Bunheads: Teachable Moments

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Bunheads S01E07: "What's Your Damage, Heather?"

After an off week, Bunheads returned tonight with an episode full of humor, poise, and Heathers references. When it’s on, this show is light and graceful—like a gazelle, to borrow Davis’s analogy. Except, even better, because this gazelle is pop culture-savvy and loves fried food.

This week, we got to see Michelle as teacher, and the results exceeded my expectations. For the first time since Bunheads premiered, the plot felt entirely cohesive: Everything was intertwined, from Michelle’s plumbing trouble to Ginny’s boyfriend dilemma to Truly’s affection for the one-eyed plumber. Everything was as sharp and funny as it has been in past weeks, but this felt like a fully realized show. Like someone could ask me, “Seriously, what the hell is Bunheads?” and I could point to this episode, and I’d feel pretty good about it.

At first, it almost seemed as though Michelle’s transition to teacher would be too easy: She’s great at dancing and great with the girls. But what I loved about this episode was the way it explored that line between peer and teacher. Michelle doesn’t want to be put in an authority role, but she also gets that she has to step up and be assertive when the situation calls for it. She can’t just let Sasha steal from her or show up late, even if they’ve already bonded over onion rings.

What it comes down to is Michelle’s reluctance to be an adult: “I’m not a disciplinarian. I’m not a grown-up.” She went from Vegas dancer to widowed teacher—that would be a rough transition for anyone, and Michelle has had to do it in a really short period of time. Plus she never really asked for any of this. I wouldn’t say that Hubbel conned her into marriage, but she certainly didn’t give it the proper amount of thought. And Fanny did essentially force Michelle into teaching (even though it’s clearly the role she was meant for).

We didn’t get a full resolution, of course—this will likely be a struggle for Michelle in the coming weeks. But I appreciated the fact that she learned from her experience. “You can’t teach them things if you’re their friend, I guess,” she reflected. And I was glad Nanette was there to put things in perspective: “You’re having a bigger influence on these girls than you think.” The scene encapsulated the episode’s central conflict without moralizing or going the fully maudlin route. We learned a lesson, but it wasn’t shoved down our throats.

As for the girls, I have to say I’m less interested in Sasha’s troubled home life and more fixated on Ginny. Like Michelle, Ginny needs to act her age, and this episode was all about helping her realize she’s too young to be a wife. Without Josh by her side—assuming they don’t patch things up right away—I think Ginny will have more room to develop. Meanwhile, Boo’s useless pining after Charlie is a bit grating, but she’s charming enough overall that I can let it slide. Melanie is really the only weak link. Bunheads needs to give her more to do than just awkwardly flirt with her brother. (Seriously, does no one else find their relationship to be strange?)

There were other little bits that made the episode especially enjoyable. Aside from the aforementioned Heathers reference—I agree with Michelle saying you need to watch it immediately if you didn’t get that—seeing Todd Lowe as Davis the one-eyed plumber was a pleasant surprise. Nowadays he’s best known as Terry on True Blood, but Gilmore Girls fans will remember him fondly as Lane’s bandmate and eventual husband Zach. More Gilmore Girls family on Bunheads, please! I keep waiting for Sean Gunn to pop up in Paradise.

If I had any complaint about the episode it would be the lack of Fanny, who has been on vacation far too long for my liking. (Michelle’s impeccable impression of her mother-in-law almost made up for it.) Even without the Michelle-Fanny interaction, though, "What's Your Damage, Heather?" kept me engaged, and that’s a sure sign the series is coming into its own. The guilty pleasure that drew me in with Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop continues to prove itself a legitimate joy.


QUESTIONS:

– Will Ginny go out with Charlie just because she can?

– Is this the end of the road for Truly and Davis?

– Would you eat a salad with fries in it?

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