Season finale review: ‘Bunheads’ – ‘Next!’

A review of last night’s “Bunheads” season finale coming up just as soon as I name my banana…

“Bunheads” has always been an oddly-structured show. The Palladinos favor scenes that are incredibly long by 2012-13 standards, and where nothing seems to happen, and yet a fair amount of plot seems to take place over the course of an episode or season – it just often happens off-camera, in between those moments when the characters are bantering, or dancing, or binging on ’60s and ’70s literature about their sexuality. The first half of the season was building towards the inevitable moment when Michelle wound up teaching the bunheads, and the moment when it happened was practically an afterthought. That summer batch of episodes also climaxed with an episode – which, at the time, could have been the last one ever produced – feeling very much like a finale, with the return of Hubbell (now in ghost form!), the big slapstick of Michelle macing the girls and the “Dead Poets Society” moment. Meanwhile, “Next!” – which, again, could be the last episode ever made – really doesn’t feel like a finale at all.

I say none of this as a complaint. I’ve come to appreciate the rambling unpredictability of “Bunheads.” It’s not really anything like “Louie” or “Girls” or “Community,” but like those shows, you really don’t know what you’re going to get when you tune in. Yes, there will be “la la”s and banter and pop culture references, but the structure will be all over the place, and even the references can come out of nowhere. What other show would devote an elaborate running gag to two minor characters’ dueling impressions of Tommy Lee Jones in “Hope Springs,” to a character working out her feelings by dancing to They Might Be Giants’ version of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” or to the girls all dressed as coal miners (see below) for a “Billy Elliot” tribute?

Fittingly, “Next!” was unpredictable throughout. It was clear Michelle wasn’t going to get the chorus job, but the brutally matter-of-fact way it all played out was impressive, while the bunheads acted as an amusing Greek chorus. (I was glad, for instance, that the sequence never suggested Boo’s dream of sneaking into a job would come true, and was an excuse for the Boo/Sasha argument that’s been building all season.) And the scene at the end with Michelle and Ginny snuck up on me, yet made perfect sense – and not just because Bailey Buntain the Blonde Bunhead has been the surprising MVP of these winter episodes. It’s a really touching moment that plays off of everything we’ve seen about Ginny and Frankie this half-season, and about Michelle’s relationship with the girls. And it’s an earned moment in an episode that pays off various other character relationships, like Michelle sleeping with Godot, Scotty becoming Fanny’s indentured servant or Truly and Millie briefly reconciling before Scotty comes along to ruin everything the way Hubbell once did. In that way, I suppose, it did feel like a finale, even if the closing moments didn’t scream “Ta ta for now” the way the “Oh captain, my captain” scene from the summer finale did.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been paying any attention of late to the show’s ratings, and it’s never entirely clear what ABC Family’s standard of success is. All I know is that I want this messy, funny, emotional,  idiosyncratic, fabulous little show to continue.
At its start, “Bunheads” seemed like a pleasant summer diversion, but it’s grown into something much more, and better, than that. And I would offer to stand up on my desk to show my devotion, but as Michelle pointed out the last time, that move doesn’t really work.

What did everybody else think of the finale, and of this season as a whole?