Viewers who still miss "Gilmore Girls," take heart: A series with a similar sensibility debuts tonight at 9 on ABC Family. "Bunheads," from "Gilmore Girls" creator Amy Sherman Palladino, has familiar rat-a-tat-tat dialogue patter in a small-town setting. Is it up to the high standards of the first few seasons of "Gilmore Girls"? Not yet. But the pilot shows potential.
With a setting in the dance world -- the show's title is a slang term for a ballet dancer -- "Bunheads" may capture halo effect interest from the popularity of "Dance Moms," but the fictional "Bunheads" characters are more charming and infinitely more interesting than the real people on "Dance Moms."
The "Bunheads" story begins as 30-something showgirl Michelle Simms (Tony winner Sutton Foster) bemoans her career fate: stranded in Vegas with few opportunities to put her classical dance training to good use.
What's more, she's got a secret admirer/stalker, Hubbell (Alan Ruck, "Spin City"), who manages to get backstage and bring her flowers on a monthly basis. She blows him off repeatedly, but after failing to land a part at an audition set up by a friend, Michelle agrees to have dinner with Hub.
Dinner leads to drinks, which leads to a quickie wedding, which leads her to move with him to the sleepy, fictional California beachfront town of Paradise where Hub's mother, Fanny (Kelly Bishop, who played Lorelai's mom on "Gilmore Girls"), runs a dance studio.
The "Bunheads" pilot feels a little clunky and unshaped -- not to mention, improbable. At first the show seems like it will be about Michelle, but then there are chunks of time devoted to a quartet of teenage students at Fanny's school.
Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) struggles with body image issues, and Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) comes off as the Mean Girl. Two others -- Ginny (Bailey Buntain) and Melanie (Emma Dumont) -- make less of an impression, but you can imagine a way of integrating the girls' stories with Michelle's arrival, presuming she starts teaching at the school in future episodes.
The "Bunheads" premiere is one of those premise pilots that sets up the series but doesn't really define what the show will be going forward, particularly given the way it ends. "Bunheads" feels like it's taking shape but hasn't coalesced in its first episode.
But what it does get right is the introduction of characters from whom a lot of potential stories can flow. And thanks to Ms. Palladino's penchant for crackling dialogue, "Bunheads" is a breezy, entertaining hour of TV.
Her dialogue for Michelle, in particular, brings to mind the sarcasm of Lorelai Gilmore, particularly when Michelle pouts about not getting a role due to age: "It's 'no' because you're starting to look like an IHOP cashier."
While creative types generally hate the notion of repeating themselves, for viewers seeking the TV equivalent of comfort food, it's not such a bad thing. And if something is to be repeated, there are certainly worse things to echo than "Gilmore Girls."tvradio
A version of this review first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.