Can a "Gilmore Girls" Fangirl Fall in Love with "Bunheads?"

5 years ago

Last month, I read a YA novel called Bunheads and discussed it briefly with my partner who mentioned that there was going to be a Bunheads TV show. I knew this, and whispered to myself, "created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (ASP)" -- and I'm pretty sure I sighed, too. Any Gilmore Girls (GG) fan will understand this. I miss Gilmore Girls so much that I'm dying for a new ASP vehicle that is smart and snappy and full of pop-culture fun. I'm also terrified to watch an ASP show, because I know it will let me down. (The Return of Jezebel James, anyone?)

Side note: While I do recommend the Bunheads YA novel, it is not related to the new TV show, except that it is about ballet and the TV show is, in part, about ballet.

I tried to push ABC Family's Bunheads from my head, entirely. I wasn't willing to risk it. I don't watch much TV and I don't even have a decent cable package anymore, having replaced my cable TV bill with a Roku, Netflix and Amazon Prime instant video. I thought I'd just pretend Bunheads did not exist and go about my business.

Damn Amy Sherman-Palladino for casting Kelly Bishop in a lead role. If it weren't for that bit of casting brilliance, I never would have watched Bunheads.

Image: ABC Family.

That's also when the trouble started -- my lack of cable TV meant that I was going to have to stream the show, which would not normally seem like a problem -- but ABC Family only provides one episode and I missed the season premiere. Gah! What to do, what to do?

I was pretty sure I could pay for the episode on iTunes, but before doing that, I decided I'd just watch episode two and see if it was worth it. (See, even with Kelly Bishop, I was not willing to commit myself to believing ASP could do it again.) I was about two minutes into the episode and I was in love. Good Gilmore Girl feelings washed over me, and I sighed happily as I watched Kelly Bishop, aka Fanny, planning a funeral in not quite Emily Gilmore fashion -- but with just enough Emily Gilmore-ness that I felt right at home. So I headed over to iTunes to go back and watch the first episode, thrilled to find it free and not the $2.99 I expected to pay.

And I'm so glad I watched it, for one reason and one reason only: Kelly Bishop.

That's really all I need to say and you will understand. Or if you don't, this little paragraph from the TV Without Pity recap of the premiere episode should make you understand:

In the backyard of Hubbell's house is a dance studio and in that dance studio is a small class of teens and teaching those teens is Hubbell's mother, Madame Fanny. And just like you were eventually able to forget Kelly Bishop was the mom in Dirty Dancing -- and the show survives, God willing -- I bet you'll forget she once played Emily Gilmore too. The price of presence is lingering presence, and damn does she have presence, so it's okay if you can't shake it off all at once, but I love what she's doing here.

It's true. It is very true. Kelly Bishop has presence, and thank you, Amy Sherman-Palladino and ABC Family, for recognizing it and bringing her back into our lives again. There are so few roles for women of a certain age, and it's refreshing to see ABC Family take a chance like this.

Beyond Kelly Bishop, there's a lot for a Gilmore fan to love about Bunheads.

The pop culture references are lurking, as they should be. Only ASP would name a character Hubbell (see: The Way We Were). As are the appearances by former Gilmore Girls cast members -- in the premiere, we see Gypsy in a duck-print dress and a ton of makeup and in the second episode we've got Mitchum Huntzberger as a salty, surfer dude, restaurant/bar owner. (He can't be the Luke character, but will his dive be the new Luke's? Nope, I can't help but make GG comparisons. It's inevitable.) I am dying to see every single Gilmore cast member make an appearance on Bunheads. Take a minute to think about what that would look like. Both characters we have seen so far are completely different from their roles on GG. So what role would Paris take if she appeared on Bunheads? How about Miss Patty? Or Mrs. Kim? How about Luke, Lorelai and Rory? Kirk... oh, imagine Kirk... The possibilities, they are enough to keep a Gilmore Girls fan watching season after season, don't you think?

There is no Rory, because Michelle (Broadway queen Sutton Foster) is no Lorelai, but the four teen girls who are showcased each week have all of the characteristics that we came to love in Rory, Lane, and Paris. They are young, and tough, and fragile, and smart, and smart-alecky, and driven, and talented -- very, very talented. I enjoyed the wee bits of dance featured in both of the first episodes. I hope we continue to see a bit of ballet every week, it's a nice way for Fanny and Michelle to find common ground.

Don't be misled by the title of the show. Bunheads is not so much about ballet, or the girls in Fanny's ballet class, as it is about the relationship between Michelle and Fanny -- and between both women and the community they live in. Very a la Gilmore Girls. Michelle is like a fish out of water, both in a family setting and in a community setting, and it's going to be interesting to watch her figure out her place in this world. Fanny, on the other hand, is immersed in this community, and it will be interesting to see how she learns to let Michelle squeeze in.

I don't want to pretend like there's nothing wrong with Bunheads, or that it's a Gilmore Girls knockoff (completely.) There are issues and only time will tell how ASP handles these issues in upcoming episodes.

Sutton Foster's character, Michelle -- didn't, in my opinion, have a strong start. Michelle shines when she's alone or with characters who aren't Fanny. There are moments, in both episodes, when the two women share scenes well but there are other moments when I am just reminded that Sutton Foster is no Lauren Graham ... or more to the point, Michelle is no Lorelai. Michelle grew on me, but it was rough. I need it to not be rough any more, or I will not be able to keep watching.

I am afraid of Truly, the woman who loved Hubbell and who Fanny wanted Hubbell to marry. I'm afraid I'm going to grow to hate her rather than love her. And, I need to see more of the supporting cast, beyond Truly and the ballerinas. Fanny's friends -- they are all good character actors, so I assume we'll learn more about them and see them often. But so far, we don't have much to go on -- and with the four ballerinas and Truly, I'm a wee bit afraid that we're not going to get enough from the good people of Paradise, CA. I want to meet the Republican and the Liza Minnelli impersonator.

And, the show is very white and I didn't need Shonda Rimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy (and many other popular TV shows) to point that out for me.

Gilmore Girls was also very white. Lane (and Mrs Kim), Michel, Gypsy, Miss Patty, and Caesar were the people of color we could count on in Gilmore Girls, but we could not count on even one of them to always make an appearance. Will Bunheads do a better job of showcasing people of color? I suspect it will not.

Amy Sherman-Palladino responded, in exactly the way I expected her to respond, in this interview from Media Mayhem. I highly recommend you watch the entire, hour-long video, but here's a clip of the interview that pertains to Shonda Rimes' criticism of the very white cast.

Well. OK. When you're casting a pilot, you have to do it fast -- and trying to find four teen actresses who could dance -- en pointe -- and act was probably not the easiest thing in the world. And she has cast four girls of varying body shapes, which is good. But... does that mean she'll add more people of color as she goes? Based on the casting history of GG, and her assertion that she doesn't care where viewers learn about life, I suspect she will not make any extra effort to do so. Which is a shame. The lack of diversity really is the biggest problem with Bunheads. I hope she proves me wrong, because she does so many things right that I'd love to see her get it completely right -- wouldn't you?

Are there any other Gilmore Girls fans watching Bunheads? Do you love it or hate it? Do those of you who have not had the pleasure of watching Gilmore Girls love or hate Bunheads? How about Kelly Bishop? Is she amazing or is she amazing?

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