Recap and review of Bunheads – Season 1 Episode 16 – There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit:
This week’s Bunheads is probably my least favorite episode since the show came back in January. However, this isn’t to say that the episode is bad. There’s nothing wrong with what “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” is trying to do, and much of what it does, it does well. But for as much as the episode successfully achieves, it’s bogged down by a certain aimlessness that keeps it from really building anything resembling momentum. It nurtures and develops some of its long-standing issues, but none of those issues is given enough time to feel substantial, as the episode is all over the place. In fact, my biggest issue with the episode is that it tries to do too much, as there’s a lot of story to tell in only an hour. Yet my problems with the episode in no way precludes it from having a ton of small moments that actually make it worth going out of your way to see. In particular, there’s a wonderful sequence at the end that is indicative of how the series usually saves its bravura performance numbers for the tail-end of its hour.
I’ll get my least favorite plot out of the way first – Michelle’s (Sutton Foster) continued attempts to get the amphitheater idea off the ground with Millie (Liza Weil). The plans run up against opposition from the town, and it all leads to a town meeting in the studio with Michelle in a pantsuit alongside a stern Millie, with everything going to hell as a result of there being no snacks. This is all about as interesting as it sounds. Yet the story picks up towards the end once Michelle’s best friend, Talia (Angelina McCoy), comes to visit. She announces that she’s gotten engaged to her much older boyfriend, and she’s got one hell of a rock to match. The one-two punch of seeing her best friend getting engaged, along with the out-of-nowhere job offer Talia receives to tour with Rock of Ages (an offer that is made over the phone by a man she slept with briefly eight years ago) leads to Michelle reevaluating her life. Her frustration with the detour her hopes and dreams have taken manifests itself in a sequence towards the end of the episode that ranks as one of the best the show has done. While helping Ginny (Bailey Buntain) to prepare for an audition for her high school’s production of “Bells Are Ringing”, Michelle is overcome with her performer’s spirit, bursting out into song to help illustrate to Ginny how to properly perform the number, “It’s A Perfect Relationship”. The sequence allows Sutton Foster to demonstrate the theatrical skills that won her a Tony, while also further illustrating how these girls idealize (and idolize, in many respects) Michelle, as Ginny simply sits in a chair, face in her palms, watching Michelle with awe. It’s a wonderful, splendid piece.
The rest of the episode fares a bit better than the Michelle arc, even if none of them have the bravura sequence that hers does. The show continues to illustrate the gradual separation between Ginny and Mel (Emma Dumont), a schism that is eroding their close friendship. When the show first started, Ginny and Mel were frequently the tightest of the bunheads, by virtue of their being the least featured. In a sense, they were defined by one another’s friendship. Yet as they’ve been fleshed out as individuals, they’ve grown apart, and it’s never been better illustrated than it has here. Ginny is jealous because everyone has something in their lives, whether it’s Sasha’s (Julia Goldani Telles) relationship with Roman (Garrett Coffey), Boo’s (Kaitlyn Jenkins) relationship with Carl or Mel’s burgeoning roller derby career. This is what serves as the catalyst for Ginny’s decision to audition for the school show, and with Michelle’s coaching, she’s able to really nail the performance (which, unfortunately, we don’t see). For once, Ginny feels completely confident in her abilities, and it results in her decision to ask out Frankie (Niko Pepaj), who doesn’t pick up the hint, resulting in Ginny crashing right back down to Earth. She lashes out at Cozette (Jeanine Mason) when she tries to comfort Ginny, making their long-simmering feud overt. Cozette says that to have a shot with Frankie, Ginny is going to need to get over whatever issues she has with her, and as Ginny contemplates this, there’s a sense of greater separation between her and the friends she’s known, as she’s off to the side, by herself during warm-ups. It’s a representation of how far she’s drifted away, because it’s really her that’s doing the drifting.
Lastly, Roman decides to take his relationship with Sasha to the next level, making it official and pretty much invading all aspects of her life. He drives her to school, invites himself to sit with her and the other bunheads at lunch, and he parades through the halls with his arm around her. It’s relationship standard, but Sasha is uncomfortable now that what had been secretive and casual has been made into something with the potential to turn serious. Roman isn’t compelling on his own, but Sasha is among the most engaging characters on the show, and her arcs usually have a lot to enjoy from week-to-week. However, in this case, it was mostly the smaller moments that land, such as her talking to her plant because she heard the tip from Martha Stewart. I’m not really sold on the Sasha/Roman pairing, but there’s a mercurial aspect to teen romance that I feel is being depicted with the pair, so it at least feels authentic, even if I don’t really feel like it’s an interesting storyline.
“There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” was underwhelming, for me. But then, even when the show doesn’t impress as much as in episodes past, it still has a remarkable capacity for engaging its audience with its insightful, compelling character studies. This week was no different.