“Bunheads” minicap (1.10) “A Nutcracker in Paradise”

It was the best of shows; it was the worst of shows.

All photos courtesy of ABC Family

Bunheads has been a hard sell. Once people get past the name of the show, they have to be willing to watch it — really watch it — before forming an opinion. Since Amy Sherman-Palladino has a distinctive style and pace, comparisons to Gilmore Girls are inevitable. So viewers have to be willing to pay attention, otherwise they won’t see that Michelle and Lorelai are as different as Sutton Foster and Lauren Graham. Like not-even-from-the-same-world different. This despite the fact that their quirky small-town TV worlds look very similar, right down to the same actors appearing in both.

But the truth is, Bunheads at its best is pure greatness. And just so its greatness will appear even greater, its worst is like some kind of existential hell.

This episode was both.

From the strangely S&M brilliance of Michelle’s “Rat Dance” to Boo’s public announcement that Carl is her Fred Astaire, the bits that moved characters forward hit all the right notes. Melanie and Ginny have what can only be described as a lovers’ quarrel, even though it has to do with a boy. Michelle brings Sasha back into the fold in a way that allowed Fanny to accept her return without compromise. And Sasha seems to have grown up some in the process — even attracting the interest of a boy who seems to be searching for his identity as haphazardly as she is.

Things fell apart in a scene that I’m sure was intended to be a hilarious, I Love Lucy level display of physical comedy. Michelle accidentally maces all of the dancers right before an entrance during the opening performance of The Nutcracker. As they all blindly flail about, she tries to relieve the pain by squirting them with water bottles. Everybody ends up in the ER and Fanny is forced to cancel the remaining two weeks of shows (which, incidentally, account for most of the studio’s annual income).

While Michelle is ruining Fanny’s professional life, she tanks her personal life as well by telling Michael that Fanny would like a more-than-casual relationship. After 30 years of casual, Michael is not ready for more-than. He disappears.

That’s the straw that broke Fanny’s backlog of frustration. She unloads on Michelle in the ER, telling her she’s ruined everything since she came to town. Michelle copes by falling asleep and has a very odd dream in which Hubbell appears and tells her … um … I’m not sure.

But who cares, because the other part of the dream is Sutton Foster at an audition. I know I’ve heard “Maybe This Time” maybe 100 times, but nothing like this time. Wow.

I would’ve been happy to end the season there, but since nobody knew at the time whether Bunheads would be back (it will), the episode had to bring a sense of finality. And whatever you think of ASP, she sure knows how to write an ending.

Michelle exits the examining room into an ER full of angry parents, telling Fanny that they don’t want their kids to be around that unstable woman, and she does the only thing she knows how to do: leave. But Sasha gets up on a chair and says, “Oh Captain, My Captain.” Sure, it’s cheesy, but it works.

As the bunheads play out Dead Poet’s Society, Michelle reminds them, “You know at the end of the movie the guy had to leave anyway.” And she does.

Honestly, I don’t know where Bunheads goes from here. Michelle earned Fanny’s respect, but she also screwed up royally. ASP will have to do some creative twisting to get her back in the town’s good graces. Then again, she does know how to twist.

Random ASP moments:

“You always end the conversation one sentence too late.”

“If Marvel had a crime fighting ballerina, this ballerina would kick that ballerina’s ass.”

“You need a fourth – watch The Craft.”

“Boo likes Charlie, Charlie likes Ginny, Melanie says Ginny can’t date Charlie because Boo liked him first. But Ginny thinks that since Boo likes Carl she relinquishes Charlie who should revert back to the open market and me, I wish we were all lesbians.”

“Have you ever put ground glass in your rival’s toe shoe?

“Stop following me, I’m not Justin Bieber.”

“She’s like the toe shoe terminator.”

“Same shorts, different shirt?”
“Same shirt, inside out.”
“Wow, very Kate Middleton.”
“She is my primary hero.”

“Just spreading the Yoda around.”

“If hell freezes over, I buy a sweater; I don’t date you.”

“Thank you boys. Thank you girls. Thank you.”

If you still haven’t watched Bunheads, I urge you do give it a try. Even if you don’t fall in love, the effort will be entertaining. Episodes are available on Hulu and at the ABC Family site.

Did you like the mid-season finale of Bunheads? Will you be back for more when the show returns? How do you think Michelle can recover? Are you as in love with Sutton Foster as I am? Share every feeling you feel — we have plenty of time.