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.
If 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Stay in school!
You have no future in sports!
…or you can load your copy of The Sound of Music and sing along to “My Favorite Things” instead.