Bunheads Review: Let Your Hair Down
To be honest I wasn’t sad to see Gilmore Girls go. Alexis Bledel did not plan to return; and both Amy Sherman-Palladino and Lauren Graham knew there was no show without her and decided not to return either (MP: S-P ceased becoming the show runner) . But more importantly the show had exhausted storylines and much of its character development. When it’s easy to to guess a character’s motivation or reaction to a certain event, surely it is time to move on (MP: didn’t Sherman-Palladino cease to become GG’s showrunner? That’s when things really started to go downhill imho [*my bad: Graham DID choose not to return though]).
Palladino’s newest characters however occupy the same space, Paradise is clearly an extension of Stars Hollow and people here would easily fit into Stars Hollow and vice versa. These characters existed around the fringes of Stars Hollow and now its their turn in the spotlight.
Michelle is an underachiever, who attended school at the American Ballet Theatre, but tragically ends up dancing the chorus line at a Vegas peep show. She has a very dedicated admirer, shoe shop owner Hubbel Flowers (MP: Flowers? Seriously, Amy Sherman-Palladino? Seriously?!). Michelle is not interested in Hubbel’s decidedly stalkerish advances and it’s not hard to see why his behaviour is off-putting (MP: He’s the most harmless sort of stalker then; soft-spoken, gentle, sigh). But after another failed audition, she agrees to go out on a dinner with him, mostly because her ego needs the boost insecure artists crave after rejection (MP: Sacrilege! You dare, S? YOU DARE? Very judgemental of you, if I do say so meself). A few drinks, some grade A pandering to her ego, and promises of Paradise later, and Hubbel manages to convince her to marry him (MP: It really does happen that fast. A S-P really, really wanted to get us to Paradise. Ha!). It’s these types of unhealthy relationships that stand the
test of time (Spoiler Alert!). (MP: For some reason, that cracks me up)
The next day, recovering from a hangover Michelle realizes that she may have made a grave error in judgement. Paradise is a house decorated like the Island of Misfit Toys, it is a house her husband (still) lives in with his mother (yikes!). Paradise is a hostile little town, where Hubbel’s ex is still holding out for him to return to her (MP: You know, I didn’t realize that they were actually an item until the second episode; I thought she was just pining for him…from afar). The “stripper from Tahoe” is not welcome in Paradise. But there is the haunting beauty of the ocean Hubbel had described to her, and in a sweet little moment it becomes apparent that he knows exactly what she wants and she is ready to believe Hubbel may be the one to give it all to her.
In the final act of the pilot, Michelle and Fanny begin to connect over things they have in common, dance and unfulfilled dreams. Its a fun scene where the women let their hair down, relax and dance. Kelly Bishop is no longer a controlling anal-retentive mother, she is a free spirit and even though she sees herself in Michelle it is unlikely that she will push her into fitting her ideals.
The final scene sets up the show nicely and it is obvious Palladino knows the risk will pay off.
Part II: Fun-eral
Pilots are notoriously bad at predicting the exact nature of the show, its tone or its pacing. They cater more to the studio executives’ taste than they do to an audience’s. Not to say audiences don’t matter. A show will only be green-lit if the studio feels they will be able to find an audience for it. However it is very rare to see shows maintain the calibre of the pilot (good or bad), unless they’re tragically awful to begin with and never improve (MP: looks to the graveyard of cancelled shows…specifically The Cape; what WAS that shit?).
The pilot’s pacing was frantic, reminiscent of Gilmore Girls, but Sutton Foster is no Lauren Graham (MP: I realize the comparisons come with the territory, but Foster more than holds her own. She has the quirkiness and the right inflection and doesn’t have unnecessary dramatics; Graham and Foster have their own charms imho). As a theatre actress she still needs to master the subtleties that a camera can capture. The follow-up episode allows her to settle into a pace she is more comfortable with. But do not worry, Palladino’s signature is still all over the show. The dry humour, the fast-talking, the snappy pop-culture references are going nowhere.
