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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

Bunheads – “A Nutcracker in Paradise”

“You’re here to rock the boat.”

Nick and I had a conversation about Bunheads when it premiered. Now we’re having a conversation following its first season finale. (We like symmetry.) We talk about the finale, character psyches, messiness, dance-and-talks, and, of course, Constantinople.  -Noel

O Captain My Captain

That one girl in the pink isn’t going to get up for anyone.

Nick:  That was like a half-season compressed into a single episode.

Noel: Which kind of makes sense given how AS-P doled out the narrative.

Nick:  Yeah. They didn’t even spread out the mention of Chekhov’s Pretty Mace and it going off into different acts.

Noel:  Hahaha. As soon as she said the word mace, I shouted at the TV, “Chekhov’s Mace!”

Noel: Overall, I really kind of liked the episode (apart from the Dead Poets Society thing at the end, which felt absurdly forced to me (and made me wonder, yet again, how these girls have seen everything but Heathers).). I mean they soften it by pointing out that Robin Williams’s character still had to leave, but still. It’s just kind of there. Undid a bit of good will that that dream sequence earned.

Nick: We talked about how this show was almost EXACTLY like Gilmore Girls during the pilot, right down to the soundtrack. But how it differs is because Michelle is the anti-Lorelai. The same emotional disasters but with different effects on the small down. We came into Gilmore Girls with Lorelai being different from everyone but the town accepting her. She’s a vortex that everyone gets sucked into. Michelle is a sinkhole no one wants to be around. Unless you’re children being introduced to this new exciting thing.

The same themes as Gilmore Girls but twisted around a protagonist that doesn’t just accept quirky or doesn’t do quirky on the same wavelength as her adopted town. And then the girls stood on their chairs and my head hit the desk.

Noel: I think you make a really excellent point here. I know, even on my end, there was this sense of Sutton Foster doing Lauren Graham doing Lorelai. But the show, over the course of the season, inverted the Loreali-type just as you noted. I mean, she can’t even out-flank the town council!

Nick: Exactly! Lorelai would’ve had those people wrapped around her little finger, particularly the dudes.

Noel: What else did you think about the finale, before we move too much into macro-level discussion of the show? I really loved the Ringer and her constant dancing, and how it completely unnerved everyone.

Nick: I don’t know if I’m using foil correctly here, but she was a nice doppelganger to Sasha. The Ringer is Sasha’s reputation embodied. We know her as being more sensitive, more distracted, but her reputation at the school this perfect, bitchy prima donna (word play!). It’s like Sasha faces her outward appearance and can’t stand it. I love that she literally hides from it.

As much as I hated the “O Captain, my Captain” scene, I really did like the walk-off right before then. I wish they’d cut it off right before Sasha stood on her chair. Michelle’s immolating in this fire of public opinion after having a dream where she’s trying to convince herself that she’s there to shake things up and not just destroy everything.

So, I like the destination for the finale but most of the means I couldn’t stand. The Charlie thing was over REALLY quick. Maybe I don’t understand the lives of teenage girls very well (I should probably watch that OTHER show about the American Teenager to find out — that’s all realistic, right?) but things were on and off really fast there.

Also, Michelle making out with The Bro at the jukebox.  That was an interest that needed some time to breathe. “I’m leaving for Australia in a week.” Ugh.

Noel: I don’t think foil is the right word to describe the Toe-minator, or whatever they called the Ringer, but I like doppelganger. Similar to Michelle’s dreams, the Ringer functions as confrontation with her own self-image and interior self. The Ringer is Sasha’s psyche made manifest, and that could be why it scares everyone, why no one else wants to deal with it. Saying that, even more I think that my comparison to Neon Genesis Evangelion feels less silly, as Michelle’s dream sequence, complete with direct address and heavy theatricality, fits in snugly with Sasha still hiding from herself.

And, yes, the teenager girl romance plots happen really quickly. We talked a bit last week about Carl’s 180 in the penultimate episode that didn’t really work until the end. All the teen stuff is rushed feeling, and I think it contributes a bit to the messiness of the series as a whole. It’s not a messy I hate because each individual pile is charming and mostly interesting, but they’re still piles of mess.

Even The Bro kind of fits into this messy symbolism that the series is toying with. I mean, Michelle’s subconscious, her memories of Hubbell, want her to stay. But here’s this guy who is as aimless and rootless as she was in Vegas, and represents yet another escape from a life. I hate the performance and the dynamic between the two actors (they don’t have one, not even remotely, he’s so incredibly dull), but it still kind of fits, jagged edges and all, in the story about Michelle.

Nick: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen two people lack so much chemistry and get shoved together.

But that’s a good point that he fits into this disaster. It’s like you see the inklings of these stories that, given the time, would make more sense. But they got shoved into a cable-length season so you don’t have time to convince yourself that Bro and Michelle could actually like each other. You have to rationalize it later.

Noel: So, on the whole, how did you feel about this season? we tossed around the word “charming” with the pilot. Still charming? Better than that? What’s clicking, what’s not?

Nick: Still charming. Still growing. We’ve talked about how AS-P and Co. may not be used to a cable-length season so a lot of these stories that were compressed. I still like the characters, I still like the general premise. The stories just needed to be tailored for a shorter season.

Noel: I get the sense that could be hard, given the long hiatuses between seasons or even season breaks for some shows on ABC Family. But it also shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle either.

What did you think about the dance numbers? While I thought the finale’s number (the Wall Street Rats) was kind of meh, I’ve really enjoyed the dancing overall, especially when mobilized in the fluid ways the finale used (so many single takes!).

Nick: One word: Constantinople. Worth the whole premise.

Nick: I love it. I liked your comment about the “dance and talk” replacing the “walk and talk” — I liked the change. It wasn’t subtle but it was well-crafted.

Something else we talked about during the beginning of the season was the difference between the children’s storylines and the adult’s. Do you feel like that got better over time?

Noel: A bit? I do appreciate the gradual integration of Michelle into their lives (partly why I felt like “O Captain!” didn’t completely work was because it had been so gradual, and still didn’t feel complete), and that helped make them seem more a part of the series narrative than just the interplay between Michelle and Fanny. That said, I’m still not sure their stories feel completely fleshed out. Some of this is just the Boo and Sasha centrality, which made the swerve to Ginny and Melanie feel a bit sudden (though I love Bailey Buntain and Emma Dumont, because they’re a riot with each other) kind of weird.

Everything, and this goes back to the messy idea, feels very impressionistic. I have no sense of their school lives, which kind of made that brief sojourn to cheerleading (and the emergence of Roman, in full Charlie Sheen-in-Ferris Bueller referencing mode) feel a bit lumpy.

Any closing thoughts? What are you hoping to see from season 2?

Nick: More of the same with some better character development and stories tailored for cable’s Wild West season planning mentality. I think they have a good, charming, enjoyable thing here. It just needs to feel less like a train crashing into itself. What are you looking forward to?

Noel: The same as you, really. I think that’s what everyone will likely want. A little bit of me wants Fanny to further step away (I was intrigued by the idea of her going off for a few months, leaving Michelle to run the place), but make that work, it needs to flesh out the elements around Michelle and the girls a bit more.

Also: Chris Eigeman’s character should move to Paradise and start a community theater. I DEMAND IT.

Nick: YES. Absolutely. Also a good Lorelai/Michelle contrast: Digger in this show is the SANE one.

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