Review: ‘Bunheads’ – ‘For Fanny’

A review of last night’s “Bunheads” coming up just as soon as I have a coupon to hire the Intrepid…

You may recall that I had a few concerns about the “Bunheads” pilot: that the adult/kid ratio seemed wildly out of balance for an ABC Family show (and that the kids paled in characterization as well as screentime), and also that Hubbell’s death at the end of the pilot threatened to disrupt the usually whimsical tone of an Amy Sherman-Palladino’s show.

The age fears proved, sadly, to be true, as the premiere lost a healthy chunk of the teen and young adult audience who had been watching “Secret Life of the American Teenager” immediately before. But “For Fanny” did a better job of defining the four girls – or three of the four, anyway, as I still have little idea what the blonde’s story is. But we have Sasha as the leader of the group, wrestling with her good and bad impulses; Boo as the conscience; and the tall brunette (whose name I’ve already forgotten) as the token spacey one. They didn’t get a lot more to do than last week, time-wise, but their scenes in “For Fanny” felt more like a part of the show rather than a distraction from the main story.

And in terms of that main story, “For Fanny” for the most part managed to tip-toe down that very narrow tonal line in dealing with Hubbell’s death without taking the sense of humor away. It helped that we spent more time on Michelle, whose reaction to the death is of course going to be stranger than Fanny’s, as she barely knew her late husband, and her day was spent as much on feeling lost and confused and aimless as it was feeling bad that Hubbell died. Unsurprisingly, Sherman-Palladino decided to focus on the denial stage of grief as much as possible in dealing with Fanny, and most of those scenes worked, with the notable exception of the one where Fanny is going on and on and on about how Truly was the real love of Hubbell’s life, the one she wishes she had as a daughter, etc. I can see how she might be thinking this at this time, wanting to connect to someone who was in Hubbell’s life for years and years, etc., but the scene was designed to play as a joke at Michelle’s expense. It was one of the few moments of the hour where it felt like the writing was going for a laugh at the expense of emotions.

The impromptu memorial Michelle threw was designed very well. I don’t know if she could have actually put it together in three hours – the choreography, especially – but if this is going to be a show about ballerinas, then we need to have some ballet dancing at the center of the action, and the routine (set to Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame”) demonstrated why dance would matter so much to Michelle and Fanny. (And it also showed that the young actors have real skill in this area.)

“For Fanny” had a lot of heavy lifting to do, including establishing the larger community of Paradise (including Ellen Greene as one of Fanny’s friends and Gregg Henry playing amusingly against type as the aging surfer dude owner of the local bar) and providing a reason for Michelle to stay past the memorial service. Hubbell orally changing his will while driving back from Vegas is as much of a contrivance as the quickie marriage itself, but we needed a reason, and now we have one.

I liked the pilot a lot, but wanted to see how the show dealt with its ending. After watching “For Fanny,” I feel even more confident that Sherman-Palladino still knows what she’s doing – even if it’s not a show that’s well-suited for its network.

What did everybody else think?