Tuesday, August 21, 2012
10 Things: Advice for Bunheads Season 2
Last night marked the season finale for ABC Family's Bunheads, after a 10-episode summer run. While reception for the show has been largely reduced to comparing it to Gilmore Girls and complaining about whitewashing (somewhat rightfully, on both counts), there hasn't been a lot of discussion about the show's actual merits. For me, it's had a promising and well-written first season, despite a few misguided decisions here and there, and I was excited to hear it was renewed for a second season. This is a glorious opportunity to continue what worked in Season 1 and redirect what wasn't as effective! And of course, I have opinions. So, here is a list of ten pieces of advice for a strong Season 2 of Bunheads.
10. Fewer town antics. This isn't Stars Hollow! While spreading kookiness over a whole supporting cast worked well for Gilmore Girls, I don't think Bunheads benefits from the same approach. If nothing else, it just reminds us of Gilmore, and on top of the snappy dialogue, pop culture references, and Kelly Bishop's lovely presence, it can be a little much. Especially when it's not even necessary! Bunheads has its own laurels it can rest on. So while Paradise is certainly allowed to have its quirks (but not its Kirks), there is so much interesting - and undeveloped - material for the actual main characters. We've gotten hints of tragic flaws and fascinating character development for not only Michelle, but also Fanny, Sasha, Truly, and Boo. Why take time away from actually progressing that by giving it away to passing townspeople we don't really care about? (Seriously. I still don't understand why Sebastian the Award-Winning Coffee Man was necessary. Except to make Michelle care about coffee and getting a new grocery store. And I don't really understand why that was necessary either.)
9. More from Sasha. Now, I'm not talking blue-haired, cheerleading, acting-out Sasha. The main issue with Sasha in Season 1 was simply that we never saw much from her point of view. So it was easy to hate on her, because the audience didn't quite get the opportunity to see what was making her tick. And we still don't know! Michelle got Sasha to return to ballet class fairly easily, but we never really knew exactly why she left in the first place. At some point, we need to get a glimpse into Sasha's head, and even if we don't know exactly why she's making the (sometimes bad) decisions she makes, we at least need to see her make them, and understand her on some level. In the meantime, I'm filling in all the blanks I can, because the fact of the matter is that Sasha is a really great character and leaving her undeveloped is a wasted opportunity. It's obvious there is a lot going on behind her prickly exterior, but we're only scratching the surface. She is often a bitch with a sharp tongue, but she's also suffering a crappy home life, and is kind to her friends - Boo in particular - when it counts. Seeing the contrast between hard and soft and when each trait manifests itself (and why) is the whole point of delineating a character like Sasha, and that's the issue thus far: we're not seeing it. I'm hoping we'll begin to in Season 2.
8. No more Charlie. I don't understand how this teenage boy singlehandedly (and unwittingly) unraveled two friendships with hardly any screentime worth mentioning. Charlie drama seemed to lurk around all of the younger girls' storylines during the season, and I found it incredibly difficult to care about him when he seemed only to be the hot and douchey brother plot device. It didn't go anywhere with Boo, it didn't go anywhere with Ginny, and it activated all kinds of petty behavior in at least four characters, all of whom I'd rather see doing something else. Worse yet, the actor, Zak Henri, seems to have the most chemistry with Emma Dumont, who, unfortunately, plays his sister. It might be most graceful if he just takes his exit.
7. While we're on the topic, let's just say this: less boy drama altogether. Now, I realize that since this show effectively has two, arguably four, female leads, with four, arguably five, female supporting characters, we might need a little testosterone in the mix. And that's fine! This isn't a No Boys Allowed treehouse. But at the same time, I have little invested in a revolving door of random high school love interests for these girls - especially if it's supplanting more interesting storylines for them that could play out independent of boy trouble. There's plenty that can be done to explore Boo, Sasha, Melanie, and Ginny individually! Beyond that, there's always interactions together in countless permutations amongst them. (Okay, not countless. Ten. But that's still a lot.) And if we're going to bring in love interests, at least make them interesting! At least make them three-dimensional! And at least make them interact with their female counterparts in unique, likeable, and specific ways. With a Boo-Karl romance finally happening and a potential Sasha-Boy-Version-of-Sasha (okay, fine, Roman) dynamic on the horizon, I'm hoping Bunheads can meet that criteria.
