABC Family Orders Spelling Bee Game Show, Leaves “Bunheads” Rotting in Limbo

Alfonso Ribeiro

Former child actor Alfonso Ribeiro knows about gamesmanship. (photo credit: RangerRick via photopin cc)

If it were up to me, I’d be spending my Monday nights the same way I did last summer: watching and recapping ABC Family’s Bunheads. When I took advantage of a free advance preview of the pilot last year, I was unprepared for a show about a California dance studio to become appointment viewing for an old man who’s never before had any interest in shows about dancing, teens, or dancing teens. (I’d never even followed an ABC Family series before, unless reruns of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? count.)

Full credit for my Bunheads fandom goes to an atypical cast, talented crew, shrewd choices in songs and routines, the constant flurry of unpredictable pop-culture riffs, and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who had to know that a ballet dramedy would a hard sell in today’s TV landscape. Alas, too few Nielsen commoners supported its first season to guarantee its renewal, but it beat enough late-night infomercials to merit extended reconsideration by the Powers That Be…who, four months after the season finale, have yet to decide whether it lives or dies.

This same management team had no compunction announcing their latest approved acquisition this week: a weekly spelling bee! Because certified TV scientists have proven in their shiny corporate labs that America loves its game shows, erstwhile Fresh Prince sidekick Alfonso Ribeiro will be hosting the upcoming Spell-Mageddon, in which contestants must refresh themselves on their old high-school vocabulary tests and enter the low-stakes world of competitive spelling, without benefit of Auto-Correct or even Auto-text. Truly this promises to be like an aerial death match without a net.

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“Bunheads” 2/25/2013: Secrets Not for Everyone

Bunheads

Left to right: Sasha, Ginny, Melanie, Boo

Tonight’s Bunheads winter finale, titled “Next!”, needed a very special TV rating to warn away older male viewers who might feel more than a little creepy watching scenes of teenage girls discussing their plans to go to the library and check out the entire sex education bookshelf. Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) is the instigator here, in full overintellectualization mode. She demands her boyfriend Roman (Garrett Coffey) provide her with a list of all his past relationships, well aware she’s manifesting an Anna Karenina sort of paranoia. She commands Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) to accelerate her relationship schedule with Carl for no justifiable reason. She likewise includes Melanie (Emma Dumont) and Ginny (Bailey Buntain) in her orders, but Melanie deflects Sasha’s bizarre projection: “We’ve got ‘potential spinster buddy comedy’ written all over our faces.” Sasha even corrals all her Bunhead buddies into a montage of R-rated book-learning.

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“Bunheads” 2/11/2013: Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the CAP Cap

Bunheads, Sutton Foster, Sean Gunn, cap capTonight’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.

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“Bunheads” 2/11/2013: No One Expects the TAFT-POKI-RIP Inquisition

Sutton Foster, Angelina McCoy, BunheadsOn tonight’s new episode of Bunheads, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” (that’s the episode title, not the main clause of this sentence), our heroine Michelle is forced to cope with two (2) formidable challenges. First up, as spoiled in the episode title: pantsuits! With Fanny MIA from an episode once again, Michelle is left alone to work with Milly on the next step of the Millicent Stone Performing Arts Center process: zoning approval from the town committee. Michelle nearly tries to go it alone, but Milly scolds her for not keeping her in the loop on any important issues. (“Anything that can’t be answered by reading a Judy Blume novel? CALL ME.”) Such formal requirements, in Milly’s estimation, cannot be completed while wearing anything except a pantsuit. Leave it to Truly and the magic of Sparkles to provide Michelle with options, all equally businesslike and hard to tolerate, even with meatball-sized beads and whatever “color blocking” is. Later in the episode she comes to terms with this temporary fashion detour and recognizes the inherent advantages — fewer wardrobe malfunctions; more pockets than dancewear has; and, on a metaphysical level, the pantsuit is “binding, so it keeps all your powers in.”

Michelle needs all the pantsuit power she can summon, for this very important meeting (held on an accelerated schedule per Milly’s wishes for control-freak purposes) is no less than a rematch with Sam (Rose Abdoo), Sal (Homicide‘s Jon Polito), and the other members of The Association For The Preservation Of Keeping It Real In Paradise (a.k.a. TAFT-POKI-RIP), last seen in episode nine, “No One Takes Khaleesi’s Dragons“. Already indignant because Milly lied about providing snacks, TAFT-POKI-RIP finds one major flaw with the amphitheater construction: all the innocent squirrels that will be left homeless and starving as a result of the slight deforestation that will be key to the plans. Somewhere out there in Paradise, someone asked plaintively, “Won’t someone think of the squirrels?” And like a bunch of screwy busybodies, TAFT-POKI-RIP answered the call, displaying all the acumen of the Vermont townspeople from Newhart. Fortunately for sensitive eyes, this environmental debacle is settled entirely offscreen by Milly in full-on rage mode. Somehow the day is saved and the MSPAC proceeds on schedule.

