Series premiere review: ‘Bunheads’ – ‘Pilot’

I posted my review of ABC Family’s “Bunheads” on Saturday morning, and now that the pilot has aired, I want to talk specifically about a couple of things, just as soon as I develop a dirty ventriliquist act…

So, no, I was not at all expecting the show to bump off poor Alan Ruck at the end of the pilot.(*) I assumed from both the structure of the pilot and Amy Sherman-Palladino’s fondness for writing about relationships between smart, strong-willed women that the Hubbell character would wind up marginalized, but I figured it would be within the context of his career — that he would be on the road most of the time, and Ruck could pop in for a cameo every 5 or 6 episodes. Instead, Hubbell goes off the road while out looking for his mom and his new wife, and suddenly there’s a tragedy to exponentially increase the tensions between the two women.

(*) I should note, by the way, that while virtually everyone I know who has seen the pilot in advance took the final scene to be Truly coming to tell Fanny that Hubbell died, today Fienberg raised the notion to me of Hubbell merely being in a coma. I don’t necessarily see that, but I’m at least mentioning it here so that if he’s proven right next week, he gets to gloat.

I just wonder if that’s too much tension. “Gilmore Girls” balanced serious moments and funny ones, but we weren’t really dealing with matters of life and death. Whatever relationship these two women wind up having will be forever colored by the loss of Hubbell on the day they met, and even if Fanny doesn’t outright blame Michelle for it — it was her idea to go to the bar (and without telling Hubbell), after all — I imagine it will be hard to plausibly depict things as anything but fraught and uncomfortable for quite some time.

Also, as discussed briefly in the review, what little we saw of the four ballet students didn’t exactly thrill me at the possibility of seeing more of them. They were obviously a low priority in this pilot, and we know that Sherman-Palladino can write interesting, multi-dimensional teen characters. Bishop is technically a guest star (though it seems to be one of those situations like Heather Locklear on “Melrose Place” situations where it’s just a matter of what the contract says), so I imagine we’re going to be seeing as much, if not more, of Michelle dealing with the girls as Michelle dealing with Fanny going forward. Foster was great in the fake audition scene, but there’s a lot of work to be done with the girls themselves.

What did everybody else think? If you’re a “Gilmore Girls” fan, was it too much like the old show, or did you appreciate all the flashbacks it gave you? If you’re a Sutton Foster fan, do you feel this is a good vehicle for her? And if you’re a regular ABC Family viewer, do you feel like this show fits in with the rest of the original programming lineup?