Here’s how badly I yearn for the return of the screwball comedy, with its lightning-fast patter dialogue, high-strung protagonists, and farcical delights: I am willing to watch a show about a woman taking over a ballet studio just to get a taste.
Bunheads was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls, which also featured elements of screwball comedy. Like that show, Bunheads features a winningly awkward female protagonist in a small-town setting she simultaneously finds charming and limiting. Sutton Foster, a theater star, makes the transition to leading role on TV as Michelle, a Vegas showgirl who, at a time of desperation, agrees to run off and marry Hubbell, the overly earnest guy who has been obsessed with her for months. It’s only after she’s got a ring on her finger that she learns that her new husband comes as a package deal with his overbearing ballet-teacher mother Fanny, played by Kelly Bishop, who was the imperial mother type on Gilmore Girls as well.
Though the cast is filled with small-town eccentrics like those of Stars Hollow, the featured players are rounded out by a quartet of students from Fanny’s advanced class, who quite neatly occupy the typical personas in your average Behind the Music special. There’s the aloof phantom at risk of squandering her gift, the hopeful ingénue with more desire than talent, the smart and sarcastic one, and the wildcard. Honestly, future episodes of the show could stand to differentiate even more between these four, as their lack of diversity could make it difficult to readily tell them apart.
The problems with Bunheads so far seem more inherent to the pilot form than any inherent problem with the show itself. The need to get all the pieces in place within 60 minutes necessarily renders Michelle’s decision-making too absurd to be believed, and makes Hubbell seem several shades too creepy for the big twist ending to have the impact it wants to have.
It seems likely that continuing to watch Bunheads is going to require a willing suspension of disbelief, as the idea of Michelle’s staying to teach the dancers is a lot to swallow. But like I said up top, I’m a fan of this style, and I’m willing to meet the show halfway.