What I’m watching: Summer Television 2012

“And well, time slips away, you know.”
“I know very well”

This quote from the new ABC Family Series show Bunheads perfectly sums up the reasons why I haven’t written on this blog in a few months.  Life happened, time got away, etc.  No excuse other than I was busy, and some stuff got in the way, and the effort to make time to write was too much for a little while.  So, with summer time on my hands, you’ll find me, jumping back in the saddle, after the jump.

The summer season of television always feels like I have time to take a breath. There aren’t nearly as many shows I ‘should’ be watching, so in theory I can catch up.  Last summer, I didn’t do too well, as I spent a lot of time watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and not enough Mad Men. To be fair, the Cardinals did win the baseball championship, so I was at least a little bit justified in this choice.  I don’t have much ‘appointment tv’ this summer and the Cardinals are just playing so-so, so I’ve committed to getting through the first four seasons of Mad Men this summer. I am going to try to watch at least 5 episodes a week, and I will check back in on occasion.

Obviously, I am eagerly waiting The Newsroom and all of a sudden I have HBO for the first time ever.  I’m hopeful that Girls will re-air in its entirety, so I can see what all the  talk is about. One show that has recently piqued my interest is the aforementioned Bunheads.  (I am aware that this will be the second ABC Family show I have written about in 2012.  However, if you think of ABC Family as the new WB, then I think we can all be okay with this fact.)  Bunheads comes from Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of Gilmore Girls (and The Return of Jezebel James, but we try and forget about that one).  Those that know me in real life know that I was a big fan of Gilmore Girls, and thus, checking out Bunheads was a forgone conclusion.

Bunheads centers on a Vegas showgirl dancer, Michelle Simms, played by Tony winner Sutton Foster, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Lorelai Gilmore (tall, dark headed, and fast talking).  Michelle decides on a drunken whim to marry Cameron Frye or Hubbell as he is known on the show; Hubbell  has been wooing Michelle for years, and after an audition for Chicago goes wrong she relents.   Hubbell sells Michelle on marriage by telling her about his home, a town called Paradise with a wonderful view of the sea, and that is where they head after the Vegas wedding (which takes place off screen).  Once in Paradise, we meet Hubbell’s mother Fanny (stop laughing friends from the UK), whom he lives with, played by Kelly Bishop (forever Emily Gilmore), and an assortment of teenage girls who dance at the studio Fanny, a former principle ballerina, owns.

Through the first 20 minutes or so of the show, I wasn’t sold on Bunheads.  The man who keeps trying to get a woman to date him has been done at least twice by Aaron Sorkin, and the whole set-up to get Michelle to Paradise seemed contrived at best (and a completely obvious Gilmore Girls wannabe at worst).  But then something happened: they showed up in Paradise and the show took form.

When Michelle and Fanny meet, one expects the two to instantly dislike each other, since that is how it usually works. And whilst they don’t love each other immediately, you get the idea it is because Fanny is truly confounded as to how Hubbell came home with this wife.  There is a great scene between Michelle and Hubbell that says everything I was thinking at the rash marriage. Basically that Michelle was drunk and desperate and that she didn’t love Hubbell. This was said in earnest and with compassion, and Hubbell admitted that he knew she didn’t love him. But, he truly did want to take care of her, in a way that doesn’t seem he wants her to be dependent on him, but rather he wants give her the means to figure out her life.  And through this conversation, the audience and Michelle begin to see Hubbell not as a sad, lonely, mama’s boy (no offence Buster) but as a someone who has feelings for someone that aren’t quite reciprocated. The conversation gives hope to both Hubbell that maybe Michelle can fall in love with him, and to Michelle that maybe this is the moment she can change her life.

There are lots of jokes about how there are no movie theatre in Paradise, but they don’t feel mean spirited. Rather, these jokes begin to build the framework of Paradise, which may not be quite as quirky as Stars Hollow, but holds it own when it comes to small-town charm.  Making you like Paradise is key to this show, because we are most certainly going to be asked as viewers to want Michelle to stay in Paradise.  There is a plot device at the end of the first episode that I won’t spoil (I wasn’t spoiled on it, and I am glad), that felt interesting and not a desperate ploy for ratings.

The best parts of the episode come near the end, and they are what made me excited to watch episode 2. Firstly, there is a scene where Michelle shows the students at Fanny’s dance studio what an audition is like. It is here that I fully embraced Sutton Foster as the leading lady, and you see for yourself that she is talented, rather than just being told she is. This scene says so much about Sutton and the girls (who want to be bunheads or dancers with buns on their heads, hence the title) and sets up the dance and teen aspects of the show.  The last scene, in a bar between Fanny and Michelle is absolute perfection. They talk about dancing and Hubbell, but really they are talking about regrets,  missed opportunities, and life.  Fanny never went back to dancing after getting pregnant with Hubbell, and raised him as a single parent; Michelle spent time on Broadway and then went out to Vegas for a quick buck that turned into a less than fulfilling life.  When Fanny says to Michelle, “You squandered a lot of potential,” Michelle’s reply is simply, “I know.”  “Are you sorry?,” Fanny asks, to which Michelle simply says, “Every day of my life.”

As with most television right now, Bunheads feels awfully white, a consistent problem that I wish writers I liked would handle better.  Still, Bunheads is a show that targets the female audience, but does not pander to this audience.  The two leads are women over the age of 35, which is rare in Hollywood these day; the women and the teenage girls are smart, and imperfect, and funny, and pretty normal at least within the confines of a  television world. All of that will have me tuning in throughout the summer and I hope you join me to see where Bunheads takes us.

Bunheads airs on Mondays on ABC Family, at 8pm Central time (9 pm Eastern).

Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Kym

     /  19/06/2012

    Of course this show! Why am I not surprised? I thought about watching it because I like Sutton Foster, and still might decide to catch up. But I am completely in favor of the summer of Mad Men – get on it!


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