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“Bunheads” 2/4/2013: Millicent Stone Presents “Sleeping Beauty and the Seven Dwarves”

Sasha, Julia Goldani Telles, "Bunheads"Sasha’s parents may be divorcing and deserting Paradise in separate directions, but judging by the evidence presented in tonight’s new episode of Bunheads, “Take the Vicuna”, their forgotten credit cards are keeping their daughter company in their absence. Their magically limitless credit line is enough to secure her new luxury apartment, cover the utilities bills (and hopefully the learning curve that goes with those), provide two carts’ worth of startup food and accessories, and still have thousands left over to throw a righteous housewarming party for her core friends, several classmates, the grownups who didn’t abandon her, and for reasons unknown Aubrey (Victoria Park), her onetime cheerleading captain. The snacks are plentiful, the guests receive parting gifts, and the decor is so over-the-top ornate, you’d think Sasha shares an interior decorator with Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec.

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“Bunheads” 1/28/2013: the Brother from Another Musical

Bunheads, Sutton Foster, Hunter FosterIf you’re among those fans rooting for Michelle to remove foot from mouth and get back in good graces with her surfer bartender oceanographer near-beau Godot, this week’s new episode of Bunheads, “The Astronaut and the Ballerina”, may have been a disappointment for you. Michelle approaches, makes bad jokes, digs her hole a little deeper, gifts him with a copy of Finding Nemo because of oceanography, but then watches her baby steps to forgiveness interrupted by a surprise visitor: her deadbeat brother Scotty!

For value-added meta-fun, Scotty is played by Sutton Foster’s real-life brother, Tony Award nominee Hunter Foster (2003’s Little Shop of Horrors). In mere minutes we find out what Scotty and Michelle have in common: they’re terrible at life decisions. Scotty retreats from a Madison (Wisconsin’s, I presume) to our little town of Paradise as a four-time runaway groom who needs a place to crash and a fellow loser with whom to hang out so he can feel better. Unfortunately Scotty drops by just in time to ruin Michelle’s plans and further delay the reunion of “Godelle” or “Michot” or whatever we ought to call their attempted pairing.

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“Bunheads” 1/21/2013: Financial Alternatives to the Small-Business Loanie-Thingie

Sutton Foster, BunheadsTonight’s new episode of Bunheads, “I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky”, saw the return of one of Michelle and Fanny’s most dreaded mutual enemies: their accountant, Eric (Ron Butler). Though they ostensibly “run” a dance studio as an awkward partnership, neither of them is big on bookkeeping, finances, profit margins, simple math, or numbers in general. Consequently, the studio is tanking hard, thanks to the Nutcracker fundraiser disaster, Fanny’s reluctance to bill many of her poorer students, and both instructors’ penchant for canceling classes on a whim and/or plot device.

Presumably before Hubbell’s death he managed his own money as well as his mother’s studio, but apparently didn’t leave her enough of a fortune to fund it on auto-pilot in perpetuity. Eric’s base-level fiduciary jargon reminds me of my day job, but is useless against a pair of flighty dance instructors, even though they prefaced their office visit with several rounds of energy drinks and a dedicated physical training montage set to faux-Rocky fanfare. Had they spent their formative years double-majoring, they wouldn’t be in this mess or, one hopes, overdosing on Red Bull. As it is, the best business proposition they can muster is a shaky plan involving a donkey, a sluice box (or “sluicer” in Michellespeak), and some gold in them thar hills.

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“Bunheads” 1/14/2013: Many Happy Returns from Camp Wannapamothpa

Cozette, Jeanine Mason, Bunheads

Cosette the Cosmopolitan: friend, foe, rival, or everyone’s new role model?

Last week on Bunheads was the mandatory conclusion in which the our broken-up old team finally set aside their differences and arrest warrants, and came together once more for the good of the town and the premise of the show. This week, class is back in session in the new episode titled “Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor”. Ballet recitals have resumed, and even the adult tap class is back on the schedule, if a bit jealous that no one ever pays to watch them perform The Nutcracker. That’s best for all involved, really — if Michelle had mistakenly maced these mothers and grandmothers, I can imagine several of them Macing her right back. The last thing Paradise needs is an all-out Mace war.

In happier news: Carl Cramer is back! Boo’s effervescent boyfriend returns after his annual six-week retreat at Camp Wannapamothpa, named after a Native American phrase so covert that it defies even Google’s almighty reach. Boo fusses about preparing for him first, but no such luck — good ol’ Carl (Casey J. Adler) is thrilled to see her, hand-carved her a Katniss Everdeen quiver as a gift, and doesn’t care that she’s sweaty and saw Magic Mike twice while he was away. Thus does Carl have the honor of seeing his sunny-side response to Boo’s confession used as the episode title. I didn’t make up that title myself.

