Bunheads: Home Improvements

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Bunheads S01E04: "Better Luck Next Year"

This week’s episode of Bunheads was all about fixing things up, so it seems fitting to talk about the show’s improvements. We’re still not at Gilmore Girls levels of perfection—and let’s be honest, it takes a while to get there—but this series is already shaping up to be an ABC Family standout.

It feels like the pace is picking up: The dialogue this week was even sharper and faster, and the story continues to move forward. I liked the way we got a self-contained episode that also tied into the larger stories (the Joffrey auditions) and overarching themes (the feeling of professional failure). If the first few episodes were about establishing the story and the town of Paradise, now we can really jump into the plot.

Which, okay, Bunheads is just not going to be a serious, plot-driven show, and that’s fine. What’s important is that it never feel stagnant. There have to be problems here, past the conflict between Michelle and Fanny (as much as I enjoy it). It doesn’t have to be high drama, but it does have to keep us engaged, and this episode showed Bunheads is definitely capable of that.

Fanny’s need to fix up the studio floors without having the money to pay for it is standard TV terrain, but the writing on this show helped elevate it past the cliché. And of course, any story involving Michelle and Fanny working together—or bickering with each other—is going to be the episode’s highlight. The banter is just so rich: Think Aaron Sorkin, if he were better at writing female characters. At one point, Fanny snapped at Michelle, “We have got to get out of this Mobius strip of conversation or I’ll scream.”

But for once, the ballet students’ side of the story worked for me, too—thanks largely to the focus on Boo and Sasha, the strongest of the girls. Boo is clearly becoming the third lead of this show, and I’m fine with that. She’s obviously the most insecure of the girls, and that makes her the most relatable. (Her desire to go to town on some cake helps with that, too.) While I hope Bunheads expands to show us more of the other girls, I think a narrower focus is wise for the time being.

The other reason the Boo and Sasha story worked is that it was properly integrated into the episode. The stories converged—Michelle and Fanny worked to fix the floors before the Joffrey auditions, while Boo and Sasha worked to fix Boo’s confidence before the Joffrey auditions. This is the kind of parallel storytelling that Bunheads needs to maintain. In the last episode, everything involving the girls felt shoehorned in. Different plotlines are fine, but they work best when they’re moving toward a common endpoint.

Other things that worked for me: more Truly. I love this character. She’s weird and sad, and there’s clearly more to her than we initially realized. Her scenes with Michelle were great, because she wasn’t just being adversarial—and now it’s even clearer that her hostility comes from some deep personal issues. (She knows how to help everyone, except for herself.) If Truly can continue to develop as more than Fanny’s sidekick, I think she could fast enter “fan favorite” territory.

Oh, and Michelle sang! She sang! Sutton Foster fans, myself included, had been waiting for that moment since the pilot. Yeah, it was a dream sequence, which is probably the laziest way to work a song into a show, but really, who cares? The result was Sutton Foster singing, and that is always a good thing. Besides, it seems as though Michelle is haunted by her inability to make it as a star, so there’s a good chance she’ll try to rejuvenate that career. Well, as much as she can from Paradise.

QUESTIONS:

1. How can Bunheads incorporate more singing, outside of the occasional dream sequence?

2. Can Michelle and Truly ever really be friends?

3. Did Boo’s mom do the wrong thing by getting her that cake, or was she just being practical?

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