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Bunheads: Eternal Sunshine of the Psychotic Mind

SusanP here, back with more Bunheads coverage. It’s good to see some fans out there are also Film Experience people. For those of you haven’t watched the show, it’s a safe bet you’ll enjoy it if you love the work of either series star Sutton Foster or creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. For the rest, I’d still encourage you to give the show a try. There’s really nothing else like it on television right now. 

Previously on Bunheads… 
“Take the Vicuna” was directed by actor/writer/director, Chris Eigeman, who is probably best known for his work in Whit Stillman films like Barcelona. He also played Jason Stiles on Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls and a one-off character on Bunheads last summer. Eigeman stopped by the comments this past Monday and offered a heads-up as to what “Take the Vicuna” refers to: it’s a line from the Billy Wilder film noir, Sunset Boulevard. The reference works on a number of levels as the characters deal with issues of control – something Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis wrestled with in that 1950 classic. 

Those issues play out in the three major storylines [more after the jump]:

Milly (Liza Weil) wants creative control of the performance amphitheater that Michelle and Fanny (Kelly Bishop) are developing on their land. Milly has read up on her Playbill and thinks that by throwing money at the venture she’s entitled to control all aspects of it. Fanny loses it after Milly takes ridiculous notes (where are the tutus?) during a rehearsal. The situation is resolved – at least temporarily – when Fanny wisely recognizes that Milly doesn’t really want to be a master of the arts, she just wants to look like one.

Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) plays grownup as she welcomes her friends to a housewarming party in her new apartment. The 16-year-old’s freshly cut flowers and monogrammed bathroom towels can’t hide the fact that she’s scared of being on her own. She’s also wary of what that means for her relationship with Roman (Garrett Coffey), fearing that he’ll assume her parents-free apartment is a “sex palace.” To her friends she has the appearance of control as she tackles adult world problems like setting up utilities, but by episode’s end she’s left her perfect pad to sleep on Michelle’s couch.

For Michelle and Scotty (Hunter Foster, returning for a second, but seemingly final episode) the issues of control go back to their childhood. They grew up with a mom who was and remains a Norma Desmond-like figure, creating her own fantasy world to fit her needs. We get a picture of their mom’s mythmaking in an early scene, as Michelle shatters Scotty’s childhood memories of great family road trips. The reality is their mom faked those outings by taking them in her car late at night, letting them fall asleep and then convincing them they’d gone on amazing adventures. As Michelle says, “She Gaslight-ed us, dude.” 

Here’s the scene:

When Scotty inadvertently reunites Michelle with her mom (played by Lolita Davidovich), it’s clear the woman is still a permanent resident of Fantasy Island. Michelle bristles, especially after learning that Scotty is now mom’s legal guardian after she had herself declared incompetent to get out of purchasing a home. Michelle’s fear of losing control when it comes to her mom is two-fold. First, she doesn’t want her mom to have direct control of her or Scotty’s life and sees her as a toxic manipulator. Second, she doesn’t want to become her. 

In the end, Michelle has maintained a sense of control through avoidance, for more than 12 years. This was no happy family reunion. They don’t even look at each other during the bulk of the scene, but as Michelle is leaving, her mom calls out to her and she turns around.

“I just wanted to see your face,” she tells her. 

I love how the actors and Sheila Lawrence, credited with writing this episode, manage to convey the sadness of their family reality with that one tiny moment and line.

What I’m loving…

Sasha’s connection to Michelle. The show has done a great job of building it up into something very sweet, but as Scotty notes, also kind of dangerous – for both parties. Michelle is not really ready to be a role model or mother figure, but Sasha needs one. 

