Recap and review of Bunheads – Season 1 Episode 11 – Winter Premiere – Wanna See Something?
God, I missed Bunheads. I didn’t realize just how much until roughly halfway through the wonderful midseason premiere, “You Wanna See Something?” The episode takes a cerebral approach to the storytelling, showing us how Michelle’s absence has adversely affected the regulars of the now-closed Paradise Dance Academy. The effectiveness of the show feeds on the energy of dialogue and characterizations that are typical of an Amy Sherman-Palladino program: the quick-witted barbs, the rapid-fire pace of each interaction, the pop culture references, and a sometimes cynical worldview undercut with the levity and light-heartedness of a family hour. It takes a while to get back into that groove when the show has been on hiatus for close to six months. It’s even harder to get back into that groove when the show isn’t really in that groove to start. Much of the episode follows how the fragmented family of Paradise Dance Academy finds its way back to each other. The episode is depressing, in places, but only because Michelle is away from that family, and Paradise is clearly drearier for her absence. This episode-long storyline is poignant, even if the conclusion is inevitable. Michelle is coming back to Paradise, it’s only a matter of when and how.
After inadvertently macing the girls at the big performance of The Nutcracker in the summer finale, Michelle (Sutton Foster) has been driven from Paradise, and has settled in Henderson, Nevada, rooming with her best friend Talia (Angelina McCoy), who is dating an older man with little patience for Michelle’s presence. To make matters worse, she’s sunken to taking a job as one of two lovely assistants for a hacky magician/illusionist with an inflated sense of his own talent. And things aren’t much better in Paradise, as Fanny (Kelly Bishop) has shut down the studio indefinitely, and sits around for most of the day, watching old videos of Michelle dancing with the girls, or a hilariously charming wedding video which shows that even though Hubbell (Alan Ruck) could come across a bit creepy in his sober enthusiasm to wed the drunken girl of his dreams, he has an honest, abiding love for Michelle that makes his eventual death all the more devastating. Fanny is gradually coming to the realization of just how much Michelle meant to her, both professionally and personally. The titular “bunheads” are going through similar Michelle withdrawal, having sunken into relatively mundane existences: Ginny (Bailey Buntain) is, strangely, working as a real estate agent, while Melanie (Emma Dumont) is spending her afternoons in The Oyster Bar with her borderline-comatose, wheelchair-bound grandfather. Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) is dealing with increased responsibilities at home, in the face of her mother’s sudden pregnancy, and also dealing with the stress of secretly sheltering Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), who is crashing with Boo to avoid going home to her increasingly combative household. Ginny and Boo are the only ones with outlets for their energy, as babysitting and real estate fill the time once taken up by dancing. Yet they’re unfulfilled in these responsibilities, and have trouble negotiating a life without dance, as evidenced by a winningly awkward scene in which Ginny and Melanie encounter Fanny at The Oyster Bar and struggle to find some sense of connection with her, now that she’s no longer their teacher.
With everyone’s life in disarray, the episode is about drawing everyone back together, so Fanny hunts Michelle down from the forwarding information she left behind. She confronts Michelle by attending one of her shows (where she’s been busted down to the role of the assistant who doesn’t get to hold the bird, because her life is apparently so lame that even her sudden outburst over the lameness of her boss’s catchphrase, “You Wanna See Something?”, fails to get her fired). In one of the most poignant moments of the series thus far, Fanny acknowledges Michelle’s affect on her life, saying that whether Michelle likes it or not, they’re family, and it would be a disservice to Hubbell’s memory if she didn’t try to bring Michelle back to her rightful home. It’s a beautiful moment, well-played by both Bishop and Foster, and it culminates in the moment I, and many others, have been waiting for/expecting since the show began: Michelle agreeing to teach at Fanny’s dance academy. It’s a terse, but well-crafted dialogue, in which both parties admit that there will inevitably be hurdles to this partnership, but that it’s the right thing for right now. I can’t even begin to say how glad I am that Michelle-in-exile was only a one-episode storyline, but then I think Sherman-Palladino has a certain level of awareness of audience expectations, and didn’t want to prolong the inevitable, especially when it was the obvious endgame. The episode also scores points for further elaborating on Sasha and Michelle’s friendship, as Sasha sneaks into Michelle’s abandoned house with her love interest and is the first person to see Michelle upon her return. Without a word being spoken, Sasha runs up to Michelle and embraces her, in a fit of joy and relief, tearfully asking if she can stay for the night. It’s brief and beautiful in its simplicity.
Yet the episode is every bit as funny as it is poignant, particularly when Boo inadvertently becomes a viral video sensation after an interview she gives to the local news, post-macing, is auto-tuned and posted online. I love that the video isn’t treated as hip, and that both Michelle and Boo are horrified by it, even though the other girls think it’s wonderful that Boo is getting her “fifteen minutes of fame.” The end of the episode reveals that Fanny is scoring the dance for the fall recital to the tune of the autotuned video, and it’s a wonderful little turnaround. Also comical: Truly (Stacey Oristano) in the unfinished kitchen in Fanny’s house, talking about her dreams in which gerbils lead her down into a kitchen hallway, thankfully not making her dance, for once. Even better is the cardboard model of the kitchen she’s planning on redesigning. It’s the kind of fitfully ridiculous quirk that makes Truly feel so well-rounded as a character, even though she isn’t much more than the comic relief. I also got a huge kick out of Ginny’s reaction to Boo’s mom being pregnant, which was such a fully-involved response that it rang true to me, from the over-the-top “ewww” and the horrified/sympathetic “Sorry” that caps it off.
“Wanna See Something?” is a hell of a way to kick off the second half of the show’s first season, and while I can’t be sure where the show is headed, from a narrative standpoint, I’m more than happy to just spend time with these characters each week, in this world. Paradise is a pretty engaging place, and its citizens, while occasionally quirky and off-putting, provide a nice escape from the world weary cynicism of much of the TV landscape these days. Bunheads remains one of TV’s best new shows.