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“Bunheads” 1/7/2013: Return of the Nutcracker Macer

Bunheads, episode 11

What happens in Henderson, NV, dies in Henderson, NV.

If you began following Midlife Crisis Crossover after September 1, 2012, a bit of reintroduction is in order:

Last summer I found myself addicted to an unusual new ABC Family series, thanks to a sneak preview for which I had zero expectations. The dance-crazy dramedy Bunheads surprised me with its rapid-fire dialogue, spark-filled cast, and copious pop-culture references — and not the same tired quotes from, say, Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz. How many shows do you know that are off-kilter enough to make cracks about Martin Scorsese’s Kundun years after the fact, regardless of whether or not you could possibly envision the character sitting still long enough to watch the whole thing? I’ve never been a big fan of ballet, shows where the males are wildly outnumbered, or ABC Family, but Bunheads had me hooked from episode one. When the material is high-quality, I don’t care about its genre. Regrettably, I’ve seen very little of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s most famous series, Gilmore Girls, but I appreciated the input from trusty readers who filled me in on GG-related Easter eggs and casting coups that Bunheads apparently relishes. Someday I’ll have to borrow my mom’s DVD sets.

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“Bunheads” 8/20/2012: the Ringer Twirls While the Ballerinas Burn

"Bunheads: Rise of The Ringer"

The Ringer waits in the wings for her time to strike.

Important things first: ABC Family has wisely chosen to order more episodes of Bunheads, with a promise to return in the winter instead of making us wait till June 2013 for our next fix. Much appreciated, ABC Family execs!

That saving grace means that this week’s episode, “A Nutcracker in Paradise”, wasn’t the series finale after all, but a “summer finale” marking the end of the season in an astronomy sense rather than the TV-standard sense. I’m unused to this approach to TV time-marking since I’ve never watched any other ABC Family shows, unless you count the old reruns of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? that they dropped long ago, or one time our family visited the set of The 700 Club in Virginia Beach even though we weren’t fans. (Long story.) I look forward to the “winter premiere” when its time arrives, but one has to wonder if the summer season and winter season will together comprise the eventual Season 1 DVD set, or if Summer 2012 was Season 1 and Winter 2012-2013 will be Season 2, or if the DVD manufacturer will avoid “season” divisions and opt instead for “volumes” like some animated shows do.

I’m taking a DVD release for granted, of course. Now that the specter of cancellation has dissipated for the moment, unbridled optimism is the order of the day. While we’re dreaming big, let’s also wish for more fun cameos for the benefit of you Gilmore Girls fans, maybe a few higher-profile guest stars, and something involving the word “Emmy”. Call me a lunatic, but it feels a lot better than living in a constant state of fear and chanting, “Six seasons and a movie! Six seasons and a movie! Six seasons and a movie!” as if the Beetlejuice summoning method will make it so.

Regardless: we can breathe more easily, knowing that the show didn’t end permanently with this week’s cliffhanger. I knew the show was headed somewhere dark as soon as I realized that the first half-hour had far too many happy moments in it. Too much happiness always means doom and gloom are bound to arrive and restore much-unwanted balance to the scales. First happy event: the previous week’s feud between Ginny, Melanie, and Boo over the date-ability of icky Charlie and dashing Carl was forcibly negotiated with a gum-wrapper treaty and no small amount of badgering from an annoyed Sasha and a tentatively promoted Michelle, clearly high on the first of many power trips yet to come.

With everyone friends again, love was truly in the air! (Well, not for Truly, hereby dubbed Lady Not-Appearing-in-This Episode.) Michelle and Godot the bartending stud moved past the googly-eye stage and shared tender public moments, to a lot of bemused head-turning from the other tables. Fanny and Michael seemed happier than ever, and in talks for some extended quality time in Montana. Boo gave the most achingly self-deprecating speech of the season, threw herself on the mercy of the Nutcracker fundraiser, and won back the heart of Our Hero Carl at last. Hurray for happy endings that will certainly stay very happy forever and sure not be ruined by any horrifying turn of events or anything!

Not even Sasha was immune to Cupid’s well-oiled scattergun. Despite her wish for lesbianism to save them all from guy trouble, Sasha met-cute against her will with a potential suitor of her own at the Oyster Bar’s fundraiser. He begins the episode as Tyler, star of a sad basketball team on a Charlie Brown losing streak, and ends the episode as Roman, newborn rebel transformed by thirty-year-old goth-rock. I’m fine with the costume department’s eclectic decision — grateful, even, that they went with something besides ’80s hair metal or up-‘n’-coming corporate-rock product placement. I’m not sure how well “Bela Lugosi is Dead” would lend itself to modern dance, but they’re certainly welcome to try. (If that doesn’t work out, might I suggest “Detonation Boulevard” by the Sisters of Mercy?)

