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Bunheads: They Dreamed A Dream

SusanP here, with thoughts on the season (series?) finale of Bunheads. A lot is at stake in the episode, but as in real life, not much is fully resolved. I’ll be disappointed if this turns out to be the last episode. Not because it was a bad, but it was anticlimactic for a finale. I’m anxious to spend more time in this world with these characters. I’d hate for this to be the last hour I get.

This Week on Bunheads…
A couple of weeks ago, TFE commenter Denny noted  that Bunheads is in many ways a show about what happens when an extremely talented person doesn’t catch a break and make it big. Denny wrote:

I like to think of Michelle as an alternate universe version of Sutton Foster - one in which she's almost exactly the same (except for focusing on dancing more than singing) but somehow always manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to make it the way Sutton has. And this feels very true to me. Growing up in the theater world, I cannot tell you how many supremely talented people I know who have just never made it, and not through lack of trying. This thread of "what does a talented person do when they just don't make the big time?" is one of my favorite parts of the show.

Potential can only get a performer (or a person) so far in life. The show tackles this idea head-on in “Next!” [more after the jump]

The episode was written and directed by series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. The centerpiece of the episode – Michelle’s audition for the chorus of a new Broadway musical based on the 1939 Bette Davis melodrama Dark Victory – reminds us that despite Michelle’s exceptional talent, the deck is stacked against her. While you can sense her trepidation about it all, it’s also clear that she takes this chance seriously. She arrives to find a cattle call with hundreds of other dancers vying for a few slots. Before the dancing even starts, more than half of the performers get eliminated for being the wrong “type.” Michelle survives the de-humanizing early round of cuts and gets to sing, but then learns the entire process was rigged from the start. The dancers got chosen weeks ago and the open call was a ruse to satisfy the union. Michelle’s potential to get the part in Dark Victory: The Musical never really existed.

Unbeknownst to Michelle, her temporary triumph but ultimate defeat is witnessed by the younger girls, who have followed her to the audition. Their main story this week explores a different kind of potential – their desire to grow up and do adult things like have sex on their own terms. Control-freak Sasha thinks knowledge is power, but may not be ready for the emotional aspects of that next step, even if she thinks she is. Fearing their boyfriends will lose interest if they have to wait, she decides that she and Boo can no longer wait and must take their relationships to the next level. She pushes each of the girls – including Melanie and Ginny to read up on sex, leading to a peppy montage that shows them each paging through a sexual awaking syllabus that includes “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” “Sex and the New Single Girl” and “The Chemistry Between Us”. The sequence offers clues as to how the girls really feel, based on the books we see them reading. Boo and Ginny’s choices are the most telling. Boo, who isn’t ready to have sex tosses Judy Blume’s “Forever” aside in favor of “The Hobbit.” Ginny reads “Girls Who Said Yes,” a strong hint that she’s already taken the leap that her friends are still preparing for.

In the episode’s final (non-musical scene), she tearfully opens up to Michelle, confiding that she couldn’t resist the beautiful, strange Frankie. The experience is all the more mortifying since she sent him a thank you letter (“as far as first times go, this seems successful”) and hasn’t heard from him since. It’s a heartbreaking, wonderful scene between Bailey Buntain and Sutton Foster. While she’s older, Michelle clearly relates to the younger girl, to the notion of loving someone even if you don’t really know them, and of doing something impulsive about it.

What I’m Loving/Musical Interlude Part One…
Sutton Foster’s singing, dancing and acting. After considering another song, she ends up performing “If My Friends Could See Me Now” for her audition. Her excellent rendition makes me long for her to star in a Sweet Charity revival. [Click to see her performance]

And here’s Shirley MacLaine from the Bob Fosse-directed 1969 film version:

Reference of the Week… Thanks to the helpful piano accompanist Seth (played by New York Theater Celebrity Seth Rudetsky), Michelle doesn’t end up singing “I Dreamed a Dream” at her audition. Apparently the song has become an overdone option for auditions thanks to Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning performance. Upon seeing Michelle’s first choice, Seth complains,

Freakin’ Hathaway, everybody’s doing this now. If I hear this one more time I’m taking hostages.”

The reference is a timely one for Oscar week and apropos since “I Dreamed a Dream” is all about unfulfilled dreams.

Film Clip/Musical Interlude Part Two…
The episode ends with a topical dance sequence performed to “Makin’ Whoopee.”  

Of course, I can’t ever hear this song (and I’m guessing Nathaniel feels the same) without thinking of Michelle Pfeiffer’s awesome performance of the song in 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys.

So, that’s it for Bunheads – at least for now.

Did you like the episode? Were you happy to see Hunter Foster and Kelly Bishop return? Assuming the show does return, where do you see it going next? Share your thoughts – and banana names – in the comments.

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Reader Comments (9)

I had a really intense, personal reaction to this episode, which I posted at my personal blog here: http://lerblacompo.livejournal.com/29649.html

The highlight of the episode (maybe the entire season) was that audition sequence, which is more true-to-life than any other portrayal of an audition I've ever seen in a work of fiction. After graduating from college in 2006, I had a summer internship at a regional theater in my home state, and one of the things I had to do was serve as monitor for auditions. The people in the Artistic department had (what at the time I thought was) a shocking amount of disregard for the non-Equity auditionees who came to the open call, rushing them in and out so fast it almost made my head spin. It was a harsh wake-up call for me, but not enough to keep me from still going out on auditions for almost a year after the internship was over.

