Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bunheads Returns Still Light, Frothy and Enjoyable

Season 1 Episode 11 - "You Wanna See Something?"

Funny thing about this TV game is that someone creating one show you love often has little bearing on how you feel about their next show(s). The iconic example at the moment would probably be Aaron Sorkin's twin marks of shame, Studio 60 and The Newsroom (and now there are even some weak-kneed types retroactively pretending The West Wing and Sports Night weren't great, which is obviously dumb and wrong), but the list goes on and on. I don't like Armando Iannucci's Veep nearly as much as The Thick of It; Shawn Ryan's Last Resort is but a shadow of The Chicago Code, much less Terriers; plenty of Wire fanatics couldn't care less about Treme; and Mitch Hurwitz's quasi-remake of Arrested Development, my favorite work of fiction ever crafted by the hands of man, was the instantly forgettable Running Wilde.

So it's nice to know in these uncertain times that there are TV writers you can count on: Your Joss Whedons for genre serials, your Jason Katims for warmhearted family dramas, and your Amy Sherman-Palladinos for light dramedies about motormouthed, pop culture-referencing young women in charming small town settings. In its first three seasons Gilmore Girls was one of the most special shows on television, and Sherman-Palladino's new show Bunheads has picked up that baton admirably, merely swapping out inns and academia for ballet and more ballet. It could never be as good as Gilmore Girls without Lauren Graham or Stars Hollow, but it's a damn fine little program. After The Legend of Korra, it's my second-favorite show to both start in and make it alive out of 2012.

Like many season premieres (ok, this is technically season 1 episode 11, though with five months since the last episode and a substantial time jump in-Buniverse, it's a de facto season premiere), "You Wanna See Something?" is largely dedicated to undoing the seemingly show-shattering events of last season's finale. In this case that involved getting Las Vegas-showgirl-turned-small town-youth-dancing-instructor Michelle Simms back to said small town of Paradise after she was exiled for accidentally macing her students, and yes, like many season premiere retcon jobs, it played out with a slight sense of stale inevitability.

But I thought it was fitting and in-character that Michelle wasn't returned to Paradise through any realization of her own but by another character, in this case Fanny, reaching out to her. Really, after macing a dozen children, that's the only way it could be, and it felt at least 80% earned. Michelle's final moment with Sasha was also quite nice, and I enjoyed the way it sliced through the bullshity scene with Sasha's generic bad boy romantic interest. (Sorry, generic bad boy: I watched Jess Mariano, I knew Jess Mariano, Jess Mariano was a fictitious friend of mine. Generic bad boy, you're no Jess Mariano.)

The real magic in this episode lay not with Michelle but with the titular bunheads, something it shares with the show's second-best episode so far, "Movie Truck" (an episode which, I might add, was one of the very last cut from the rough draft of my best episodes of 2012, though I think that's made up for by the pilot almost cracking the top ten). Ginny and Melanie already feel like much more integrated parts of the ensemble than they ever did last year, and Boo's unwitting starring turn as the "it's time to dance!" girl was one of the infinitesimally few fictitious viral videos I've seen that had even a passing resemblance to a video that might actually go viral.

I also rather enjoyed the way "You Wanna See Something?" functioned as the mirror image of the series' pilot, which was all about Michelle in its first act and didn't bring in the rest of the main cast until deep into the episode, by featuring everyone except Michelle until thirteen minutes in. It was a clever way to subtly but strongly announce that the show, which began as the story of a single person, is now about Paradise itself, a town which now feels empty absent Michelle. It widened the show's thematic scope through just a slight change of narrative emphasis.

The ratings aren't especially great on Bunheads, making it a very real chopping block risk on not-shy-to-axe-underperformers ABC Family. But I know I for one enjoy the adventures of these teenage ballerinas more than a grown man who doesn't give a shit about ballet probably should, and I'll be bummed if the next seven episodes wind up the show's swan song. Bunheads is "chill the fuck out" TV done right.

No comments:

Post a Comment