Outside the subplots of love, Sasha once again nabbed a solo routine, this time in a satirical anti-Wall Street number accompanied by the descendants of the dancers from Madonna’s “Material Girl” video. Michelle enjoyed a rousing musical moment, a dream rendition of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. Boo and Carl shared a blissful makeup dance to “The Rainbow Connection”, as covered by Weezer with Hayley Williams of Paramore. Hopefully the winter season/volume/session/whatever allows opportunities to shine the spotlight on Ginny, Melanie, or even twelve-year-old Matisse, who by my reckoning is owed something for enduring Ginny’s frantic will-I-or-won’t-I rapid-fire blathering that seemed to be fueled by one too many gallons of Red Bull. (Fun trivia: this episode isn’t actress/dancer Matisse Love’s first time performing The Nutcracker.)

Alas, everything came crashing down in the episode’s fateful second half, in which Michelle wreaked untold havoc with six of the deadliest words in the English language: “I was only trying to help.” After earning so many smiles from Fanny in the first thirty minutes, she found it was all frown-hill from there.

First she attempts to play Doctor Love for Fanny and Michael, now falling out over Michael’s alleged plan to move to Montana permanently and possibly solo. When Michelle tries to talk Michael out of doing what she thinks Michael is doing, Michael apparently accelerates his plans and vanishes ahead of schedule. Handy tip: when a schmuck of a male is trying to avoid commitment, telling him his Signficant Other’s surprise commitment plans may not be the best way to change his mind. Who knew.

And then there was the big night, The Nutcracker in all its intended glory, Paradise Dance Academy’s biggest show of the year, the one that keeps them solvent and on the map. It’s like tax season for H&R Block, or the Indianapolis 500 for the town of Speedway, or the annual Marvel crossover event. This. Was. Very. Important. And all of it came crashing down in an initially funny, suddenly terrifying sequence in which an inattentive Michelle reaches for some refreshing misting water for the overheated cast and instead whips out her can of “pretty mace” on all of them, even testing it on herself like a true Stooge. Hijinks, eye damage, and “Marco! Polo!” ensue. As blinded teens body-slam each other or crawl offstage to safety, The Nutcracker transforms into Rise of the Ringer as Sasha’s usurper seizes the day, takes the stage, and delivers the performance of her career to an appreciative audience of zero.

Yes, behind all this madness and mayhem lurked…the Ringer. The first-ever super-villain ballerina was cordially invited to infiltrate the dance studio at Fanny’s behest while Sasha was still under the spell of Bring It On. Though Sasha was obviously freed this week from the Cult of Sue-Sylvesterology and ready to assume the role of Clara per Paradise annual tradition, the Ringer was nonetheless unstoppable by the adults and unflappable in the face of Sasha’s attempt to fire her. The nameless Ringer was a lean, mean, dancing machine undaunted by multitasking, untempted by human niceties such as courtesy and emotion, and completely oblivious to everyone else’s constant movie references. “I don’t have cable!” she whined in pain as she revealed her one weakness and her secret identity in that moment: she’s obviously a Nielsen viewer. Expect this supernaturally talented adversary to become Bunheads’ answer to Sideshow Bob in the seasons/volumes/sessions/whatevers ahead.

Beyond a bittersweet yet enigmatic dream reunion between the widow Michelle and her departed one-time husband, the episode ended with a wrenching walk down the hospital’s White Mile, accompanied by the echoes of Fanny’s fury and the sounds of Paradise parents demanding something between justice and litigation. The final Dead Poets Society tribute may not have been original, but it was no less heartbreaking, especially when Michelle had to remind Blockbuster’s best customers how that particular movie ended. (Seriously, is there so little to do in Paradise that all the kids spend their entire lives sitting through eighteen hours of cable movie channels every day, memorizing them wherever possible, maybe even taking notes on index cards just for small-talk prep? Remember the time when Melanie cracked wise about Martin Scorsese’s Kundun? What human does that? Watch Kundun, I mean?)

In these next few months without Bunheads, many questions will haunt us. Can the parents of Paradise ever forgive Michelle? Can our queenly quartet devise a clever way to restore Michelle’s honor and somehow blame everything on the Ringer? Can Fanny forget that free-love cad of hers and move on with her life and heart? Even if she does, can the studio afford to go on? And is there some way Ghost-Hubbell can become a regular?

