Bunheads: 1.01 “Pilot”

Season 1 Episode 1
Airdate: June 11, 2012

“Not every little girl gets to do what she wants; the world could not support that many ballerinas.”

— Maria Calvet, Mad Men 5.13 “The Phantom”

I thought about that line when I watched the pilot episode of Bunheads, a new ABC Family series created and produced by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who previously was responsible for Gilmore Girls. Unlike everything else on ABC Family, it has actually gotten good reviews:

Amy Sherman-Palladino strikes again with that ‘Gilmore Girls’ charm

— Los Angeles Times

a knockout charmer…don’t miss it.

— Vanity Fair

Sherman-Palladino’s snappy banter and slightly melancholic characters only enrich the texture of a series perfectly pitched between comedy and drama.

— Variety

Gilmore Girls is one of my favorite shows, so I was eagerly anticipating this ever since I saw a promo on ABC Family while I was watching Aladdin. I had hopes that Bunheads would be everything I liked about GG: fasted paced and witty dialogue, a collection of oddball supporting characters, and an unrealistically close relationship between mother and daughter.

The show opens with showgirls in Las Vegas. Just to give you a taste of how my memory works, the first thing I thought of here was from the 1994 TV-movie Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas when Slater, Zack and Screech wound up dressed as showgirls to escape the mob.

Anyway, the showgirls dance, and then topless women end the show. This one showgirl and her friend complain about how the topless women get paid more when all they do is show their breasts for a few seconds, and call them ugly sluts, because women hate each other even in shows written by feminists.

That showgirl is Michelle. In the dressing room, a man is there to give her African roses. Man, if they are anything like African bees they are trouble. This guy is named Hubbell and he hounds her for a date everytime he is in the city. He says he left three messages on her voicemail. I think he wants to make a suit out of her skin. Michelle declines to go out with him.

Michelle is working out early the next morning. She has an audition for a touring production of Chicago. But the producer doesn’t even want to see her. Because she is too old, she thinks.

So Michelle spends the night drinking in her crappy apartment. Her next-door neighbor is a fat hooker who doesn’t want her drinking to interfere with her business.

“As long as my face doesn’t look like Chris Hansen,” Michelle quips, “your guests will be fine”. Man, why is she so mean to everyone?

Hubbell is back at the dressing room. This is a ladies dressing room, how is he allowed back here? Anyway, he has bothered Michelle so much that she breaks and agrees go out for a drink. This is when he proposes marriage. Michelle warns that she is not marriage material.

Michelle: No, you don’t understand! I suck at relationships. I’m like Godzilla. Men run from me. They flee. Not just Japanese men, all nationalities flee.

Hubbell: I won’t flee. I’ll be the one scientist who understands you. The one who knows you’re not burning the city down because you’re evil. You’re burning the city down to protect the giant lizard eggs you just laid in a cave by the ocean. The cave no one knows is there—but me.

Michelle: God, that’s beautiful.

I love Sherman-Palladino’s writing. She is Aaron Sorkin for people who think politics is boring.

Hubbell states that he is rich and wants to take care of her. Michelle is drunk so says yes. The two of them drive away from Vegas and toward their new life.

We are then taken to a dance studio. Hey! The instructor is Emily Gilmore! And there’s Piano Man from Glee! As silent as always. Maybe he needed a job during the summer.

Melanie, Ginnie, Sasha and Booboo. I don’t know which is which.

The focus goes to four girls. I guess these will be the supporting characters.

Michelle sees Hubbell’s house for the first time. It is decorated as kitschy as the home of a gay man who lives with three old ladies. While the rest of the house horrifies her, Michelle absolutely loves the bedroom, which has a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean.

Not Emily Gilmore (NEG) appears. She is Hubbell’s mom and shares the house with him. “You live with your mother like a serial killer?” Michelle quips.

This is the first time NEG has met the woman her son spontaneously married. As mother and Hubbell argue, Michelle runs out of the house and finds the dance studio, which is on the property. The four girls are there and Michelle instructs one on how to balance on one foot. NEG enters and totally acts like the cold mother-in-law to Michelle. NEG invites the girls to an impromptu wedding party she has decided to hold.

Michelle didn’t pack before she came here, so NEG directs her to a store downtown. Michelle walks there and gets her first view of the little town of Paradise. I like the large “out of business” sign. That is the most realistic depiction of small town life Sherman-Palladino has ever written.

