August 22, 2012



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It helps if you think of BUNHEADS as a CG special effects spectacle, except in this case the CG special effects and spectacle are all in the sound of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue.  Either you love herrapid-fire, endlessly witty repartee or you find it stilted and artificial; if you’re a naysayer, you should probably find another show to watch.

If it was a miracle that Sherman-Palladino found a mind-meld in her Gilmore Girls star Lauren Graham, who could both wrap her tongue around jokey, melancholy arias and and participate in precision-timed banter duets, how amazing is it that she’s done it again, with the far less experienced (in non-musical comedy) Sutton Foster?   Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue is, like Aaron Sorkin’s, an all-or nothing proposition:  you have to be born with the ability to make the words sound like natural speech (natural, that is, for those who live on a higher plane of verbal existence, with crack comic timing and and a bottomloss store of perpetually available wisecracks).  Foster creates the impression that this is the way she talks in real life.  And less surprisingly, she’s thoroughly matched by Kelly Bishop, a S-P vet from Gilmor.  

Sorkin’s fault is that all too often he weighs down his spectacular verbal gifts with self-importance and a judgmental attitude, while S-P’s is the opposite, an excess of airiness.  It’s not that nothing took place during the first season of Bunheads, but little of it seemed to be of any importance.  There was the initial contrivance that got Foster’s Michelle to Paradise, California, an instant showgirl widow to her instantly dead husband who lived there, and (thanks to her husband’s will), co-resident of his mother Fanny’s (Bishop) property and dance studio, and after that, plot was secondary.  A leak was or wasn’t plugged, a fundraiser was or wasn’t staged, teen girls bickered and found and lost boyfriends… it sometimes felt like S-P wanted to prove that she could make even a software program sound like music, purely by virtue of her dialogue.  And more often than not, she did.

Since Bunheads airs on ABC Family, it couldn’t only be a show about Michelle and Fanny, and so S-P created 4 girl dancers for the network’s demo:  Sasha (Julia Goldani Terres), Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), Ginny (Bailey Buntain), and Melanie (Emma Dumont).  Peversely, though, S-P took her sweet time making more than a token effort to integrate Michelle with the girls, even though that was clearly the idea all along.  For much of the season, they moved in parallel parts of each episode. something that started to change only in the last few hours.  S-P seems to have limited interest in the girls and their teen problems, although their dialogue is brightly written and the 4 of them, delivering it, have a entertainingly deadpan rapport.

Also perverse was the season finale, written and directed by Sherman-Palladino.  The series just received its winter renewal last week, so the episode had been created without knowing if the show would ever return, and it took an oddly downbeat turn in what could have been the series’ last few minutes, as what seemed to be the farcial plot development of Michelle accidentally macing the dancers during the studio’s gala “Nutcracker” abruptly became Fanny ripping into Michelle and the latter’s exit, literally, from Paradise.  (Complete with a Dead Poets Society gag that no one bothered to explain because really, if you’re not going to get the pop culture references, what are you doing here?)

Bunheads doesn’t really have much substance, lacking any relationship that has the depth of the mother-daughter bond in Gilmore Girls.  (There are moments when it seems like Michelle and Fanny will reach that kind of symbiosis, but then they quickly retreat to antagonistic jokes.)   It exists, like a Transformers movie, strictly to show off its very special toys.  In this case, they’re the wondrous words that come out of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s word processor.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."