Bunheads (Mondays at 9:00 on ABC Family; Premieres June 11)
If you've seen the previews for Amy Sherman-Palladino's new series Bunheads, you'll be surprised to learn that the pilot actually does not suck. For whatever reason, the promotional materials for the show make it look amateurish, unfunny, boring, and silly. But Bunheads is none of those things, and is actually the direct opposite in most cases.
Michelle (two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster) is an aging Vegas showgirl still looking for her big break. She botches an audition for a lead dance role and realizes her life is going nowhere; so she impulsively accepts a marriage proposal from Hubbel (Alan Ruck), a much older man whom has been in love with her for years. Michelle moves into Hubbel's home in Paradise, California, a home he shares with his eccentric mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop). Fanny owns a dance studio next door to the house where she is training a group of young ballerinas for an audition at the Joffrey. She is none to excited to learn her son has married Michelle in secret and she proceeds to break down their relationship.
I've never been a fan of Sutton Foster's stage work. I saw her in multiple shows in New York and thought she played the same over-the-top character every time. Considering how large she performs on stage, I was dreading seeing her on the small screen. Her performance is a little broad, but it works for the character in this case, which is completely different from anything I've seen her do before. She's subdued, and the writing serves her sense of comedy. I never found her annoying, so that's a success right there.
Speaking of the writing, it really is the strongest part of the pilot. Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls) writes fantastically well-rounded female characters, and Bunheads is no exception. Michelle is quirky but understandably so; Fanny is eccentric but scared. The studio's young dancers don't have much personalities yet. They're more broad generalizations of female adolescence than real characters yet, but that's okay. They have defining traits already, so with added layers they will become more flesh-and-bone. The dialogue is snappy and smart, and it feels authentic (which was one of the best things about Gilmore Girls). Palladino's script is truly funny, even if the story has a bit of a been-there-done-that feeling. There are only so many times we can see the aging performer having a crisis and coming out a teacher. I will give the script this: the ending was totally unexpected and shocking.
There is some silliness to the whole thing; Fanny is eccentric to a point that she seems like a caricature (for example, every bit of wall space in the entire house is occupied by an oversized picture or painting, and sometimes even a tacked-on stuffed animal). And the whole Michelle-Hubbel relationship is totally strange and uncomfortable for the majority of the episode. But when it's all said and done, Bunheads is completely enjoyable. It's very cute and very well done, and it often reminds one of Gilmore Girls but in a dance studio rather than a diner. It feels a bit adult for ABC Family, with many pop culture references I think will go over the teen audience's heads. But it deserves a chance, for sure.