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The Cancellation of Bunheads: Why TV's Most Underrated Show Deserved Better

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | TV Reviews | July 23, 2013 | Comments ()


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Bunheads was an unlikely gambit from the beginning. The strange story of a Vegas showgirl who marries a stranger and ends up teaching dance alongside her mother-in-law, in a small coastal California town. There was dancing and singing, there were teens dealing with parents, drinking, sexuality, and there was grief and heartache in abundance. But the show, written with so much sassiness and hilarity was more than the sum of its parts, a meaty, intelligent offering that understood and showcased women at their very best and very worst. Also, dancing. Lots of dancing.

If you never watched the show, it starred Sutton Foster as a Vegas showgirl (Sutton Foster), who married a kind stranger (Alan Ruck) on the spur of the moment, and wound up in Paradise, California. Her new mother-in-law (Kelly Bishop) runs a dance studio, and the pair of them end up teaching and bickering for the next 18 episodes, imparting wisdom to the dancers in their care. The four main girls, Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), Melanie (Emma Dumont) and Ginny (Bailey Buntain) are all dealing with their own hefty dose of teen drama, from parents and divorces to body issues and boy troubles.

Fans of Gilmore Girls knew the show as the creation of genius writer and pop culture expert Amy Sherman-Palladino. Nobody in the business besides Aaron Sorkin can touch her for speed of dialogue or references per minute, but it isn’t because she wants to show off, but because there’s too much to say and in real life, there’s barely time to take a breath anyway. Yes, the cast wasn’t quite used to her brand of mile-a-minute banter, but Kelly Bishop was there to guide. Also a host of Star’s Hollow residents popped up, including Liza Weil.

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And oh, god, the show was weird sometimes. Just so, so, damn weird. Fanny put on a ballet performance about recycling at one point. Michelle continually met men who seemed to be set up as possible romantic interests and then we never heard from them again. (Although it dawns on me that perhaps that’s the truest thing of all. How often we cast the male lead in our own TV show after a chance meeting, only to never even see or hear from him. Carry on, Michelle.) There was so many references and pop culture moments your head would spin.


Seriously, this is a two minute performance about paper or plastic that will delight/confuse you. “This is nuts!” says Michelle, literally.

The floundering realism of Michelle’s lack of ability to pull her life together, the nagging feeling that things weren’t supposed to be like this, and the realization that life isn’t going to get any easier, there was so much truth and wrenching honesty wound up in her over-the-top wildness that it was easy to miss. Michelle was strong, but not invincible. Her earnestness would break your heart, and this was a knockout role for Sutton Foster, who took it and ran with it.

Kelly Bishop was easy to re-cast as a kind of hippy Emily Gilmore, and in fact as Fanny Flowers she served many of the same purposes that Emily did. A wise, dependable but perpetually demanding mother figure, simultaneously loved and feared. The perfect foil to Michelle’s floppy, undisciplined, long-limbed self. Their relationship and the tenuous song and dance that took them from strangers to family was one of the season’s most rewarding arcs.

The four girls were friends in that way you’re friends with friends you’ve always been friends with. There’s the queen bee, the chubby one, the sweet one and the tom boy, hell it’s like that Homestar Runner sketch, but rather than some kind of terrible Sex and the CIty quartet-in-training, these girls were marked by real interaction, in-fighting, bickering, jockeying for position, and trying to work out what it means to become who you are in a town that has always known what you used to be.

Michelle, Fanny, the four girls and everything they dealt with was handled with such a deft touch, so much pride, power and belief in the idea that what makes up the details of life builds to a larger picture of who we are as people.That our history informs but does not define us, that we can will ourselves to be better and that the people who love us will do their best to cherish and support us. That we will fail, and fail spectacularly but that it won’t be the end of us. Bunheads was a proud believer that sincerity and sarcasm can co-exist, and that even though you’ve got an acerbic tongue in your head, you’ve got a beating heart keeping things even keeled.

The show hadn’t reached the heights that Gilmore Girls did, and yes, Bunheads had a load of problems. The thin as paper premise, the consistency with which side characters would pop up and disappear, never to be heard from again, the bizarre musical moments that littered many of the episodes and last but not least, the way the show floundered about, looking for where it put the plot. There were often too many balls in the air, too many missed opportunities, too many characters for anyone except the main girls to grow and flourish. Of course, that’s par for the course in the Gilmore universe, and as the show progressed, everyone began to find their footings. Lines of dialogue that the girls fumbled over in earlier days came easily to them in later episodes. Sutton Foster grew her character from a half-assed Lorelai Gilmore-wanna be to a real, living, breathing neurotic-on-her-own Michelle Simms.

