Back in 2000, the rapid-fire fizzy dialogue of Gilmore Girls prompted some to spread an utterly unfounded rumor that Amy Sherman-Palladino, its creator and chief writer, didn’t actually exist, and that Girls was really being written by Aaron Sorkin. This was wrong in every possible way, of course, including the fact that Sorkin was a little busy at the time writing just about every episode of The West Wing. Now a dozen years have passed, and Sherman-Palladino is safe again from accusations that she’s just a front for Sorkin, since his The Newsroom debuts in 2 weeks. She’s once again in sync with him, though, as the voice behind ABCFamily’s new BUNHEADS, which debuted tonight.
Bunheads isn’t quite a spin-off of Gilmore Girls, but it’s close enough. (Sherman-Palladino shares series creation and pilot story credit with Lamar Damon, who wrote the first draft. But clearly Sherman-Palladino, who also directed the pilot, is behind the bulk of the writing, since she has sole credit for the pilot script.) Close your eyes, and Sutton Foster, as beginning-to-fade Las Vegas showgirl Michelle, sounds remarkably like Lauren Graham’s Lorelei in Gilmore Girls –in fact, if you only squint, Foster even looks a little like Graham. And as Michelle’s difficult, huffy mother-in-law Fanny? Kelly Bishop, who played Lorelei’s difficult, huffy mother Emily.
The storylines do diverge somewhat. Michelle has just about reached the end of her rope in Vegas when lovelorn shoe salesman Hubbell Flowers, who’s been courting her in his sad-sack way for months, is in the right place at the right time. Not only does Michelle go out with him–she gets drunk and marries him. That means moving to his small, picturesque hometown of
Stars Hollow Paradise, and into a house shared by his mother, a former ballerina who runs a dance studio. Michelle doesn’t love Hubbell–although she does kinda like him–but by the end of the pilot, it looks like that won’t be an issue any longer.
It’s also clear by the end of the pilot that the dance studio will give Michelle, childless though she may be, a chance to have 4 little Rorys of her own. This being ABCFamily, the focus of the series will seemingly be split between Michelle and 4 budding dancers: all-too-perfect Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles); Bun (Kaitlyn Jenkins), who worries that her body wasn’t made for dance; Ginny (Bailey Buntain), who worries about the size of her breasts; and Melanie (Emma Dumont), about whom we don’t yet know much. Michelle and Fanny will no doubt clash and bond over the tutoring of these girls, and it’ll give Sutton Foster a chance to show off her own dazzling (and Tony-winning) skills.
There was a lot of premise to pack into the pilot, so we’ve just begun exploring Paradise, but even minor characters like Hubbell’s ex Truly (Stacey Oristano), as forlonly in love with Hubbell as he is with Michelle, is clearly part of the quip while your heart is breaking Sherman-Palladino universe, and Michelle having to learn a new town will provide plenty of opportunity for new people to cross her path.
It’s early yet to tell whether Bunheads (the title refers to the way dancers wear their hair) will hit the mother lode of charm, wit and sentiment that kept Gilmore Girls on the air for 7 years. But Sherman-Palladino, after her sitcom misstep The Return of Jezebel James, seems back in form, and Foster, until now known more for her singing and dancing than her way with snappy dialogue, appears to be locked in on her writer’s wavelength. The signs are good–and as long as The Newsroom stays on the air, Sherman-Palladino shouldn’t have to worry about sharing any of the credit.