Fast, witty dialogue? Check. Kelly Bishop as a somewhat surly matriarch? Check. Charming and whimsical smalltown American setting? Check. This must be an Amy Sherman-Palladino show.
In its inaugural episode, Bunheads is all about the set up. And in good ole’ Sherman-Palladino fashion it is done with speed and quick witted, hilarious banter. So the basic set up of the show centers around Michelle (Sutton Foster), a classically trained ballerina by way of Las Vegas who, after a bad audition, decides to leave the Strip and marry her stalker (admirer?), Hubble (Alan Ruck) on a whim. Once in her new town, quaintly named Paradise, Michelle meets some of the peculiar townfolk, and of course Hubble’s mother Fanny (Gilmore Girls alum Kelly Bishop). What Michelle doesn’t know is that Fanny lives with Hubble. Yep, he is a total mama’s boy. And mama bear is none too happy with the sudden addition to the family. Michelle also meets a few of the girls who take ballet lessons in Fanny’s dance academy and just as Fanny begins to warm up to Michelle – with the help of some alcohol and dancing – we get the news that Hubble has been in a car accident and is dead.
Oh…definitely didn’t see that one coming!
So let’s start with the best part of this show (besides the obviously great writing from Sherman-Palladino naturally). Surprisingly the best part is not Kelly Bishop, but rather Sutton Foster. Full disclosure, I love Broadway, and Sutton is a mega Broadway diva, so right off the bat I was excited about this casting. But even without prior knowledge about her, I find it hard to believe that anyone could not have been completely won over by her out-of-the-ball-park performance. And that’s no small feat because at first Michelle is a a bit of an unlikable character. She completely dismisses Hubble while gladly accepting his gifts and flowers. She even admits to not loving him after they are married! But Foster completely sells her character and brings Michelle to life with such force that we can’t help but understand her and stand by her even when she isn’t so nice. Not to mention her great chemistry with Bishop and the girls at the academy. You can tell that Sutton has a theater background because she is so animated, but not over the top, and it completely works for her character.
Of course I am sure all the Gilmore Girls fans were as excited as I was to see Kelly Bishop back on TV as a fiery matriarch. This woman is pure bliss for me, ever since June 23rd, 1989 – the first time I ever watched Dirty Dancing (yeah, I love that movie that much!). Sherman-Palladino does a great job of tailoring the character to Bishop’s strengths. And it certainly helps that Bishop is a fierce bird who can convey both heated determination and warmth all at the same time. She is the perfect stoic ying to Foster’s zany yang.
As for the actual “bunheads”? Well…we were introduced to them and they are seem perfectly nice. And while I am sure we will be learning more about them in the upcoming episodes, the pilot rightly focuses primarily on the relationship between Michelle and Fanny (ie: the foundation of the show). Of all the girls, I will say that the early stand-out is definitely Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) – the obvious underdog. Jenkins has great charisma and is totally the “Jody Sawyer” of this show.
Overall, I thought the pilot was great and did a good job of making me hungry for more. I have actually been watching old Gilmore Girls episodes lately and I really missed the tone and quality of Sherman-Palladino’s writing. It seems like Bunheads will be able to fill that void for me and – as an added bonus – maybe throw in some great dance numbers…and possibly a song or two by the brilliant Foster. Just putting that out there…
Best lines of the night:
- Michelle (talking about the topless girls on stage): “It’s not even about the face. I mean half of them aren’t even pretty. Mara over there looks like Muammar Gaddafi, but no one cares.”
- Michelle’s neighbour – “Geez, who died?”
Michelle – “Your fashion sense.”
- Michelle (dismissing her neighbor’s comment about spoiling the mood for her clients): “As long as my face doesn’t look like Chris Hanson, your guests will be fine.”
- Michelle: “No you don’t understand, I suck at relationships. I’m like Godzilla: men run from me, they flee. Not just Japanese men, all nationalities.”
What did you think, readers? Did you miss the Sherman-Palladino touch? Excited to see Kelly Bishop back on TV? Were you expecting a death within the first episode? Sound off below!
Bunheads airs Mondays at 9pm EST on ABC Family