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The series did poorly in the ratings, starting out with a 1.64 million viewership, ending up at barely over a million. ABC Family is still finding its footing as a network, experimenting with a variety of shows, mostly about lying teenagers, with Pretty Little Liars leading the pack as their flagship show. Such a small network can hardly afford a misstep, and shows like Bunheads with extensive casts, expansive shooting locations and complicated storylines are more expensive to run than multi-cam sitcoms such as Baby Daddy.

The money to give the show a head start on a second season was already promised by the California Film and Television Tax program, which promised the series $5.82 million dollars upon completion of a second season. One wonders what the costs must have been for ABC Family to decide to leave $5,820,000.00 taxpayer dollars on the table. Hell, that’s even better than a Kickstarter would have been. The politics and business behind what stays on air often simply comes down to dollars and cents, and for whatever reason, Bunheads wasn’t making the kind of cultural impact that niche shows need to stay on the air when numbers don’t add up. In the end, there’s no way to know what happened.

What is disappointing, as with any loss, is the loss of the future, what adventures and bizarre musicals we’ll never get to experience now, stories and characters we’ll never see written to completion. Perhaps the second season would have crashed and burned, but we’ll never know. Girls interrupted, to be sure. We got a good thing for a time, and maybe one of these days we’ll learn our lesson about loving things. It was good, it was good for a while and we got to enjoy it. The fact that it’s gone doesn’t mean we love it any less, or that there won’t be plenty of new things to love in the coming months of new pilots and renewals.

Through it all, Bunheads was about women on the make. Making themselves and making each other into the kind of tough, sensitive, whole individuals that only the friendship of other women seems to be able to draw out. There just simply isn’t anything like Bunheads on TV, so full of light and originality, weird on top and wild at heart. We were lucky and knowing it just wasn’t enough.

Amanda Mae Meyncke has a blog about the ice cream she eats. She is more of a Sasha who wishes she were a Ginny.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • cgthegeek

    Danced since I was two. Never heard the word bunhead before this show. That alone warrants it's cancellation.

  • CapnGravy

    Horrible news indeed. I tripped across this show on Hulu near the end of its original run and was quickly hooked - Sutton Foster is amazing and she needs to keep fighting for more screen time. My girls are 4 and obsessed with ballet and this show went a long way towards explaining their fascination. What part of "family" is ABC Family failing to comprehend?

  • dizzylucy

    As a huge Gilmore fan, I went into this show with high hopes, and left the first few episodes disappointed - there were a lot of characteristics lifted right from Gilmore, and the plot holes, lack of continuity, and some of the characters made me gripe about it. But I kept watching, grew to like the world they were unevenly building, and really appreciated Sutton's efforts. I never had the love for it that some viewers did, but I find myself sad it's gone.

  • babykangarootribbiani

    I was so unabashedly furious when I heard this show was cancellled!! I suspected/feared this for months but was still incredibly angered by it. I really think that Bunheads was one of a kind, the only thing like it was Gilmore Girls and that;s been off the air for six years. This show had its problems the first ten episodes but the last eight were a big step up, and it;s one of the few shows that actually lets teenagers act like teenagers. i;m normally not one to say "they cancelled this for that, the fiends!" but seeing as abc family said they were waiting to see how their new shows did before they made a decision, they cancelled bunheads for the fosters and twisted?! weaksauce, i say. I cannot being to understand this fascasination people have with teenage murder mystery shows, like i actually liked the lying game before it turned into a convoluted mystery show, because all of those shows (pretty little liars, twisted, the lying game, other shows that aren;t on abc family) are exactly the same and could be resolved if any two characters at any point had an honest conversation with each other. i;m sorry, i know it;s tv and it;s not supposed to be like life, but if all teens in small towns did was solve murders, people would stop moving to small towns and they would cease to exist. (yes, i;m well aware it;s just tv show, like you;re so perfect). but bunheads, along with awkward and the carrie diaries, are the only shows on tv where teenagers actually act like teenagers. and i think it;s a damn shame we never get to return to paradise.

  • Rebeccapedia

    I knew it wouldn't come back, but it still hurts like a bitch. The show was funny and clever, the women were strong, brave and flawed, the plots were the exact cray-cray town kind you have to hang on to like a speeding train, you know you shouldn't be enjoying it, it doesn't make any sense, but all the people leaning out doors trying to help you back in are boring white men so you really just embrace it and love it.
    Also the slap-stick humour was ridiculously hilarious, when Melanie just randomly yanks that girl down by the ponytail, or Michelle macing the line of girls, there was so much quality in there, honestly it was on par with Arrested Development scenes like Tobias jumping onto the glass coffee table dressed as Mary Poppins or George Micheal coming in smelling Lucille and then absolutely creasing himself on her spilled martini for me. The show made me shake with laugher, and I liked all the characters (expect you Digger, no one likes you, please leave!) but I super loved and cared about Michelle and Sasha, their relationship was incredible and so well done, it became the core of the show for me and it's what I'll miss the most.... Michelles little scene where she's arguing with her brother about their mother, and she says the line about choosing your own family is the most perfectly heart-breaking and paradoxically hopeful thing ever, and the way Sutton delivers it is just killer.
    Ugh this decision just stings so much

  • I saw the news this morning and it made me really sad - sadder than I should probably admit, given it's just a tv show. Damn you, ABC Family.