Until Bunheads returns, we bid farewell for now with this closing number — that Weezer/Williams cover of “The Rainbow Connection”, one of the best Oscar-nominated songs of all time, a close personal favorite of mine since childhood. Kermit’s fragile banjo hook strikes a nerve for me every time. This version opts instead for ethereal strings that don’t achieve quite the same authenticity, but a TV season/volume/session/whatever that included both this song and They Might Be Giants holds a pretty astronomical ranking in my book.

“Bunheads” 8/13/2012: Why Michelle Hates Kids and Ducks

Jenkins, Buntain, Dumont

If I could count the number of times that a small-town teen was suckered by a charlatan promising a “Sound of Music” singalong…

Despite Michelle’s hollow promises, tonight’s new Bunheads episode “No One Takes Khaleesi’s Dragons” featured no bris, no Hugh Jackman on Skype, no free puppies, and no Sound of Music singalong (sorry, “Brigitta”). Sadly, Our Heroines were denied those things, any other Game of Thrones references, and ever so much more, thanks to the triple tag-team menace of whirlwind emotions, unconscious rivalry, and a Nutcracker production that threatens to crash and burn harder than a rafter full of Spider-Man doubles.

For a change, some of this was Boo’s fault. Last week she failed to stand up against Ginny and Melanie when their words tore like harpies’ claws into the fragile ego of dashing Carl Cramer, her Astaire/Rogers tribute partner and would-be soulmate. This week her courage and determination overcame that failure and allowed them to connect them both for several happily-ever-after seconds, until Ginny’s subplot careened into hers. The resulting collision induced temporary amnesia into Boo, who reverted to a previous mental state and convinced herself she liked Melanie’s icky brother Charlie again. It was just like The Vow, except I’d suspect that no woman on Earth would choose Charlie over Channing Tatum.

Ginny wasn’t in the best of mental states herself. Now that Charlie has set aside his Boo-using habit in favor of simpleminded flirting with Ginny instead, her body is resorting to new defense mechanisms such as high-strung responses, flat rejection of all comestibles, bleacher-diving into hapless basketball fans, and making short jokes about other people her own height. Too bad for Ginny that she shares Boo’s inexplicable weakness for icky brothers. Thankfully social taboo affords Melanie total immunity from Charlie-crushing, but her stern reminders about the Bra Code are useless against this grave, seemingly incurable contagion. Perhaps a fundraiser is in order, if only enough top-40 musicians could be enlisted to participate in a “USA Against Charlie” benefit single.

Alas, Michelle was preoccupied elsewhere. Her attempts at simple coffee-drinking are stymied by the eccentric perfectionism of the barista Bash (Gilmore Girls vet Sean Gunn), who has peculiar ideas about buyer/seller power dynamics and who may or may not have won competitions against an actual guy from Seattle, if you can believe the stories. Then she learns that Boo and Carl’s important, relationship-making performance at the opening of a premier supermarket is threatened by the Association for the Preservation of Keeping it Real in Paradise, local busybodies who oppose such everyday pleasantries as child slavery, environmental destruction, and duck genocide.

Michelle decides the best course of action is throw caution and fact-checking to the wind, and become Paradise’s first staunch supporter of their upcoming generic-brand Super Wal*Mart. Thus she recruits Godot the potential-love-interest bartender to her cause and stages an ambush on her opponents in the Axis of Real-Keeping — tap-dance student Sam (Gilmore Girls vet Rose Abdoo), Joe who owns Joe’s Market (conflict of what, now?), and Jon Polito from Homicide: Life on the Street. Somehow the forbidden love between Boo and Carl is not enough motivation for the hearts of TAFT-POKI-RIP to grow three sizes too big and extend an open invitation to Evil Foods and their Evil Grey Poupon. Is the Astaire/Rogers show-stopper doomed before its debut? Were Boo and Carl simply not meant to be? Will his Stewie Griffin impression remain repressed forever?

Not even Fanny is in a position to assist, as her participation in Our Heroines’ lives is minimized while she concentrates on whipping numerous inadequate extras into shape to populate next week’s Nutcracker extravaganza, which require her to bark lines such as, “ARABESQUE, MATISSE!” with contemptuous desperation. Why wasn’t Truly’s witches’ brew of pumpkin-pie candles and fresh-cut flowers potent enough to course-correct such disappointing rehearsals? Would cupcakes help?

Not all subplot roads lead to more ruin, however. Sasha plumbs the very depths of her soul and her brain, only to realize that cheerleading may just be beneath her. Her kicks are too emphatic; her school pride is tainted by her belief that high school athletics are a leading cause of adult career dysfunction and midlife crisis; and her cheers are fatally insincere. Every time she lifts a pom-pom, a Spartan Spirit dies. She took the easy road out from under Fanny’s perceived oppression, only to realize that the easy road is a pretty boring drive. Two barriers now stand between the prodigal daughter and her return to ballet life: Fanny’s demand for an apology, and her own youthful stubbornness. Can she and Fanny reconcile in time to save Nutcracker and the entire school? Does the school’s fate even hinge on this performance? Should we expect scary bulldozers at Fanny’s door next week?