6. More dance numbers. Okay, I could be in the minority on this. Bunheads has thus far endeavored a handful of proper dance sequences for the show, and reception seems to be split between love and hate. But I, frankly, shuffle (and tap) into the love category - as long as the numbers are relevant. I don't want there to be dance numbers simply because this is a show set in the world of dance. I want there to be dance numbers because it is an organic way to communicate meaningful moments and character emotions. How great was Michelle's "Maybe This Time" sequence, or Sasha's "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" routine? While the latter may have been more dense and less emotionally revealing than the former, both served to underscore important moments for the characters in question. To me, that's an awesome way to employ your dance setting, and I hope to see Bunheads do more of it.
5. More Truly! Maybe I just want more Stacey Oristano (viva FNL!) on my screen, especially when she's playing the exact opposite of her Friday Night Lights character. But Truly is a pitch-perfect foil for Michelle. Bunheads likes to boomerang Michelle into Fanny's world, where she is often too spastic, and incompetent, or the girls' world, where she sometimes becomes that embarrassing adult whose jokes go over your head. But with Truly, someone her own age? Michelle's lightheartedness is good for her, and Truly doesn't ever dismiss it like the others. Not only that, but Truly is already fascinating unto herself, in her hopeless love for Hubbell, and her ability to do for others but not for herself. I just want to give the girl a hug. And more screentime.
4. Bring in a WOC. Of course, this is a rather famous request, owing to Shonda Rhimes' tweet asking for a black ballerina. Then everything got blown out of proportion, natch, and I find myself sighing over the controversy, and paying attention, rather bitterly, to the non-white background dancers. So why not just bring one to the foreground? It's not like we can't have new characters, especially if they are well-developed, likeable, and round out the diversity. And it doesn't have to be token casting: just make her important, three-dimensional, and involve her with the main storylines - and we're good.
3. Show Michelle with the kids! So far in Season 1, we got little glimpses of Michelle interacting with Boo, Sasha, Melanie, and Ginny, but the show seemed reluctant to wholeheartedly swing Michelle into complete Teacher Mode. Which is fine; Michelle herself is resistant to becoming a dance teacher and mentor for kids, and it'd be perhaps too heavyhanded to cleanly make Michelle a successful teacher in smalltown California, while easily shelving her original showbiz dreams. (Especially when there's such good internal conflict there.) But at the same time, Bunheads purposefully put Michelle in a teaching role, and made her pretty influential to Boo and Sasha in particular. With Sasha, the show seems to be drawing a strong connection to Michelle, with the idea that Michelle gains Sasha's hard-earned respect by showing a rather adult-like backbone. But even though Michelle was the one to convince Sasha to return to ballet, we never saw much preamble for that decision, especially considering their t-shirt stealing and shouting match that was never resolved. Then, in the finale, Bunheads tried to pay this off with Sasha hauling out a momentous "O Captain My Captain" for Michelle, in reference to Dead Poets Society. Don't get me wrong; I teared up with the best of them, seeing that Sasha was the first one to lay out a huge gesture of appreciation and support for Michelle. But if that was the whole point, then why not take a more direct path there? So my advice to Season 2 is this: don't be scared of showing Michelle in a mentor position. Michelle's the one that's scared of that, not us.
2. More Fanny! It seems as though Bunheads might be flirting with the notion of reducing Fanny's role on the show, and I'm not quite sure why. Every time Fanny mentions handing over classes to Michelle, or moving to Montana, a little bit of panic rises in my chest, and I want to shout at the TV screen but we hardly even know you! With the scant and dwindling screentime, Fanny can occasionally slip into just the one dimension: tyrannical ballet teacher. She has almost no real developed relationships with her students, and she rarely expresses sympathy towards, well, anyone. Let's flesh this lady out, shall we? Her back story is fascinating and tragic: she gave up a ballet career to raise a family, and now her only family has been taken away from her permanently. For as much as Michelle is an awash-at-sea character, so is Fanny. Don't let us forget that!
1. Ultimately, though, the big takeaway is this: let the characters and their interactions rule the show. Bunheads is a rare breed of television show that doesn't require a lot of complicated plot, simply because the characters are strong, complicated, and intertwined enough to create conflict on their own. Relationship drama is key. This entire thing can rest easily on the shoulders of Michelle and Fanny, by virtue of their constructed circumstance and characters, and the friction that goes along with them being inherently similar and different, in turn. Beyond that, there are strong characters in Truly, Boo, Sasha, and even, with a little work, Melanie and Ginny. In allowing these ladies their individual storylines and objectives, and giving them opportunity to disagree with and support one another in turn, you hardly need anything else. Except those pop culture references.