I love my parents for raising me with a certain set of values, but I often wonder if I would have had an easier time of making it in this business, of putting myself out there and pushing for what was rightfully mine, if they hadn't instilled those values in me.

I really hope this isn't the end for Bunheads. I love it so, so much.

And thanks for quoting me, SusanP! That was exciting!

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I thought this episode was quite fantastic. Perhaps not conventional finale material, but then considering how BUNHEADS entire brand is about being weirdly unconventionally, zigging where you think it will zag and so on it made sense. This episode was so deft in some ways I didn't expect it to be - the opening bit with Michelle, Fanny, Godot and Scotty is such a well executed bit and girls' sex-montage is both charming, yet effective while still not being too ridiculous.

Of course, as you rightfully mention, it's that audition that's the killer and I love how the show keeps us cognisant of the fact that Michelle wants more even as she loves the girls and paradise which is why the final non-musical sequence is such a killer. Buntain has catapulted to my favourite of the Bunheads and even apart from the great acting from the two in that scene (That "He was so beautiful." is just heartbreaking) it brings home the essential conflict of the series. The girls need her in a way that Fanny cannot fulfill and Michelle cares for them, which is why her wanting to be more is happy and sad at the same time.

Hopefully we get more.

(Minor gaffe, you wrote Melanie where you meant Ginny at the end of that paragraph.)

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

andrew & denny & susan -- i have to think that the way this show is so original and really growing in the hearts of its target audience is going to get it renewed. Maybe this is wishful thinking but it is just getting so much better and it would be a real shame if they didn't give it another chance. I mean i haven't heard that the ratings are bad or anything? just i guess middle ground?

and sutton is just KILLING it in the lead role. I always enjoy her but she seems to be really settling into it now and it's getting as good as she is on Broadway which is saying an awful lot.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternathanielr

I bailed on Bunheads after the first two episodes last summer. Sounds like I should have stuck around a little longer. Ah well. Maybe if it does indeed get renewed...

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereventsoccur

Loved the episode and the series, hope it's not the last.

It occurred to me after it was over that the entire episode played like a meta commentary on the relationship between Amy Sherman-Palladino and ABC-Family -- putting yourself out there with the best you've got in what may be a rigged process (Michelle's audition), offering up your heart to a potentially indifferent audience (Ginny's confession).

If it is a series ending episode, it's certainly not a conventional one, but in terms of its emotional resonances, it's probably closer to what the cast and crew of Bunheads, its creator and its fans are feeling today.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMythical Monkey

I was in and out of theatre in my twenties (a long time ago, unfortunately) and the show is indeed very true to that whole world. What's struck me as most amazing is the acting of most of the cast, but especially of Sutton Foster. I knew she was a triple-threat from the get, but she just nails her scenes in unexpected but perfect ways. Her three-word line to Hubbell in the dream sequence after she Maced the girls during the Nutcracker -- "You came back" -- eight readings, perfectly expressed in three words -- just busted me. I really, really hope the series gets renewed, even though I hate to see her possibly abandon Broadway for L.A.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPiet

Denny -- Loved reading your post about the episode. I'm glad to hear from you (and others) just how authentic the audition sequence was. It felt authentic to me, but I've never been in one of those situations personally.

Andrew -- I love how Michelle's affection and connection to Paradise and the girls has grown over the course of the first full season. Now, if she ever does succeed it won't be so easy for her to pick up and leave these people behind. I still think she would, but not without a lot of sadness. In agreement on Buntain, though I love all of the girls and think one of the best things about the show is how perfectly cast it is. And thanks for pointing out the gaffe!

Nathaniel -- I think the ratings are considered okay, but far from great. The good news, as you note, is that people who have discovered it and fallen for it are passionate about it. One of the reasons I wanted to write about the show was to introduce it to people who I know would love it. Of the scripted "musical" shows currently on television it is by far my favorite, but much less known.

events -- give it another chance! I think the show has gotten better and is more confident since the summer.

Mythical - I like your observation. The two threads of rejection come together in that final scene between Ginny and Michelle. There's more than one way to get your heart broken! I think that's why it's such a great scene.

Piet -- I can't praise Foster enough. Another moment I loved from the finale was her little victory/get herself psyched pump while looking in the bathroom mirror after she's been called back to sing.

I could say a lot more about the show and the episode. I feel like I've barely touched on some of the other characters -- like Truly, another example of potential (in this case fulfilled, thanks to Milly's change and/or discovery of a heart). Her story arc shows how the difference between success and failure is not just a matter of who is best. It’s often who has the best support, the best timing and the best luck.

The universe the show has created is really rich and detailed. I want more!

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusanP

I loved the reference to All that Jazz, using "On Broadway" in the audition sequence seen here.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkelsy

Good call, kelsy. I love that song (and its use in the episode) but totally missed that!

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusanP

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