Hopefully next Monday’s season finale will answer these questions and more. The next-episode promo already spoiled how “one moment will change everything”, which means we’re guaranteed at least one genuine Moment. Until then, you’ll have time to let Bash design you at least one complete drink, read further into your trigonometry textbook, sculpt whipped-cream replicas of Simon LeBon’s face, locate at least one Starbucks that doesn’t play world music, frost your cookies with cookie dough, reflect on your own “commitment to the sulk”, and lift your spirits higher and higher by repeating Sasha’s best cheer before every meal:

o/~
Stay in school!
Learn algebra!
You have no future in sports!
Hey-hey!
o/~

…or you can load your copy of The Sound of Music and sing along to “My Favorite Things” instead.

“Bunheads” 7/30/2012: I’ve Seen “Heathers”, but My Broadway Scorecard is Lacking…

I never intended to dedicate a weekly spot to any given TV show, but the sheer density of dialogue, references, and character momentum packed into every episode of Bunheads keep driving me to take notes while watching for later musing and reliving. Tonight’s episode, “What’s Your Damage, Heather?”, was darker-edged than last week’s movie-truck escapade, with Michelle confirming the hard way what she’d already assumed deep-down, long before Fannie’s surprise vacation forced her into the substitute role: that teaching is hard, and role-modeling is even harder.

(Courtesy Spoiler Alert goes here. Bail out now if you’re planning to view the episode later this week on the ABC Family official site. This was no fluffy, inconsequential episode like “Movie Truck” was.)

As a consequence of Michelle’s carefree recollections of her life as a free-wheeling teen who received next to no moral guidance from her “Deb”, Ginny and Josh ended their aww-cute/uhh-weird eight-year relationship because Ginny (taking center stage for once) now feels inspired to play the field. The resulting domino effect emboldened Melanie’s icky brother Charlie to use poor lovelorn Boo as a potential inroad to now-unattached Ginny, to Boo’s humiliation and budding ire toward Michelle.

On the adult front, Truly remains on a roll from last week’s wild night and finds herself inexplicably drawn to one-eyed David the bad plumber. When Michelle isn’t upsetting the delicate fabric of the Paradise romantic scene, she’s busy bristling and fuming when Sasha acts up and all but demands a dressing-down from a capable adult. Meanwhile, Boo’s mom Nanette brings the gift of snacks, but seemed a little jealous of Michelle’s influence on Boo. Worst of all, now Ginny’s mom Claire will have to take out her own trash whenever she’s not busy shoving a real-estate pitch down someone’s throat. Oh, the horror and effort of it all. Tonight was just not Michelle’s finest hour.

Other random thoughts from tonight:

* The Heathers reference in the title was apt, though the callback to Winona Ryder’s one-time shoplifting incident seemed more than a little dated, even by the standards of a show that’s previously name-checked Girl, Interrupted. Also, though the “Heather” line is easy to remember if you’ve seen the film, Sasha reminds me more of Shannen Doherty’s Heather than Ryder’s Veronica. Differently apropos: when Charlie once again treated Boo like a doormat, I couldn’t help being reminded of poor, downtrodden Martha Dumptruck (in terms of status, not figure).

* Back in the days when I had enough hair to keep it shaggy and necessitate the use of a hair dryer, I recall many a time having them overheat and conk out after three or four minutes. How did Our Heroines manage to keep their dryers functional for three straight hours? Has the technology improved that much over the past decade? Do teams of Conair scientists work ’round the clock infusing their products with state-of-the-art upgrades?

* Are there reasons to hate Guys and Dolls? I’ve never seen it. Also to my shameful ignorance, I’ve never seen a single version of Les Miserables. Is this (a) a minor oversight; (b) a major oversight; or (c) a crime against art on my part? (If it helps, I promise to see the upcoming Hugh Jackman version as soon as it’s ready for me.)

* They mentioned a food truck fair! Finally, they cited an event we actually have in Indianapolis. I feel so hip and modern now.

* Fries on salad: worth trying or not worth trying?

* Sasha may be the first character under age 30 in recorded history to recite a snappy comeback using the word “shtetl”. Can someone verify that? Have pop-culture punchlines been sufficiently documented up to this point in time?

* Using “hip-hop line dancing” as an ostensibly made-up punchline isn’t half as funny if you’ve attended a company holiday party that endured a four-minute interruption by “The Cha-Cha Slide”. It’s not hip-hop, but I don’t appreciate that Michelle’s off-the-cuff wisecrack somehow brought it to mind anyway and now it won’t leave my head. (“Everybody clap your hands! CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP-CLAP” AAAAAAAUGH.)

