TV Reviews: ‘Bunheads’

Reporter and Reporter

Grade: C+

While the five major broadcasters, like CBS and ABC, dominate the fall and spring TV seasons, summer TV is fueled by an array of cable networks.

As an effort to keep fueling those summer ratings, the heavily-promoted dance dramedy, “Bunheads,” strutted onto ABC Family this Monday, along with a free download of the episode offered on iTunes.

Surely mentioning “iTunes” twice in the pilot made that decision easy for Apple.

ABC Family’s demographic consists of emotional teenage girls who are easily sucked into weirdly bizarre, yet parent-approved storylines, (like “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Pretty Little Liars”) and “Bunheads” dances directly into this category of afterschool specials.

Fortunately, a performance by Broadway star Sutton Foster does the impossible: brings decent – and sometimes great – acting to ABC Family, something the network hasn’t seen since “7th Heaven” reruns. (And come on, that’s not hard to top.)

Foster plays Michelle, a Las Vegas showgirl, who impulsively marries a stalker fan after she is ignored at an audition for “Chicago.” The day after the wedding, her husband whisks her off to his quiet city called “Paradise” where she meets four wannabe Bunheads (or ballet dancers, in layman’s terms) who are conveniently taught by her new, worse-than-menopausal, mother-in-law, with whom her husband shares a home.

All right, take a breath.

If that clunky premise doesn’t scream “ABC Family,” I don’t know what does. The story is somehow bizarre, yet full of clichés.

Still, the potential heart of the show lies within one simple storyline: Michelle and the Bunheads. I’ve never been a fan of dancing, but when Foster finally dances with the young girls, it’s apparent what the casting directors saw: charisma, passion and perhaps most importantly, chemistry.

She’s also pretty funny. Of course, it’s nothing that’s going to land her at the Emmys. But that’s not her fault. Though some of her jokes are flat (i.e. “Where’s the nearest movie theatre in this town?”), the good ones are carried with an attitude that can warrant actual laughs (i.e. “It’s not ‘no’ because you’re so young and hot. It’s ‘no’ because you’re starting to look like an IHOP cashier.”)

The core of the show is solid. It’s fun watching the partier teacher work with the sophisticated teenagers. But, what worked in “School of Rock” might not be enough to save Foster and her potential Bunheads from the curse of ABC Family unwarranted cheesiness.