Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bunheads 1x13 - "I'll Be Your Meyer Lansky"

You know that quote from You've Got Mail?  It's the one where Kathleen Kelly says that in e-mails, you're more likely to talk about nothing than something... but all this nothing has meant a lot more to her than so many somethings.  That quote summarizes, pretty perfectly, how I feel about Bunheads.  Sure, when I take notes, I can condense entire minutes-long scenes into one basic three-word sentence (skimming past the non sequiturs and pop culture references, of course) -- but even so, the hour is so damn enjoyable even without intricate plotting on a grander scheme.  There are three things Bunheads does well: character dynamics, comedic pacing, and scene building, and it's by far enough to make the show work.  “I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky,” for what it lacked in sophisticated plotting, shone in all three areas.

“I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky” found Michelle and Fanny facing money issues.  The opening sequence was a delightful comedic bait-and-switch, showing the two women waking up to a rigorous morning routing usually reserved for intense physical workout… only to smash cut them into a boring accountant’s office trying desperately to stay awake.  Bunheads mined some really great comedy out of Fanny and Michelle’s attempts to understand Eric the Accountant, and just as much comedy out of Eric the Accountant trying to put up with Fanny and Michelle’s antics.  And there actually were antics!  This angle was so great, because it placed Fanny and Michelle on the same team.  Two-handed partner comedy is rare between these two, simply because they are mostly used as diametric opposites.  Their rhythm usually constitutes one of them delivering a ramble and the other person sarcastically punctuating it.  But in the accountant’s office?  Fanny and Michelle were in a constant back-and-forth, getting wrapped up in each other’s wacky stream of conscious, since, in a conversation about taxes, they’re equally as kooky.  It was lovely to see them on the same side, instead of at odds.

So, since Fanny is apparently terrible at knowing when hippie candlemakers are selling their wares on her property while paying rent to someone else for ten years, the ladies need a business plan.  Something on their land that can make them money.  Naturally, the first thought is picnics.  That probably won’t work.  But their second idea?  An amphitheatre!  Which actually is great, because it gives the studio their own place to put on performances, and they can use it to rent out as well.  Not only that, but it gives Fanny and Michelle a project, which means that these characters are now getting a story arc!  And even if that weren’t enough to provide material, Bunheads also involved Truly - via last week’s new character, Millie.  With Millie wanting to invest money in the building of the amphitheatre, it inherently drags Truly into the picture.  Millie is, after all, Truly’s sister, and landlady, and general enemy on earth.

Bunheads has already made great use of this complication in tonight’s episode, with Michelle reaffirming to Truly where her loyalties lie.  Other shows might take the Millie complication and mine it for pesky story drama later on, but Bunheads nips the issue in the bud (the bun?) and puts Michelle and Truly on the same page right at the start.  This, I think, was a smart choice, considering Michelle’s role in the show.  This is a woman who has been a reluctant participant in the world of Paradise, and Season 1.2 is smartly finding ways to entangle Michelle meaningfully into the town and its citizens.  It started with Truly’s shop in Michelle’s house, and continued with Sasha seeking Michelle as a parental figure.  And tonight, we got a lovely scene between Truly and Michelle, confirming that Michelle does, in fact, regard Truly as a friend.  (Even if she doesn’t invite her to come watch her emotional breakdowns.  But next time, she will.)  

How great is that?  The scene was charmingly played, and cements these two characters into one of the show’s stronger dynamics.  The Truly-Michelle interactions of the first ten episodes were some of my favorites - in some part because Michelle was around someone her own age, but also because the two are balanced in their wackiness.  This is, after all, an Amy Sherman-Palladino show.  Everyone’s quirky.  But Truly and Michelle are quirky in different ways, and it allows for them to ramble and snap at each other in a sort of harmonious syncopation.  The rhythm that Fanny and Michelle had in the opening scene?  Michelle and Truly have that as a sustained dynamic, all the time, and it’s lovely.  And it’s even lovelier to see that rhythm slowed down so that Truly can voice her fears about losing Michelle as a friend, and Michelle can reassure her that she won’t.  This is Michelle letting Paradise into her heart, letting it be her home, letting herself maybe do those great things Hubbell was talking about.  This is Michelle on a character arc!  

The other strong dynamic of the night, of course, belonged to Michelle and Sasha.  The past three episodes have really pushed these two to the forefront, perhaps even edging out Michelle and Fanny as the core relationship of the show.  And rightfully so - Michelle and Sasha have a really great interaction founded in the idea that Sasha is a kid who has rapidly aged into a mini-adult, and Michelle is an actual adult who hasn’t quite gotten her life together yet.  Overly mature, and completely immature, Sasha and Michelle balance each other out, and ground each other in their actual ages.  Only with Michelle does Sasha let herself behave as a child (wonderful acting choices by Julia Goldani Telles), and only with Sasha does Michelle really embody the confidence of a caretaking adult.  Yet, even with the age difference and mother-daughter overtones, Michelle approaches Sasha as a friend, and vice versa.  Sasha ribbing Michelle about her love life, and Michelle promising Sasha “I’ve got your back” round out the dynamic, steering it clear from an overt parent-kid paradigm.  (But who are we kidding?  This is Amy Sherman-Palladino.  Since when have her parent-kid relationships ever been under-developed?)