* Perhaps I’m too finicky, but ending a downer of an episode with pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies and a grape juice box isn’t nearly as tempting as the cheesecake breaks that used to punctuate every other episode of The Golden Girls.

* Alas, no use of They Might Be Giants this week. I was rather hoping for a brisk interlude set to “The Mesopotamians” or even “Boat of Car” (good luck choreographing that one). For the curious, the song of the night was briefly brought to you by Mates of State, before being interrupted by the wall-punching incompetence of David the pirate plumber.

Next Week’s “Bunheads” to End With Funeral Pyre Stoked with Unsold “Private Practice” DVDs

Despite ratings for a basic-cable premiere that were okay but not grounds for instant Fox-style cancellation, ABC Family’s Bunheads made a few headlines anyway last week thanks to a gift from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, who thought the show needed publicity. Rhimes tweeted to her 190,000 followers about the failure of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino to establish and enforce strict racial quotas during the twenty-minutes-long casting phase of the low-budget show’s compacted pre-production schedule.

On Monday Entertainment Weekly passed along interview excerpts in which Sherman-Palladino expressed disappointment in Rhimes’ flagrant disregard for the Woman Showrunners’ Code, and implied her preference instead for a one-step-at-a-time approach to show creation. (Step 1: get the show on the air in the first place, compromised or otherwise. Step 2: entertain the masses enough to survive past four episodes. Step 3: make changes as needed after you know you’ve earned the privilege to continue working.)

Anyone who tuned in Monday night for the second episode would have noticed a few non-white characters in the tiny town of Paradise, including one of Fanny’s close circle of friends. The representative even had lines, but had quite the unenviable challenge of sharing scenes with the uniquely animated Ellen Greene. Asking her to steal a scene from Pushing Daisies‘ Aunt Viv, here playing an oddball found-object nude sculptress, is a taller-than-tall order regardless of minority classification.

Personally, I thought episode 2 was even more electric than episode 1, with plenty of quotable dialogue (“At last, a chance to use my high school Tibetan!”) and a few tear-jerking scenes as everyone struggled to cope with the fallout of episode 1’s devastating cliffhanger. In addition to Ellen Greene, I was also overjoyed to see the episode end with another guest star from an old, swiftly canceled, Barry Sonnenfeld-related TV show — David Burke from the live-action version of The Tick. (All we need now is a walk-on from a veteran of Maximum Bob and we can declare June 2012 as Sonnenfeldmania Month on Bunheads. Might I suggest Beau Bridges as the Mayor of Paradise?)

Discussion questions for those who caught episode 2 tonight:

1. I thought someone somewhere manufactured party tents in black. Am I, too, imagining this?

2. Is any Mark Wahlberg film really worth skipping school on false pretenses? Even if he’s making things in France explode?

3. If you ran a party supply shop, how much would you charge for Dalai Lama cocktail napkins?

4. Capes? Seriously?

5. Which Paradise resident do you think we’ll meet first, the Republican or the Liza Minnelli impersonator?

6. The USS Intrepid‘s official site offers no coupons, but does sell gift cards. Close enough?

7. Am I or am I not alone in thinking that Fanny had the funniest and saddest line of the night, as she scoffed at the notion of being prayed for from afar: “I take my spirituality very seriously. If I don’t see it, I don’t believe it!” It’s just me, right?

8. Is it really true that no one eats carbs anymore? If so, do I have to keep living in that world?

9. If the Shonda Rhimes “Save Bunheads So It Can Have Time to Replace Half Its White Cast” publicity campaign works and the show survives past this summer, which fad do you think the show will inspire first: funeral dancing or sitar players at parties?

10. Would anyone else like an encore of Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame”?

I’d also like to address what was, for me, the most incendiary portion of the show: the scene in which Michelle and Rico the mellow bartender knock the concept of brunch and raise their glasses “to time-specific eating habits.” Hey, Bunheads: really? You couldn’t show even one scene of an adult male celebrating the magical rarity that is breakfast-for-dinner, so I as a breakfast-food fan could feel good about watching this show? Not one?

Sherman-Palladino’s “Bunheads” Does Ballet with Sharper Wit, Less Trauma Than “Black Swan”

I don’t normally tune in to TV shows in which the women outnumber the men by a wide margin. I’ve seen multiple episodes of The Golden Girls and Designing Women only because they aired during my childhood, when I had no say in what shows our family watched. As far as more recent years go, let it be noted for the record that the gender margin on Buffy was by no means wide.

I never brake for ballet. I was once forced at too young an age to sit through a Dance Kaleidoscope performance of The Nutcracker that scarred me with boredom for decades. I’ve never seen Billy Elliott or The Red Shoes. I only endured Black Swan because my annual fanatical Oscar completism required it. Even ballet episodes of The Simpsons aren’t my cup of tea, except for any scene involving Lugash.

