When I wrote about the pilot of Bunheads three months ago, I mentioned that I was thinking about taking up the subject weekly, reviewing the new episodes as they aired. And then I didn’t do that.
I’ve got a good reason, though.
Each week, as the thoroughly oddball first season of Bunheads progressed, I found myself more and more in love with the show, and less and less interested in breaking it down. Bunheads contained everything I was hoping for when I first heard about it and then some: the familiar warmth and humor of Gilmore Girls, its own unique sensibility, and the comfortable feeling of coming home after a long time away.
Bunheads is not Gilmore Girls, but it’s probably never going to stop inviting comparisons. I don’t think there was a single episode of this first season (or half season? Summer season? ABC Family has been a bit confusing on this matter) that didn’t feature at least one former Gilmore Girls actor. There was Kelly Bishop, of course, appearing in most but not all of the episodes, but also Todd Lowe, Sean Gunn, Rose Abdoo, Chris Eigman, Alex Borstein, Gregg Henry…I’m probably forgetting some. (And while we’re here, can I say I’m hoping to see Yanic Truesdale, Liza Weil and Keiko Agena at some point.)
And it makes sense that Amy Sherman-Palladino would bring back so many familiar faces. She writes wordy, witty dialogue that must, due to the time constraints of the medium, be delivered at an almost insane pace; it’s only logical that she would bring in actors who already know how to handle her words. But she didn’t do the easy thing, letting the familiar faces do necessary character work. The faces were familiar, but the characters were not. Gregg Henry’s Rico could not have been further from his Mitchum Huntzberger, and I would heartily disagree with those who seem to think Fanny Flowers is just a replicated Emily Gilmore. She may have Emily’s command, but not her world-view.
I called the series “oddball” earlier, so maybe I should specify.
Whether it was a defeatist environmental ballet ending in the death of nature or an angsty/angry teen dancing furiously to “Istanbul Not Constantinople,” a mis-matched Fred and Ginger performing in a crowded bar or an entire production of The Nutcrackercollapsing after a mass-macing, the dance numbers on the show were consistent only in how bizarre they were. (The Fred and Ginger dance was preceded by a public confession of teenage like set to “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” which seems like relevant information.)
Then there was the way the show kept twisting off in new directions. What first seemed like a series about a woman finding love for the first time in her life after an impulsive decision to marry her stalker quickly revealed itself to be a series about a woman finding commitment for the first time in her life after her impulsive marriage ends when she finds herself widowed 17 hours in.
And then it took about 5 episodes for the show to establish its basic premise, that Michelle, after years of failing to commit to anything but a transient life, failing to establish the dance career she could have had if she hadn’t kept running away from her life, would finally find herself able to settle down as a teacher to a new generation of aspiring dancers.
Amy Sherman-Palladino’s plots have always moved at about 1/100th the pace of her dialogue, but Bunheads seemed to take that to a new level, with weeks going by in which Michelle grieved and poured wine into decanters and marveled about the strange little town she had landed in, but nothing really happened.
It never really bothered me, though. There was just something so pleasant about spending an hour every week in Paradise (California). I said above that it felt like coming home from a long vacation and I don’t think I can come up with a better way to describe it. Things have changed—the characters and the sets and many of the actors, but also, of course, me—but the foundation is the same. The voice. Week after week I responded emotionally to the show, not critically. I could see that it had flaws, of course, but that didn’t make me love it any less. If it were possible to give a show a great big hug I would be hugging the crap out of this one.
And I think my emotional point of view is a good thing. I founded this blog on the basis of sharing enthusiasm (“out of control enthusiasm,” actually) for television. I founded it because I love television. It is my default setting. And I can gape at my screen every Sunday night, astonished by all the moving pieces that make Breaking Bad a Truly Great show, the kind of show that will be dissected and studied and acclaimed for decades, probably, and yes, I can get very emotionally invested, at least in Jesse Pinkman’s fate. But the way I love a show like Breaking Bad is never going to be quite like the way I love a show like Bunheads or Gilmore Girls, it’s never going to be that deep, hearty love.
After all, there’s no place like home.