Sasha, individually, is having a rough time of it now.  Have I mentioned how much I love this character?  Every time we get to see a little crack in her hard shell, my heart can’t help but spasm in sympathy.  And, I also can’t help but be reminded of JD’s scooter on Scrubs.  Bear with me - she was named Sasha as well, if you recall, and there was one particular episode where Sasha - the scooter - was gunned down by police outside a convenience store.  Well, JD reacted with a rebel yell of “SASHAAAAA!” and now when anything bad happens to Sasha on Bunheads, I want a reaction gif of JD screaming her name in total agony.  Because frankly, that’s how I feel when Sasha goes neurotic over house keys and then asks one simple question, with a quavering voice: “What am I going to do?”

It’s true that Sasha’s storyline right now isn’t the most plausible.  The fact that her parents pay so little attention to her that she could simply NOT continue to live with either of them seems a bit of a stretch, especially since the evidence to this is basically offscreen.  It’s even more unlikely that Sasha just somehow isn’t convinced that her parents are even moving at all when there are boxes literally everywhere in the house.  But if you’re able to suspend disbelief and go along with these two notions, this storyline basically renders Sasha the most tragic figure in the whole show.  Which was set up, frankly, from Season 1.1 - but poorly executed at the time.  Sasha had tragic hints of family drama and identity crises, but we got to see very little from her POV, and moments that could have been empathetic were instead over-the-top and alienating. She was more raging bitch than hardenest lost soul, and her characterization was worse for it.

Season 1.2 has improved on this oversight, and gave us not only a scene of Sasha’s vulnerability with Michelle, but also a DANCE NUMBER.  I love the dance numbers on this show.  Sue me, I’m a creative arts nerd.  I adore the idea that even with dialogue and story and character moments, there’s still some wavelength of emotion that can only be communicated by expression through dance.  So while the Sasha-Michelle scene on the stoop was heartbreakingly revelatory of Sasha’s fear, I still didn’t feel the full impact - that punch to the stomach - until I saw the slow push-in on Sasha’s face at the end of the dance number.  And it was all building to that moment, with the choreography, the emotion, the music - even the sound of the dull thuds and smacks, as the girls’ legs hit the hardwood.  The number was graceful and elegant, yet gritty and real - that mix of beauty and pain.  I was completely sucked into the moment.  I needed my “SASHAAAAA!” gif.  (Seriously, will someone make that for me?)

There were some stray high points in the hour: favorite parts include Melanie becoming a protective ragemonster, Michelle discovering she didn’t finish high school, and Truly’s inability to physically maneuver through her own clutter.  I’m not really sure how I feel about Godot’s return - but I can say I didn’t really miss him.  I did miss Boo in this episode, though!  I wonder if we’ll skip the freakout about Sasha potentially moving, and just save poor Boo’s sanity.  I’m also curious to see what the show will do with new kids Cozette and Frankie.  At first it seemed inevitable for Cozette to come into some kind of rivalry with one of the girls, but now it’s looking like she may just flit through the background and be utterly charming and annoying all at once.  The fact that she handed Melanie the flyer for roller derby was definitely a winsome moment, and it made me hope that Cozette will be a running joke more than an antagonist.

Regardless of loose constructed and bare plot, Bunheads delivered an episode that delivered interesting setup for future storyline opportunities, and a fine serving of the show’s signature fare: sharp comedy, developed relationships, and well-constructed scenes.  I’ve been immensely relieved that Season 1.2 is maximizing the potential created in Season 1.1, and delighted to see where the series is taking these characters and their interactions.  

The Report Card:
Dialogue: A
Plot: B
Character: A
Joke of the Night: Michelle admitting that her land discovery came from chasing the squirrel that stole her toothbrush
Scene of the Night: Michelle and Truly cement their friendship
Episode MVP: Melanie!  She’s getting to be quite a scene stealer for me, actually

1 comment:

  1. Great review!
    I agree with most of your points. I believe that dialogues and character construction are so perfectly built, smart and delivered, that the lack of solid storylines is overshadowed by those. For the moment, I don't mind it, but if the show wants to persist and keep a constant audience, needs to begin to add this factor to the equation; with Michelle-Sasha's dynamic are achieving it.

    I also agree with Godot's comment, I didn't miss him either. And this is actually one of the reasons why I value the creativity efforts from Bunheads' writing team; characters are so unique, that as a viewer you get tangled in their personalities. They are interested as individuals per se; you want to keep on seeing them growing and finding their way, specially Michelle. Constructing a love-interest for her must a real challenge.


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