Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bunheads 1x12: "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor"

"Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" doesn't quite achieve the sublime quality that treated us in "You Wanna See Something?" - but it's an adequate episode, and shines in a few key areas.  The main highlight, without a doubt, is Michelle's storyline.  Now that Michelle is back in Paradise, ready to engage in a real life here, the Bunheads writers are smartly beginning to entangle Michelle with the characters around her.  "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" picked two excellent candidates to start with: Truly, and Sasha.

I've discovered recently that a lot of people don't like Truly?  Which is beyond my comprehension, frankly.  Sure, much of my Truly love may stem from residual Mindy Riggins devotion - but the character as a standalone construction is incredibly versatile, and an important fixture for the narrative.  She's a supporting act that can provide comedy with virtually no limit on kookiness, and serves as a sounding board for both Fanny and Michelle.  At the same time, the writers have established a little thread of dramatic potential for Truly with one single line from earlier in the season: "I've always been able to tell exactly what everybody wants... except me."  That seed allows for Truly to be a tragic character, should the writers develop that, and helps keep her available for serious storylines when necessary.  

"Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" used Truly for that comedic/dramatic double-up perfectly, especially as an extension of Michelle's storyline.  Michelle allowing Truly to move Sparkles into her little bungalow was a perfect way to ensnare Michelle in someone else's storyline, and what's delightful about Bunheads 1.2 is that Michelle offers.  The point is not that Michelle is helplessly subjected to the insanity of this town, but that she is willingly opening up her home - her home! - to it.  This storyline is a perfect next step for Michelle's journey, and I hope we get many more like them.  To boot, it sets the stage for a Michelle-Truly friendship.  Michelle offers moral support for Truly, and in a valiant but ill-fated attempt to take care of her rent problems, winds up doing more damage.  Truly's in Michelle's space permanently, for now.  Only more great story material and character moments can come from this.

As for Truly's angle of this storyline, "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" treated us to two delightful reveals.  The first, thanks to casting news, was not altogether unexpected: Liza Weil, who charmed all with her scowl as Paris Geller on Gilmore Girls, is back to play another buttoned-up frown tornado.  The second came from left field: Millie, Truly's landlady, is also her sister.  What's great about this reveal is that it's also used as a point of comedy.  The reason we don't guess this relationship at all is because Truly and Millie's dynamic really is closer to one we'd expect between landlord and tenant more than sister and sister - which is inherently funny, especially when interspersed with randomly specific references to their shared past.  (Like Truly accidentally giving Millie's kid a concussion.)

But at the same time, Truly and Millie's crappy relationship is sad, when you get right down to it.  So I'm hoping we'll see more from Millie, and maybe get a further exploration on these two and their dynamic.  As I mentioned before, the opportunity to use Truly dramatically is there, if the Bunheads writers want to use it.  In the meantime, it looks like we'll definitely see more with Truly and Michelle, since Truly will continue to be all up in Michelle's space while the Rent Saga continues.  I'm 100% excited for it.

Michelle's more emotional participation in "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" bookended the episode, through her interactions with Sasha.  Bunheads is consistently delivering solid scenes between these two, and the pair in this episode were no different - even though they served little logistical purpose.  But I think that's what's nice about the Michelle-Sasha dynamic: the writers are using them for emotional beats, which helps create a gooey center for this show's ensemble.  Of course, this could all easily be set up for a logistical payoff.  Now that Sasha's getting her family yanked out from underneath her, is it likely she'll move in with Michelle?  And for how long?  It's certainly a possibility, considering that it's another way the narrative can get Michelle emotionally involved in Paradise.  And it's not that far-fetched, frankly.  "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" opened with Michelle pledging to be there for Sasha in whatever way she can.  Hopefully the show will hold Michelle responsible for this emotional investment!

As for Michelle's own storyline for "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor," it kind of encapsulated what the writers are doing with her arc.  Michelle was a supporting role for Truly, for Sasha, and Boo... but her own storyline went completely offscreen.  While Bunheads 1.1 might have delineated Michelle's blurry blind date onscreen in awkwardly entertaining detail, I actually appreciate the decision to move it to the corners of the episode.  Had it been shown, it would have plotted Michelle away from Paradise and its previously-established characters, which is antithetical to Michelle's journey this season.  It's a tough cut to make (so many joke opportunities there!) - but the right choice.

The rest of the hour focused mainly on the girls: Boo and Carl meet each other's families, and a new brother-sister pair shake up the social structure at high school.  These storylines were adequate, but I confess to be slightly less engaged with them than the Truly-Michelle and Michelle-Sasha storylines.  Boo's stuff was cute, although sustaining the misunderstanding about a marriage proposal was a bit silly.  It was also a bit ridiculous that Boo followed Michelle's advice to the letter, even with embarrassing results.  I did, however, like the opportunity for Boo to ask Michelle for guidance - and it was of course hilarious that Michelle's advice was fairly terrible and also rife with really hilariously trainwreck-ish anecdotes.  The storyline also gave away the little character nugget about Boo not knowing who she is yet.  Do I smell a character arc, or is that just the grease at the Oyster Bar?  Hopefully the former.

"Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" also saw the introduction of Frankie and Cozette, who are comically over-the-top robo-perfect teenagers who benignly invade the school.  First things first: as a former devotee of So You Think You Can Dance, I am delighted that Jeanine Mason is getting some exposure!  Girl's talented, and I'm excited to see her dance.  Of course, knowing that Jeanine won Shoobie-Doobie S5 spoiled the reveal that Cozette is also staging a charm-coup of Fanny's dance studio, but whatever.  I'm curious to see how Cozette and Frankie incorporate into the narrative for the rest of the season.  The fact that Cozette is immensely talented in the dance department makes it an easy opportunity for her to be a threat, but I'm hoping that Bunheads won't go that route.  I'd rather not see any of the girls in a bitchfight.  It does look like we'll be seeing Frankie and Ginny get a little closer, though, which I wouldn't mind.  

Last week's premiere set a high bar for Bunheads... wait, did I just accidentally make a dance pun?  I think I did!  Anyways.  Ahem.  Last week's premiere raised the expectations for Bunheads this season, and "Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor" didn't quite meet the same mark.  However, it was still a great continuation of the 1.2 arc, especially for Michelle, Truly, and Sasha.  Even with the episode's individual weaknesses, it succeeded in sustaining my interest and emotional investment for this batch of episodes.

The Report Card:
Dialogue: A
Plot: B
Character: A
Joke of the Night: Frankie's thought-provoking and ridiculous reply to Ginny having always wanted to see Mad Ludwig's Castle -- "As he saw it, or as it really is?"
Scene of the Night: Michelle learns Truly's financial woes, offers up her place
Episode MVP: Michelle

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