[Editor's Note: I keep forgetting to write about Bunheads so my friend Susan offered to step in. We both watch the show religiously so here's Susan with a take I mostly agree with -- if enough of you are watching we'll discuss again. I love the show.]
Up until this past summer, I had never watched a show on ABC Family. Not that I have anything against ABC . Or families. But thanks to Sutton Foster, I decided to give Bunheads a try. While the show’s rapid-fire, pop culture infused dialogue can sometimes be more exhausting than exhilarating; I’ve come to appreciate its rhythms and strongly beating heart. Those beats are familiar to fans of Amy Sherman-Palladino, who previously created the much-loved Gilmore Girls.
I come to Bunheads as a virtual Sherman-Palladino virgin, bringing my appreciation for Foster and not much else. In some ways, I think that’s a good thing. I don’t watch Bunheads through a “this is like Gilmore Girls, this is different; this is better, this is worse” prism. Foster’s character, former showgirl Michelle Simms, is not Lorelai Gilmore-light to me, even if she does share some (fast-talking) characteristics with that previous Sherman-Palladino creation.
As a newbie to the Sherman-Palladino-verse, I welcome insight from those who are more familiar with it or from those of you who are fans of Foster, Sherman-Palladino or the show [More after the jump including the show's love of movie references]
Rather than a full plot re-hash, I’ll touch on aspects of the show and/or episode that stand out for me. Thanks to Nathaniel, for giving me this platform to share my take.
Last week on Bunheads... “The Astronaut and the Ballerina,” serves as a family reunion for Foster as her real life brother, Hunter Foster (also a Broadway regular), who plays her fictional one, Scotty. This is more than just cute, stunt casting. While a lot of their interaction – especially early in the episode – is played for laughs, the visiting character also helps to peel back some of Michelle’s layers. Not everything revealed is pretty, as Scotty challenges the relative comfort zone that Michelle has found in Paradise. She’s clearly threatened by Scotty’s infringement on the more serious, dance instructor life that she’s starting to build for herself. Scotty watches her teach and then tells her students about Michelle’s youthful disdain for her own ballet teacher (she was inspired to sabotage said teacher after watching Margaret O’Brien destroy Cyd Charisse in the ballet melodrama, The Unfinished Dance, 1948). Later, she accuses him of undermining her authority with jokes. It’s not surprising that this sets her off, given her own habit of using humor to deflect emotional honesty.
The interplay between them reveals how raw those familial nerves can be, and how hard it is to truly escape who you are and where you come from. In terms of hitting those tough emotional chords, Sutton Foster is impressive here. She’s obviously a deft comedian, but Bunheads also displays her dramatic abilities. The fact that they are real siblings and that I love both performers separately – I’ve had a chance to see each headline shows on Broadway – makes the discord between them more palatable to me. Hunter is a great addition to the cast—I hope he sticks around for at least a few more episodes.
Michelle’s storyline in the episode (and really, on the show), explores the idea of dreams and expectations (astronaut and ballerina) versus reality. It’s something each of the younger characters deals with as well, as they struggle to figure out who they are, who they want to be and who they don’t want to be. Melanie (Emma Dumont) tentatively ventures into the roller derby arena in order to carve out an identity beyond what her family and friends expect. Ginny (Bailey Buntain) fears she’s destined to be crazy like her mom. Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) literally turns into her mom, as she and boyfriend Carl are breaking under the strain of having to watch her younger siblings. While Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) takes the week off, her parental and identity issues have been well established. At the core of each conflict is personal identity and family – whether blood relations, like Ginny and her mom, or created bonds, like Ginny and Melanie.
What I’m loving…
Melanie. She’s probably the most well adjusted of the bunch (and seems to have the best family life), but that doesn’t make her dull. Of course, the roller derby stuff is a little ridiculous. What ballet dancer would dare risk the injury? However, it's well played by Dumont, who makes an adorable, swanlike figure in her derby getup. She looks like she's having fun.
Reference of the Week…
So many to choose from, but I’ll go with Scotty’s Milton reference, “Paradise Lost … and found.” It fits perfectly with the overall themes of the episode too, as both the younger and older characters are searching…
Musical interlude/film clip…
The Foster siblings’ melancholy take on “Tonight You Belong to Me,” a nod to Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk, helps cap the episode while shedding further light on their relationship. They use it to move past their blow-up in a way that reminded me of how my sister and I used to diffuse our own arguments, by simply sharing space and not even bringing up the tiff. There’s a lot of love and history in the scene – no dialog needed.