Life, as we all know, can take some unexpected turns. Just don't try to one-up Michelle Simms.
Consider: One evening, she's a sequined showgirl, single and wasting her life away in Las Vegas. The next morning, she's married to a nice and well-meaning stalker-style fan and heading to his beach home in Paradise, Calif. That evening? She's a widow after her nice guy/stalker/husband gets hit by a car.
"I want you to live an unexpected life," her new husband Hubbell tells her—shortly after saying "I do" and shortly before saying "ARGH!" "And I intend to give you exactly that."
Boy, he wasn't kidding.
In real life, of course, this strange sequence of events would keep the tabloids humming for weeks. But on ABC Family, it's simply the premise of a new dramedy.
Bunheads, brainchild of Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, revolves around fish-out-of-water Michelle, acclimating to a new life in Paradise—working at the ballet studio of her eccentric (and not altogether approving) mother-in-law and helping to shepherd a quartet of high-maintenance high school ballerinas into adulthood.
All the hallmarks of a Palladino show are here: the soft surreal feel, the whip-quick dialogue, actress Kelly Bishop (who played Emily Gilmore on Gilmore Girls and is now Fanny Flowers, Hubbell's mother). Even the music—written by one-time Christian singer/songwriter Sam Phillips—has a similar feel, and for good reason: Phillips scored Gilmore Girls too.
What you won't find here are men—at least not men you can expect to see reliably from episode to episode. This may be the most estrogen-rich show on television (and that's even counting Gossip Girl). Any guys who wander onto the set might be advised to look to Hubbell as a reminder of how expendable they are on Bunheads.
You won't necessarily find the easy humor Gilmore Girls fans grew to love either. Oh, the wit is still there, but the sparkle has yet to fully flower. It's as if the writing is working a bit like one of these young ballerinas: All the steps and twirls are in the right place, but instead of it all feeling oh-so-effortless, you can see the strain behind it all.
Bunheads has other problems too: Women and girls dance and dally in body-hugging leotards and—when the scene flashes back to Michelle's Vegas days—sometimes wear a whole lot less. We're subjected to sexually themed conversations and a steady trickle of crude language. We sometimes see teens casually drinking alcohol.
But the show has more than just tightly wound hair. It has heart. Michelle is teaching her students some valuable lessons—not just how to stay on one's toes onstage, but in life as well. Most of her charges have unstable or absentee parents, and Michelle is something like a surrogate (albeit sometimes flaky) mother for them. She, in turn, for all of her world-weary experience, could use a mom herself. And Fanny is slowly (and sometimes snidely) filling that role.
Bunheads is often funny, frequently sweet and, yes, sometimes crass—but not nearly so much as some of its ABC Family co-stars. Would that the gap widens as the music swells.
"You Wanna See Something?"
The fallout from the troupe's horrific Nutcracker performance (when Michelle accidentally maced the dancers) continues. Michelle has fled town and works as a sidekick for a magic act in Henderson, Nev. Her former pupils are adrift without dance classes. And Fanny finds herself actually missing Michelle.
Fanny asks Michelle to come home, saying she's welcome. "You get married, you get family," Fanny says. "That's the deal, that's how it's done." We see the girls step up for their own families too: Boo's in charge of the household since her pregnant mother got put on bed rest. Melanie cares for her nearly comatose grandfather. Ginny fills in for her incapacitated real estate-selling mom.
But we also see that Sasha's run away from her prestigious dance school and hasn't even told her own family. (Her friends conspire to keep her hidden.) She talks with a guy friend who jokingly asks her if she wants to take a bath. (They nearly kiss.) Boo's mother grimly grabs a butcher knife and asks Boo to send her father in to talk with her. Michelle makes jokes about her roommate's elderly boyfriend—asking him if Jesus was "married or single" and suggesting he held the Ten Commandments for Moses while the prophet "used the little boys room." Folks gossip about Michelle's privates, and refer to Viagra, sex, nakedness and bodily functions. They drink and discuss wine, beer and martinis, and we see Michelle drunk in her wedding video. Women wear revealing dresses and sleepwear. Characters misuse God's name about 10 times.
In this series opener, Michelle goes out to dinner with Hubbell and, after getting drunk, decides to marry and run off with him. Once in Hubbell's California home, she knocks over portions of Fanny's Buddhist shrine, takes beer away from underage drinkers (quipping that if they're going to drink, they should at least get imported beer) and makes peace with her mother-in-law over shots at a bar.
We see Michelle and others in extraordinarily skimpy dance outfits in Vegas; some of the dancers are topless (shown from behind). High-kicking dance moves done by teens wearing dresses reveal underwear. A girl talks about wearing two bras. We hear about sex, breasts, pole dancing, stripping, erotic magazines, cross-dressing and having a homosexual dad. Michelle says Hubbell saw her urinate behind a cactus. References are made to serial killers and people dropping dead during ballet maneuvers. "A‑‑," "jeez" and "freakin'" slip into the conversation once or twice. God's name is blurted out more than a dozen times.