'Bunheads' back at the barre for Season 2

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ABC Family's "Bunheads" ended last summer with novice teacher Michelle (Sutton Foster) inadvertently macing students at her mother-in-law Fanny's (Kelly Bishop) dance studio during a performance of "The Nutcracker."

This well-reviewed, gentle comedy-drama didn't draw as many viewers as some soapier, edgier ABC Family programs but gets a second shot with eight new episodes that begin airing at 9 p.m. Monday.

The story picks up several months after the "Nutcracker" fiasco with Michelle dancing for a small-time magician in Henderson, Nev., the dance studio closed and its students --a quartet of teen girls -- at loose ends.

'Bun Heads'

When: 9 p.m. Monday, ABC Family.

Starring: Sutton Foster, left, and Kelly Bishop.

There's even a sly reference to Pittsburgh-based "Dance Moms" at the end of Monday's episode when Fanny considers reopening the studio, saying parents who object are "free to take their children to that enormous, crazy woman with the pyramid system whose students end up with knocked knees and post-traumatic stress disorder."

"Bunheads" is executive-produced by Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of "Gilmore Girls." Her writing style hasn't changed. So there are similarities between the shows -- fast-talking characters, pop culture references, the presence of Ms. Bishop -- but "Bunheads" has capably carved out its own niche.

"My particular style of writing, love it or hate it, is very specific, and when I find a particular person who can knock it out of the ballpark -- it's like Orson Welles and his group of mad, mad actors he would use in everything, not that I'm Orson Welles but I wouldn't mind being him except for the drunken and fat thing he had going on -- you want to write for them," Ms. Sherman-Palladino said, speaking as quickly as the characters on her shows. And she likes the theme of family, something at the heart of "Gilmore Girls" and "Bunheads." "I love family interaction. ... You never run out of stories because you're never not mad at your family."

In the "Bunheads" pilot, Michelle marries Fanny's son, Hubbell, who dies in a car accident. That sets up the show's theme: What does Michelle do when life makes other plans for her?

As the new season begins, Michelle discovers her departure has had an impact on the dancers at Fanny's studio.

"Michelle, who does not think much of herself in the grand scheme of things, is surprised to find out she means a lot to some people," Ms. Sherman-Palladino said.

The first season of any TV show is a shakedown cruise, and Ms. Sherman-Palladino said she learned about the differences in basic cable and broadcast ("how to spend money judiciously"), the capabilities of her cast ("Sutton Foster can do anything I throw at her") and the value of dance numbers, which she hadn't planned to feature so prominently ("it's something that made it special and specific to our world").

While some critics found the show's title obscure, the showrunner defended it as enjoyably "ridiculous and insane." A larger issue, she says, is drawing viewers to a show that doesn't fit the ABC Family mold.

"It's not truly a teen show. It's not just about a 35-year-old woman or a 55-year-old woman. It's an amalgam of women," Ms. Sherman-Palladino said.


Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com.


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