  • alboalt

    Wow. Just wow. Girl, you good.

  • chanohack

    I agree. Lovely.

  • Haystacks

    Too bad. The dancing was awesome

  • apsutter

    This bums me out so hard. I really enjoyed this show and I think it would have only gotten better with age. I'm a huge fan of ballet as well and it was so nice it every week. Here's my favorite of their routines http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...
    This show and Sutton Foster deserved better.

  • Some of the dance sequences were a little odd (Miners from Billy Elliott? WTF?), but I loved the Makin' Whopee sequence from the finale, so I'm sharing. :) http://youtu.be/VKcQ-9mRhWo

  • apsutter

    I think that was part of it's charm. They could do serious routines but they also did fun/silly/weird stuff too

  • kinoumenthe

    Oh no ! It's been cancelled…

    I really enjoyed the series sort of lack of direction, especially the lack of solid romantic interest for Michelle. You never really knew where it was going, it was nice. I suppose a series with literally no male lead whatsoever was doomed to be cancelled anyway…

  • apsutter

    I will say that I went into it knowing nothing and was so happy and psyched to see Cameron! And then they killed him off which was a bummer but I loved all the women together.

  • PaddyDog

    I'd really like to make a comment since I was a regular watcher but I'm not sure I want to draw the wrath of the current troll in my direction so I'll just say "Hi y'all".

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Don't worry, he's been blocked.

  • PaddyDog

    Great! I wanted to note that I went into Bunheads deeply skeptical because nothing was ever going to replace GG for me, and at first I was smugly justified. But then the show started to creep in on me and all of a sudden I was all in. And then the bastards canceled it.

  • foolsage

    I haven't yet watched any GG. I didn't have any expectations going in to watching Bunheads, and didn't expect to fall in love. Bunheads was just such a warm, quirky, but above all realistic show that it quickly became one of my favorites. Like Seinfeld, it was (mostly) a show about characters instead of plots, but unlike Seinfeld, the characters were likable human beings placed in real situations.

  • I loved Gilmore Girls but the sole reason I tuned into this show was because of my deep, abiding love for Sutton Foster. It saddens me to see Bunheads end, but I can't say I'm terribly surprised. All the plot issues aside, I truly enjoyed watching every week.

  • Joe Gordon

    Well, I hope Rocabarra is satisfied. Since she threw an apeshit spazz over the show being all UNFAIRZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!!!! and killing off her wun twue bewuved Cameron Frye, nevermind her being such a gargantuan tard she couldn't grasp the simple fact that the show was about dance and girls not some failed character actor most famous for some shitty teen movie that's nearly 30 years old.

    Honestly, how much of a fucking moron are you Rocabarra? The title of the goddamned show alone proves it isn't going to be about your pwecious wuv Cameron Frye or whatever.

    But I'm glad this show crushed and destroyed your utterly pathetic soul when it killed off that loser Frye or whoever the fuck he is. I hope you cried until you had seizures and had to go to the er.

  • birdgal

    Wow, misplaced rage if ever I saw it. BTW, who the fuck is Rocabarra?

  • Bert_McGurt

    This makes me miss that guy greg who always used to tell Rob to go f*ck himself when he ragged on Brett Ratner. At least he showed restraint with his punctuation.

  • Maguita NYC

    Damn it! I was just suggesting he seeks the gentler @Jezzer or @Puddin' for their approval and support before his comment got deleted.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I always get the weirdos.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Um. Do you, like, need a hug or something?

  • toblerone

    BOO ABC! BOO!

    *But at least now I can opening lust over 23 year old Kaitlyn Jenkins and not have to see her play an awkward 16 year old every week.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I suppose that really is one of the few silver linings.

  • She's 23???

  • toblerone

    She was born in 1991, so technically 22.

  • apsutter

    Is that Boo?!

  • toblerone

    That is Boo.

    *I know.

  • KAT

    Quick question from someone who hasn't seen the show: the Michelle character is married to Alan Rock's character, why do they introduce possible love interests for her?

