TV series ‘Bunheads’ brings blends ballet and pop culture

Fans of the “Gilmore Girls”  rejoice because Amy Sherman-Palladino is back with a girl-centric TV series, “Bunheads,” which makes its premiere tonight on ABC Family.

Her dramedy, “Gilmore Girls,” began on The WB (2000-2006) and ended on The CW (2007) although Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel Palladino cut their ties with the show in 2006. The show followed single mother Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) who had runaway as a pregnant teenager to the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. There she raised her only child, Rory (Alexis Bledel) and worked as the co-owner and manager of the Dragonfly Inn. Lorelai maintains a complicated relationship with her disapproving well-to-do parents, Emily and Richard Gilmore (Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann), and eventually Rory fulfills takes the path that the elder Gilmore wanted for Lorelai–attending a prestigious prep school and then attending an Ivy League college (Yale).

Bunheads is the slang for ballerinas because the traditional hairstyle is with their long hair swept back in a neat little bun. There must be an art form to it, making the ability to be neat in a uniform way (sans bangs) important. Sherman-Palladino is the daughter of comedian Don Sherman and dancer Maybin Hewes.

Hewes made an appearance in “Gilmore Girls” in “Rory’s Dance” during the first season. Sherman has appeared in various TV series (“The Monkees,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Gimme a Break!”) as well as the Rocky movies.

You can see how a mixture of dance and comedy would seem a natural for Sherman-Palladino. Like “Gilmore Girls,” we’re in a fictional town, this time a coastal California place called Paradise. Our lead character gets there via less than acceptable circumstances. While Lorelai was running away from her parents’ wealth under the disgrace of a teen pregnancy, Michelle (Sutton Foster)  is running away from her life as an over-the-hill Las Vegas showgirl and decides to marry her most persistent suitor, Hubbell Flowers (Alan Ruck).

Besides having the name of a space telescope as his given name and a surname surely made for romantic puns, Michelle’s suitor Hubbell Flowers is kind and harmless although he’s “odd and weird and technically a stalker.” This is, uncomfortably, a Cinderella story Las Vegas-style.  In this case, the evil stepmother comes after the quickie wedding in the form of a mother-in-law Fanny  (played by Kelly Bishop).

Yes, there will be chatter and Bishop’s Fanny isn’t for it as she asks, “The quips, the chatter! don’t you ever shut up?” Of course, the fast talk and pop references are what we expect from Sherman-Palladino. Fanny just happens to own a dance studio and we meet the four bunheads who will come under Michelle’s wings: the talented Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), the Snoopy-loving Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), the short and stocky Ginny (Bailey Buntain) and the fun-loving Melanie (Emma Dumont).

Graham had three failed sitcoms and guest-starring experience before “Gilmore Girls,” but the cast of “Bunheads” have better credentials. The Georgia-born Foster is part of the trend begun by “Glee” and augmented by “Smash.” She’s a Broadway star who was in the original cast of “Les Miserables” (1987-2003) as an ensemble member and later as a replacement for Eponine (Glee star Lea Michele played a young Cosette in “Les Miserables” between 1995-1996). She was the replacement Sandy in the Broadway revival of “Grease.” She played several roles in the revival of “Annie” and was an ensemble member in the original cast of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” She finally got a starring role as part of the original cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2002. She then starred as Jo in the original musical cast of “Little Women,” and played Janet Van de Graaff in the original cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone” from 2006-2007, and Inga in the original cast of “Young Frankenstein” and Princess Fiona in “Shrek the Musical” and just this year ended a run as Reno Sweeney in the Broadway revival of “Anything Goes.” Foster won a Tony for “Modern Millie” and “Anything Goes.”

Like Foster, Bishop is also a Broadway veteran. She was in the original cast of “Golden Rainbow” as a dancer. She was an original cast members of “Promises, Promises” (1968) and the legendary “A Chorus Line” as Sheila (for which she won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical) as well as non-musicals “Proposals” and the revival of “Bus Stop”. She was also on Broadway as a replacement in the original “Six Degrees of Separation,”  “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” and “Anything Goes.”  For dancers, you might remember Bishop as Baby’s disapproving mother Marjorie opposite Broadway veteran Jerry Orbach as father Jake Houseman in the classic “Dirty Dancing.”

Ruck has also been on Broadway. He was part of the original cast of the comedy, “Biloxi Blues” in 1986 and in 2005 he was a replacement Leo Bloom in “The Producers.” He was in the revival of “Absurd Person Singular” in 2005 as well. Yet Ruck is better known for his role as Cameron Frye in the pop culture classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  He was a regular on the hit TV series “Spin City” where he played the womanizing chief of staff Stuart Bondek.

Ruck at 55 might be playing younger to better match his co-star Sutton Foster who is 37. He was 29 when he played the 17-year-old Cameron and star Matthew Broderick was 24.

Age is a topic in “Bunheads” as Michelle opines, “I have to be perfect tomorrow. Perfect and glowing and 25.”

Mother-in-law Fanny also comments to her young students regarding auditions for the Joffrey, “Do not humiliate me. I am old. Any tiny shock could kill me.”

Is anyone else slightly uncomfortable with the premise that a woman gets drunk and gets married to someone who will support her even though he knows she doesn’t love him?

In the first episode, pop references include:

Arab Spring refers to the wave of demonstrations and protests that hit the Arab world beginning not in spring, but in December 2010 and continued on into May 2011. Rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yeman were forced out of power. Civil protests occurred in Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait with minor protests in Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the non-Arab Iran (because the majority are Persians).

Chris Hansen who is the TV journalist known for his “Dateline NBC” “To Catch a Predator” segments in which Internet sex predators are caught during undercover sting operations.

Joffrey Ballet is a ballet company now based in Chicago, that was founded in 1956 by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. The company was known for being innovative by mixing modern dance and politics into its programming and produced a ballet called “Billboards” which was based on the songs of Prince. The company was the basis for both a fictional movie, the 2003 Robert Altman “The Company” and a documentary “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance.”

Shabba Doo who is an American actor, dancer and choreographer. His real name is Adolfo Quiñones and he’s one of The Original Lockers. He appeared in the 1984 “Breakin'” and the sequel “Electric Boogaloo.” He was featured in Chaka Khan’s 1984 “I Feel for You.”

As a choreographer, he worked with Madonna and Luther Vandross. He was a primary dancer and choreographer for Madonna’s 1987 “Who’s That Girl?” tour.  (According to the Urban Dictionary, shabadoo also has a sexual meaning. )

What’s our verdict on “Bunheads”? If the writers can get us past this queasy and questionable retro situation of a woman marrying as an economic solution, we expect that the writing will be witty and the dancing provided by these Broadway vets and young ballet dancers good enough to inspire young dancers. If your young dancer needs a reality check this show as well as the reality series “Breaking Pointe” should help.  Bunheads makes its world premiere tonight, Monday, 11 June 2012 9/8 on ABC Family.

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About Jana J. Monji

I've written for the Rafu Shimpo, LA Weekly, LA Times, Examiner.com and, more recently, the Pasadena Weekly and RogerEbert.com. I formerly worked for a dot-com more interested in yodeling than its customers.

Posted on June 11, 2012, in TV series. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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