"Bunheads" Review: Stars Hollow Gets an Ocean-Front Makeover and Wears It Well
If you’ve had a Stars Hollow-shaped hole in your soul ever since Amy Sherman-Palladino abandoned “Gilmore Girls,” leaving it in the lesser hands of those slow-talking minions who destroyed the final season of the show, worry not: “Bunheads” will fill that vacancy. If “Bunheads” were any more like early seasons of “Gilmore Girls,” the CW could probably file suit. The tone, the music, the giddy repartee, the pop-culture shout-outs, the jingly-jangly almost magical realism of it all has been perfectly maintained and transplanted from Stars Hollow to a sleepy coastal town in California, and honestly, based on the pilot, I couldn’t love it more.
The comparisons are also helpful: If you liked “Gilmore Girls,” you’ll almost certainly like “Bunheads,” and if you didn’t like “Gilmore Girls,” then what is wrong with you? “Bunheads” centers on Michelle (Sutton Foster), who is basically Lorelai Gilmore minus 15 pounds. Michelle herself is a Vegas showgirl, miserable and about to be aged out of her career when Hubbell Flowers (Alan Ruck), an almost uncomfortably kind man whom she barely knows, convinces her to leave her life in Vegas, marry him, and move in with him. Caught at a particularly low point — after being rejected at an audition before she could even perform — Michelle agrees, only to find out that Hubbell still lives with his Mom, Fanny Flowers (Kelly Bishop, essentially reprising her role as Emily Gilmore).
Fanny, who runs her own ballet studio for teenagers, is immediately disapproving, but over the course of the pilot episode, Michelle and Fanny find common ground in dance and in their affection for the ballet students with whom they will mentor (a collection of quirky teenage Sherman-Palladino characters). Both Kelly Bishop and Sutton Foster have real-life dancing backgrounds, so their dance sequences are as natural as their chatty back-and-forths.
Not a lot of pilots are as successful as “Bunheads” in immediately investing you in the people, but a lot of that is because these characters — zippy, optimistic, with just a touch of melancholy — feel like someone we already know, and in a way, they are. It’s like one of those body-switching movies, where the soul of Lorelai has been pulled out and placed in the body of Michelle; I almost expected to see a supportive Sookie St. James enter with a pie and a few kind words It’s also easy to ignore the impulsivity of Michelle because it feels like something Lorelai would do, and the whiplash deja vu goes a long way toward selling the emotional wallop that lands in the end.
It’s an impressive debut: Witty, affectionate, snappy, and just on the edge of annoying, but never crossing over. It’s a line that Sherman-Palladino straddled for years on “Gilmore Girls,” and whether it’s in those characters or new ones, it’s nice to finally have that voice back on our televisions.