Reference of the Week…

As a fan of Mary Tyler Moore, I must pick the exchange Michelle and Scotty have before entering Sasha’s party: 

Michelle: She won’t have gotten enough food and the party will suck. Everyone will call her Mary Richards, 
Scotty: Yes, grandma, I’m sure all the kids will be calling her Mary Richards. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the Mary Tyler Moore Show, her character, Mary Richards was known for her epically bad parties. I love this reference not only because I’m a huge Moore fan, but because Sutton Foster really reminds me of the older actress – beautiful, but not afraid to be goofy for a laugh and also a fine dramatic actress. Coincidentally, Moore was also one of the stars of the 1967 film version of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” playing Millie’s best friend Dorothy. Foster won her first Tony and broke through to stardom when she played Millie on stage in 2002. 

Here’s the only bad party clip I could find from the show, which unfortunately has sections deleted…don’t adjust your screen, its depicting a party where the lights went out:

Musical interlude…

The opening sequence of the show featured the show’s younger stars bickering while they danced in a ballet rehearsal. It was a good way to get caught up on some of the drama, like the ongoing battle between Ginny (Bailey Buntain) and Melanie (Emma Dumont). Their argument also fits the overall theme of control, as Ginny wants to control the friendship and not let in the “C” word (Cosette, played by Jeanine Mason) into their clique. The scene also brought to mind those chatty ballroom sequences in costume dramas like Pride and Prejudice, where the characters exchange dialog and significant looks, all while perfectly executing the dance. 

Film Clip…

This episode had a number of movie references – Gaslight, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Say Anything, Circle of Friends -- but none was more prominent or thematically important as Sunset Boulevard

Here’s a clip from the film, the first meeting between William Holden’s Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, featuring one of its most famous lines (apropos I think, given this is a television column):  

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Reader Comments (5)

My favorite reference this week was the punchline: "A very poorly staged rendition of 'Mein Herr'?" The physical comedy of that scene was already great, but that's a near-brilliant theater joke.

February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDS

Thanks, DS! That was a great reference. And I agree that the physical comedy of Milly dragging the chair into position was hilarious in that scene. One thing I don't think I commented on enough this week is just how incredibly funny the show is on a regular basis. I think part of that is in how it is structured. The humor and references come fast and furious, but it tends to end on those more quite, emotional moments. I guess those tend to stick with me more.

February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusanP

I loved this episode. I'm genuinely surprised at the undercurrents the show is developing with Michelle. It was very slow burn actually but the work has been there all along. That diner scene was awesome / tough.

and once again i continue to be glad that they cast the show with actual dancers and make use of their skills.

February 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

That opening ballet with the fight between Ginny and Mel was so expertly choreographed and shot I was in awe. Choreographing for camera is a very special skill set and very difficult (at least for me) but this was seamless. And those girls must have been relieved when it was over. I wonder how many times they had to shoot it to get everything perfect.

There is no way Sasha's parents are paying those credit card bills, right? I mean, that apartment was RIDICULOUSLY well-appointed. I loved everything about that scene, and the scene with her boyfriend at the door. It reminded me (as Bunheads often does, actually) of the film comedies of the 1930s in its speed, tone, and timing.

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

That they pulled off the opening ballet (and all of the excellent dance sequences on the show) demonstrates the skill both behind and in front of the camera. I agree completely with Nathaniel's comment about actual dancers being cast. There is no need to use tricks (like on Glee -- whether it's editing of dancing or auto-tune of singing). No way they could pull that off without Foster or the excellent young dancers that were cast. While I don't think that the four main girls are equal in terms of acting talent, I think even the weakest among them feels real to me and doesn't pull me out of the show, especially compared to other young tv actors/characters (the lead on Revolution comes to mind as being an example of the type of lousy performance that's hard to get past).

As for Sasha's apartment -- definitely not the most believable development, but I think the show has established that Sasha's parents are both well to do and willing to throw money at her if it means they don't have to deal with her. But in any case, I've always found that television and films very rarely portray realistic apartment living. Sasha's parent-supported pad in Paradise, CA is certainly more believable than the crazy Brooklyn loft that Kurt and Rachel are living in on Glee.

And yes, the scene with Roman definitely had a screwball vibe. It actually reminded me of something I've seen, but I can't place it...

February 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusanP

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