Post-death melancholy has set into Paradise. All that remains of Hubbel now is his memories and the awkward situation he didn’t get the chance to fully resolve (MP: talk about an understatement. “Awkward” just barely scratches the surface, ha!). Removing Hubbel from the show was an important step, and I’m glad Palladino was brave enough to make the move so early on. We are spared from watching romance “blossom” between (read: forced upon) Michelle and Hubbel. As I have mentioned earlier, my reservations arise from the fact that this was an abusive relationship to begin with. Hubbel is a stalker (he has Michelle’s timetable memorized) and even though she has no interest in him at all, Michelle continues to accept his lavish gifts. Their marriage transpires when Hubbel takes advantage of a drunk, insecure Michelle (MP: Oh come on! I wouldn’t go that far. Does this mean I’m partial to stalkerish behavior?). These two are selfish when it comes to each other, and their chemistry is fleeting. Glad we’ve already moved on.
The women in Hubbel’s life dont seem to know how to mourn his passing. His wife barely knew him; it’s only posthumously that she discovers he is a Metallica and Tom Waits fan. It is also quite evident that her feelings stem more from the guilt of the accident than the passing of a loved one (MP: I’m with you there; she is a human being after all…).
Fanny begins to unravel as the plans for the memorial get more and more elaborate (Dalai Lama napkins, the Intrepid). As his mother she has had to acknowledge that she may have not known her son after all. The planned memorial is less a celebration of Hubbel’s life and more of a way for Fanny to reconcile with the man Hubbel truly was and grieve. The preparation for the memorial brings in my favorite character played by Ellen Greene (of Pushing Daisies — MP: now there’s a show that should never have been gone past the feature film concept stage; yes, it was great but it couldn’t last very long…), Fanny’s confident and a look into the peculiarities of the town’s people. The melancholy that envelops these people, their blunt observations are what bring comic relief to the show, a precarious balance Palladino excels at.
Though the town may be hostile towards Michelle, there is nothing but genuine love for Fanny. It is eventually the girls who intially use the incident to bunk school to watch a Wahlberg movie, who help Michelle give the kind of send-off all of us would want. Very few shows manage to elicit tears from its audience only two episodes in, but Palladino is a professional (MP: really? You cried?).
It is apparent that after the memorial Michelle will leave town. There is nothing to keep her there, no lasting bond has been formed, no one has even hinted at the beginning of one to her; except Hubbel has left his entire estate to her, making mischief from the grave, bet he expected his mom to go before him and never find out. Life’s cruel that way.
(MP: One squabble about the third episode (to be reviewed shortly): I realize that the point of the first few episodes especially with a character-driven show like this one, is to build up relationships etc. but the switch in pacing here concerned me a little, especially with Michelle’s conversation with the recluse who was a foil for her “real discovery”. Did like that ending though!)
- Truly Stone’s grief probably matches Fanny’s. First she lost the love of her life to a “stripper form Tahoe” and then she loses him again to death. She cleans, she cooks, she comforts Fanny (and vice versa); yet it is she who has been most alienated by him.
- The meltdown from the girls was fantastic. Played for all the laughs it was worth.
- “I just think the town could use a woman who used to be a man to go with the republican and the Liza Minelli impersonator.”
- I’ll write more about the girls if the show gives me any indication that they are more than just bookends to Fanny and Michelle’s story.
- Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame” and ballet. YouTube’s being a bitch, but you can watch the final number here.
Shazia is part bionic, part crazy (parts not mutually exclusive), and would be happy conversing solely in TV quotes, forever hopeful she’ll be one-upped in her obscure TV references. She blogs here and microblogs here.
Maryam (TMS Editor-in-Chief) shares the columnist’s channel surfing tendencies but not her dedication to write anything longer than 140 characters. The Robin to Shazia’s Batman, M always appears in parenthesized italics.