Gossip travels fast in little towns. The store is staffed by two women who hate Michelle and think she is a stripper. One of the women is heart-broken because she loved Hubbell so much she went crazy. Ooh, a cooky cast of townsfolk! Just what I wanted. Paradise is going to be Stars Hallow but on the Pacific coast.

The four girls are at the wedding party. One of them is upset about the size of her breasts. Ballerinas are supposed to have small boobs, but hers are big. That’s the opposite of a problem!

I can do pop culture references too!

Michelle loves the dress crazy salesgirl sold her. But when she goes downstairs, the music stops and everyone states at her. Though I think it was music that was added in editing and not music that was playing at the actual party.

“It’s not everyday we have a Playboy Playmate in our mist,” says NEG. She knows Michelle was never in Playboy, she was just being a bitch.

Michelle retreats to the bedroom. Hubbell follows her. She admits that she doesn’t love him and as never loved anybody. “I know you don’t love me,” replies Hubbell. “I’m not an idiot.” They fix that by getting drunk and having sex (offscreen, sadly).

Melissa and Hubbell return to the party. NEG can tell they are drunk and just made sex. She is quite offended!

She is mean to Melissa so Melissa leaves and then Hubbell tells his mom to stop being a bitch to his wife the he tells the rest of the partygoers to stop being bitches as well. “You keep acting like a bitch I’m gonna slap you like you’re a bitch!” And dear God, why was crazy salesgirl allowed in? She is not even trying to not look like she wants to set this whole event on fire.

Michelle finds the four girls drinking beer in the studio. Michelle chides them, but this is coming from a woman who has drank repeatedly in this episode. Maybe she wants to be a cautionary tale. She doesn’t want these kids to grow into drunken dancers like her.

The girls inquire about Michelle’s dance career. One says she would love to be a ballerina. “You wanna be a bunhead huh?” says Michelle. OMG! She totally said the title! The girls are going to have the opportunity to audition for a summer course at Joffrey, which is the dance academy Mike Chang is going to.  Michelle tells the story about how she got cast on Dreamgirls despite not being black. “Attitude my friends,” Michelle explains. I am going to avoid making a joke about mimicking the attitude of a black woman.

Michelle runs the girls through a mock audition so they can learn how humiliating it will be. She has a hard time finding good music to get the girls to dance to. Not Emily Gilmore only has old people music. Glenn Miller and the Andrews Sisters, I presume.  She settles on “Ain’t She Sweet” a catchy pop song from the Roaring ’20s that the Beatles recorded back in their Hamburg days.

Michelle shows them the steps and then the girls dance. I think I saw some teen girl panties! Which is better than I did in high school! Not Emily watches. This is the magical moment when NEG stops being a cunt.

NEG takes Michelle to a bar. Michelle is surprised that NEG would go to a bar, but that’s all you have to do in small towns. “You’re used to dancing on the top of the bars, is that it?” NEG quips. But don’t worry, in context, it wasn’t mean like the many other times she has insulted Michelle this episode.

The two drink a lot and bond over how they wasted their lives. Michelle left a classical dance troupe because the casino paid better. But she has grown too old for the party scene of Vegas and was unhappy. That’s why she took up Hubbell’s offer. Not Emily Gilmore had to give up her own dance career after an unplanned pregnancy and a husband who ran away.

“Every moment you waste in life is a sin. Nothing waits for you. It all just moves on.”

–Not Emily Gilmore

Which makes me want to forget that the highlight of my day was eating half a pizza before going to Kmart. Then having to come home early to use the toilet and review Bunheads.

They dance, first together and then with some men. The fun is interrupted when crazy salesgirl enters. She tells them that Hubbell was in a car crash. Did he die? She didn’t say, but it’s heavily implied. If he is alive, he is probably tied to a bed in crazy salesgirl’s remote cabin. She is going to have him whether he wants it or not.

So much for having a male character on this show.

Grade: B

If you loved Gilmore Girls, you’ll probably like Bunheads. Michelle is basically Lorelei without a child. I guess we are in for four Rorys, though we didn’t get much of them, so it’s hard to say whether Michelle will have that dynamic with them. And Lorelei’s mom is back.

Cultural References:

  • The Arab Spring
  • Cats
  • Dreamgirls
  • Muammar Gadaffi
  • Godzilla
  • Chris Hansen
  • NASA Diaper Lady
  • Playboy
  • Penn & Teller
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • ZZ Top