Television Review

Fast, funny ‘Bunheads’ in step with ‘Gilmore Girls’

Shows share rapid-fire banter, strong women

Sutton Foster (center) plays a showgirl whose dreams of Broadway have been dashed.
Sutton Foster (center) plays a showgirl whose dreams of Broadway have been dashed.(ADAM TAYLOR/ABC FAMILY VIA AP)

‘Gilmore Girls” fans still feeling pangs of withdrawal have a new show from which they can derive their fix of rapid-fire quips and quirky small-town characters.

From the mile-a-minute mind of “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino comes the new ABC Family dramedy “Bunheads,” about ballet, belonging, and banter, premiering Monday at 9 p.m.

Even if you aren’t a ballet or dance fan, “Bunheads” has several elements working in its favor.

First and foremost, it has two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster, who aces the starring role of Michelle Simms, a Vegas showgirl frustrated with how her dreams of hoofing on Broadway morphed into a soul-killing, feather-festooned grind on the strip. She is so frustrated that she drunkenly marries Hubbell (Alan Ruck in winsome charmer mode), her most ardent fan, when he offers to whisk her away to Paradise — the town, not the mind-set — while overlooking little things like getting to know him or packing.

Secondly, it shares quite a bit of DNA with “Gilmore Girls,” including a smart-but-confused central female character, three generations of storytelling, background music provided by Sam Phillips, and of course Sherman-Palladino’s pop culture patter.


In a sly nod to that signature, the executive producer even has one character comment, “Oh my God, the quips, the chatter — don’t you ever shut up? You should have been a radio personality. Or an auctioneer.”

Either someone has actually said this to the writer-producer, or she envisions that folks have wanted to, but it’s a funny moment that should resonate even more with “Gilmore Girls” fans since it is spoken by actress Kelly Bishop, the biggest link between the two shows.

Bishop, a Broadway vet herself and familiar to many from “Dirty Dancing,” played the imperious and controlling Emily Gilmore on “Gilmore Girls”; here she is the imperious and controlling Fanny Flowers, mother to Hubbell and exacting instructor to Paradise’s loveliest aspiring ballerinas. Those dancers include a stock quartet of teenage girls — ranging from the sullen beauty to the body-obsessed-one-with-pluck — who take a shine to Michelle after she gives them a glimpse of what the professional dance world is like.


As much of a treat as it is to have a Broadway performer of Foster’s caliber land a starring TV role, to have the divine Bishop and other familiar faces back in our living room (including a comically histrionic Stacey Oristano, Mindy from “Friday Night Lights”), and to have dance celebrated in a noncompetition setting on primetime television, there are a few caveats.

For any viewer who thought that the folks of Stars Hollow, CT, the setting of “Gilmore Girls,” could be offbeat in the extreme at times, it looks like Paradise may have similar denizens. But the biggest potential stumbling block for viewers is the big twist that comes at the end of the pilot.

That Michelle would choose to stay in Paradise in light of this plot point requires Golden Gate levels of disbelief suspension. But if she didn’t stay there would be no show, so stay she must. Sherman-Palladino has proven to be a strong storyteller in the past, as well as a great juggler of the witty and the dramatic, so we’re betting she can keep “Bunheads” on its toes.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at