Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pass the (Microwave) Popcorn: Bunheads

We loved Gilmore Girls.

Wait, did I just write that in the past tense? I meant we love Gilmore Girls. Love, love, love, no letter d necessary. The series is still in syndication. Plus, my daughter has a collector's edition boxed set that Santa Claus brought two years ago. ("Mo-o-om!" she groans as though my continued belief in that jolly fat man is a direct assault on her teendom.)

We were late to the game with Gilmore Girls, despite much encouragement from my mother and my best friend and her then teen daughters. When we finally did jump into it, I think we watched the entire seven seasons, sometimes three or four episodes in one sitting, with barely a break for life's necessities (the bathroom, food or drink, school).

I could relate to Lorelei, the sometimes sarcastic single mother (although I'm happily married, I can snark with the best of them). I hoped that my daughter could relate to the bookish high school student, Rory. (She aspired to Harvard but ended up at Yale. With the show set in Connecticut, moving a character to New Haven was more convenient than Cambridge.) They were more than mother and daughter, they were best friends. I liked to think they were ... sigh ... us.

At one point, though, my own little scholar informed me that she was more like Lorelei and I was more like Rory. "Because," she told me, "I like to have fun." Implication? "You wouldn't know fun if it hit you in the face with a cream pie, mother dear."

Um, okay.

We mourned the loss of Gilmore Girls, but now have a new show to watch together. In real time. Bunheads.

Although after just six episodes, Bunheads hasn't picked up quite the same momentum, it is following a pretty familiar pattern. The little California town Paradise is filled with a carnival of quirky characters much like Gilmore's Stars Hollow. There's an entire dance class of Rory's, although they're more focused on getting into the Joffrey than an Ivy League. There's an elegant, exacting older woman with a sharp tongue. And, there's a clever, quippy heroine whose constant cultural allusions spin the heads of the good people of the town. Even if ABC Family hadn't promoted the new show's creators, we would recognize Bunheads as the natural born daughter of Gilmore Girls.

On this show, Lorelei Gilmore has morphed into Michelle Simms, a Vegas showgirl who, in an alcohol-ized haze, marries an earnest admirer, Hubbell Flowers. He takes her away to his lovely home overlooking the sea, which (unbeknownst to Michelle) is also the home of his overbearing mother, ex-ballerina now dance teacher, Fanny. The mother-in-law doesn't accept the new bride; the town doesn't accept the new bride. Hubbell dies in a car accident, leaving all of his property to said new bride and leaving us with the show's ultimate set-up. Can jaded Vegas girl survive and thrive in small coastal town? Can disillusioned dancer find her inner prima ballerina by mentoring a bunch of starry-eyed bunheads? Can creator Amy Sherman-Palladino hit another home run? And, most important, can they possibly cram any more one-liners into a single 60-minute show?

The fast-talking dancer Michelle is played by Broadway superstar Sutton Foster. Foster has already won two Tony Awards, for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes. She's sweet and funny and when they let her sing and dance (as they did in a couple of dream sequences two episodes ago), it's magic!

The show's grande dame, like Gilmore's before it, is Kelly Bishop, another Tony Award winner, in her case for A Chorus Line. She was my all-time favorite element of Gilmore Girls, so I'm happy to bask in her eloquent sneers once more.

The ill-fated Hubbel was played by Alan Ruck. His untimely death saddened me, even though it was a critical plot twist. Ruck has had a successful career since (including a long stretch on Spin City), but for me he will always be Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller's hapless friend, who murdered a 1961 Ferrari in a plea for his father's attention.

The corps of teen bunheads is great too. Their dialogue and age-appropriate angst rings oh-so right on. Crushes, school, diets, parental issues, sneaking out at night, sneaking a beer (or four). And, they are all accomplished dancers. For a little  taste, take a look at Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) in last week's "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)."

So, is Bunheads simply Gilmore Girls in toe shoes? Perhaps. But here's what's more important. At a time when there is very little we can agree upon (and still less for us to do together), Bunheads provides an hour a week when my daughter and I can meet halfway, curl up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn, and pretend we are still (like Lorelei and Rory) best friends.


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