I’ve never even watched an ABC Family series, unless you count a few guilty-pleasure reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I try (and fail) to justify that by citing the members of its writing staff who hailed from the great and powerful Mystery Science Theater 3000. I also secretly think Tom Bergeron is underrated, but you didn’t hear it from me.

And no, sadly, I never saw a complete episode of Gilmore Girls. Nothing about “women’s drama on the WB” sounded like a draw for me. Admittedly, occasional snippets and reviews I caught in later seasons gave me the impression that I might like it if I tried it, but by then it was too late.

Today Entertainment Weekly gave subscribers access to a sneak preview of the entire first episode of the upcoming ABC Family series Bunheads, a ballet drama created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator and voice behind Gilmore Girls. The last time EW sent me a sneak-preview link, that particular free sample lasted all of four minutes before I rolled my eyes at the show in question, closed the browser window, and thanked them for thinking of me.

Given all of this, I had no reason to expect that Bunheads would beat the previous four-minute record. I rolled the dice and gave it a go anyway.

The first minute wasn’t encouraging– a kickline of Vegas showgirls doing their onstage frilly thing for the men, only to be pushed aside by the even less clothed real stars of their stage. The camera switches focus to two girls in the back row, exchanging catty remarks about why they don’t qualify for front row. From there the pace picks up as we move backstage and introduce a very special guest star: Alan Ruck, known to many as spineless sidekick Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but dearer to me as Captain Harriman, the schlub who helped Captain Kirk get dead in Star Trek: Generations.

Ruck’s presence as a stubborn, clueless suitor bought the pilot ten minutes of my time. Fair exchange, I figured. I’ve never seen him misused.

The next time I remembered to check the timecode, fifteen minutes had gone by. From there the scene abruptly changed, new characters entered and marked their positions, and the momentum wouldn’t stop. Next thing I knew, the full 45-minute episode had flown by and ended with a precipitous cliffhanger that left me wanting to know what happens next.

In my book, that’s unconscious high praise.

The premise, since it matters: Michelle (Tony nominee Sutton Foster, razor-sharp and Sorkin-film-ready) is a trained dancer turned hopeless Vegas eye candy who impulse-marries Captain Harriman in a rock-bottom moment of weakness and agrees to move into his mammoth abode in a faraway, cozy, everybody-knows-your-name small town called Paradise, a name well chosen from the approved list of ironic names for TV small towns. Everyone except Harriman hates her, especially his ex-girlfriend Truly (Friday Night Lights‘ Stacey Oristano, who steals every scene with pitiful comedy tears), and doubly especially Harriman’s mom (Kelly Bishop, also formerly of Gilmore Girls, playing far from caricature), who is stern and offended at the tawdry acquisition of a surprise daughter-in-law. She lives in Harriman’s home, just as you’d expect from a sitcom aiming for wacky hijinks. Michelle’s in luck, though — hubby’s mansion also houses mother-in-law’s ballet school.

You can imagine the culture clashes. You can imagine the possibilities for the two adversaries bonding over ballet despite having little else in common. You can imagine there are at least four young students with singular character traits who are only a pirouette away from being labeled the Bad News Bears of ballet.

What holds it together and makes it zing are Sherman-Palladino’s ear for dialogue that’s not cribbed from other TV shows; the immediate, surprising depth of the awkward quote-unquote “relationship” between newlyweds Michelle (who’s well aware that her actions don’t speak well of her) and Captain Harriman (who we learn isn’t as dense about their situation as he seems); and a few moments of gravity struck in just the right places that lift this pilot several planes above the level of chick-flick flight-of-fancy. I sincerely apologize for expecting no more than that going into it.

The premiere airs Monday, June 11th, on ABC Family at 9 p.m. EDT. The official site has plenty of preview material and freebies for the curious. I’ve clicked on none of them because I’m giving serious consideration to catching episode two the following week and would prefer to avoid spoilers. Also, if future episodes aim more for the ABC Family young-girl audience and not so much on a level for me, the complete opposite of their target demographic, then I’d prefer not to find out yet.

(I’m thankful the show isn’t aiming for a prurient tone — setting aside that fleeting opening scene — so I can explain to my wife why I think the show might be worthwhile without looking like a dirty old man. It also helps my case that I find her 200% more attractive than any ballet dancer. Yes, really. Don’t give me that look.)

Enclosed below is a two-minute fraction of the episode I watched of The Show I Couldn’t Possibly Like. Enjoy! I’ll just be over here remembering what owning a Man Card once felt like.

(If I could make just one suggestion: is it too late to change the title to, say, Dances in Paradise? Bunheads sounds like an Adult Swim show about animated foul-mouthed pastries.)

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