  • Joe Gordon

    Because Ruck is killed in the first episode. And NO THAT IS NOT A SPOILER. The goddamned show has been off the air for five months and detailed recaps and discussions are all over the goddamned place, INCLUDING THIS WEBSITE. If learning that Ruck dies somehow 'ruins' both the show and your life then you area pathetic loser who doesn't deserve to live. And anyway, the whole husband thing isn't anything more than a plot device,

  • Bert_McGurt

    Did Alan Ruck kill your dog or something?

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Nah, he wrecked his Ferrari.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Who wears a goddamn Gordie Howe sweater in CHICAGO anyways!?

  • Berry

    Have you ever tried yoga? I hear it's very relaxing.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I think he might also consider prescription drugs and therapy.

  • hindulovegod

    Alan Ruck's character dies very early on in the series. And this cancellation sucks; I was looking forward to more kookiness.

  • KAT

    Thanks!

  • foolsage

    FUUUUUUUUUUCK!

    I really liked that show. Damn it.

  • John W

    Hopefully another network will take it.

  • Joe Gordon

    Why?

    The show's ratings were BEYOND SHITTY, even with every TV critic licking and tonguefucking the collective pussies of everyone on the show.

    Every episode lost an oil tankers worth of month for Disney/ABC/ESPN, and there was ZERO reason to think that would change is it was picked up by another network.

    Because let's be honest, another network would want to make changes and then all of you morons would be all, "NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!! YOU HAVE MADE THIS SHOW HTE SUXXXXXXXXX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and then it gets killed off for good. Just buy the goddamn series set and then you can fap to Boo in her leotard anytime you want.

  • Bert_McGurt

    For someone who hates the show so much you sure know a lot about which characters to fap to.

  • John W

    Did you say fap?

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I don't think you understand how valuable an oil tanker is.

    I mean, there's a lot of other terrible happening in your post, but really, the oil tanker thing is just absurd.

  • Michelle

    I powered through this show when I had the plague* earlier this year. It started off so unevenly and I'm not certain it really ever fulfilled what it set out to do, but it totally grew on me. I had never seen Sutton Foster prior to this but she is a joy to watch. (Also, the episode that ends in the ER with the young ladies all saying "Oh Captain, my captain" to Michelle? KILLED ME.)

  • apsutter

    Here's some more Sutton Foster awesomeness for ya. I watched the Tony Awards live and my jaw was on the floor. She's amazing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...
    Seriously, I don't think they could have done an Anything Goes revival without her because not many people can dance and sing like her.

  • Michelle

    Delightful!

  • Damnit. I'm going to have to rely on Dan Harmon coming back to Community to fill my need for clever, pop-culture-infused dialogue.
    And I loved the weird dance numbers. A few of them brought me to tears (I'm such a dance sap).

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I'm not a dance sap, and still with the dance numbers.

  • JenVegas

    Gah, what a bummer. I really enjoyed this show and I never really got into Gilmore Girls. This show was just fun and girly but not Giiiiirly. Like a beach read. It would be nice to have to watch this summer to balance out my uber-macho Longmire obsession. I would like to see all of these leads featured on my TV set sometime in the near future. Get on that, universe.

  • Zen

    "hell it’s like that Homestar Runner sketch"

    Cheerleader, So and So, What's Her Face and The Ugly One?

  • I found a porcupine!

    Ugggh, I'm bleeding.

  • Zen

    Ow, my entire life!

  • Bert_McGurt

    ARROWED!!!!

  • VohaulsRevenge

    "My blood hurts."

  • Bonus points for the Teen Girl Squad reference.

    Thank you for this. What a great show. I hope the actresses are able to find new projects worthy of their talents, and that this isn't the end of earnest and heartwarming television.

  • Also, Truly. I think I'll miss her the most. :*(

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    I walked in to this as a huge Gilmore Girls fan so yeah, the show had its problems but I really liked it. As it went on it got better and better. Sutton Foster is wonderful and I hope she gets another great show. I kept waiting for it to get renewed too.. this makes me sad.

  • kilmo

    I watched this show... for the dancing. Everything else was atrocious, like laughably bad. I had to stop after a couple episodes and only came back when someone mentioned a really good dance sequence.

    It did start turning around once Jeanine Mason and Kent Boyd from SYTYCD showed up. They were hilarious, but plotlines made no sense, the acting was really bad, etc.

    I will miss however, that it was a showcase for dance.

  • cecicijywop

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт...­ ­ViewMore----------------------...

    I haven't yet watched any GG. I
    didn't have any expectations going in to watching Bunheads, and didn't
    expect to fall in love. Bunheads was just such a warm, quirky, but above
    all realistic show that it quickly became one of my favorites. Like
    Seinfeld, it was (mostly) a show about characters instead of plots, but
    unlike Seinfeld, the characters were likable human beings placed in real
    situations.

  • foolsage

    OK, this is getting pathetic, cecibot.

    Look, I told you, we're through. Stop stalking me.

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