Summer finale review: ‘Bunheads’ – ‘A Nutcracker in Paradise’

A quick review of the “Bunheads” summer finale – which, thanks to the recent pick-up, will not be either the season or series finale – coming up just as soon as I call in The Ringer…

On its own, “A Nutcracker in Paradise” was pretty terrific. There have been times when the show’s attempts at comedy have felt strained, but nearly every joke and device landed perfectly here, whether it was the non-stop motion of The Ringer, Boo nearly going too far in mortifying herself for Carl, Fanny forcing the one pair of African-American dancers(*) to try one style after another or, in a hilarious (and well-foreshadowed) setpiece, Michelle accidentally macing all the dancers with the pretty mace from her Zombie Apocalypse Vegas Slut Bag, then trying to douse them all with water. Sutton Foster was aces with the physical comedy, and then she got to top that with an ace performance of “Maybe This Time” in her dream sequence. And the use of the “Oh captain, my captain” ending from “Dead Poets” society was perfect – specifically because, as Michelle notes, in the movie it’s a lovely but ineffectual gesture that makes Norman Lloyd sputter but doesn’t save Robin Williams’ job.

(*) Given the dust-up between Amy Sherman-Palladino and Shonda Rhimes at the start of the season, I wonder if this was ASP’s silent way of responding, by prominently featuring two of the African-American extras in dance scenes, if not in giving them characters to play.

Whatever issues I might have with the episode are more issues with how Sherman-Palladino wound up structuring the season so far, and particularly with the use of Hubbell here as compared to how frequently the show tried to ignore him earlier in the season. Having seen a full 10 episodes, it doesn’t feel like using that particular device to get Michelle to Paradise was all that wise. The series only occasionally wanted to deal with the emotional ramifications of his death, and in the process that left one or both of Michelle and Fanny adrift as characters. Having them more directly and frequently confront their emotions about the poor guy’s death might have gotten in the way of the laughs, but without that, it made Fanny seem cold and Michelle even more directionless than when she was introduced. So as glad as I was to see Alan Ruck in the dream sequence, it mainly served to remind me of the poor job “Bunheads” has done in responding to his absence.

What did everybody else think, of both the finale and the season to date? Now that we know it’s coming back, what would you like to see in the next batch? Pretty much every comment so far has suggested this is a show with room for improvement, so how could the show best be improved?