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Bunheads: My Guilty TV Pleasure

So I’m hooked on Bunheads. No, I don’t have a thing for teenage girls (or boys) in tutus.  I’m actually a fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s writing.  I first encountered her allegro vivace rhythmic patter peppered with pop culture references when I used to watch Gilmore Girls with my (now ex) wife.

It’s basically the same show. Both take place in quirky small towns about a two-hour drive from a major metropolis. Michelle is Lorelei 2.0, although two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster is a better Broadway babe than Lauren Graham. (Getting to watch Ms. Foster belt one out in a leotard is definitely a reason to tune in.)

And Bunhead’s Sasha is kind of a Gilmore Girl’s Rory reboot, too, especially since Michelle’s her surrogate mother since her parents conveniently left town. Then there’s Kelly Bishop: mother on Gilmore Girls, now mother-in-law on Bunheads. And Liza Weill has a recurring character on Bunheads, just as she did on Gilmore Girls. I’m just waiting for a special guest appearance by Edward Herrmann.

But, again, I watch it for the writing – and the quirky, if sometimes caricatural characters.  I may be biased, but the dialog is better in the scenes between the adults than the teens. I recently read an article about Ms. Sherman-Palladino and her obsessive Bunheads creative process through the ArtsJournal blog.  As to her writing style, she says:

“Well, my writing is very rhythmic,” she said. “It’s got a very specific beat to it and its part of the reason that our show is pretty much [acted] verbatim, word for word. It’s not just my Mussolini complex. Sometimes you drop ‘and’ or ‘a’ or ‘the,’ it just shifts the rhythm off and it doesn’t land the way it’s supposed to land, and that I think it’s like a dance, almost.”

Ms. Sherman-Palladino was a dancer before she became a writer and it shows. Her style is similar to that of Diablo Cody, of Juno fame. Ms. Cody was also a dancer, albeit of a more exotic kind, having exchanged her lap dances for laptops.  The rapid-fire delivery owes much to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, Bringing Up Baby, with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant being a prime example of the genre. While the style has a certain artifice   – and in unskilled hands it becomes cloying quickly – the jazz-like rhythms and swinging pacing enhance the wit and weirdness of it all.

I think I respond to this writing because, as a musician and songwriter, I also write rhythmically. Readers of my blog and other writings will notice the frequent use of alliteration and rhyme as well as a certain cadence or beat to it. While it’s my natural style, I do cultivate it a bit  (particularly in this post) as it makes blogging on otherwise dry and technical topics less plodding so that hopefully people will really read what I write.  And, I too, will add or subtract a word in a sentence or a lyric to make sure it “sounds” right.

But Bunheads also engages my brain – at least the music publisher part. Watching a show with plenty of set-piece musical numbers and many scenes of dance rehearsals, I sit there thinking things like: “who’s the music supervisor on the show?” and “did they do a MFN deal for the music and master with the label and publisher(s) for the featured choreographic performance of They Might Be Giants’ Istanbul (Not Constantinople)?

And while there’s shows like Glee and all the singing contest shows, there’s something to be said for one like Bunheads that features numbers from classic musicals, as in recent episodes, where, as part of the plot, Sutton’s Michelle sang show stoppers from Bells Are Ringing and Sweet Charity.

But the season’s just ended and it’ll be quite awhile before I can get another fix. At bottom, Bunheads is a guilty pleasure. Sure, it’s a confection, but  more like what you buy at the bakery rather than the wrapped nougat one gnaws on from the newsstand – not that there’s anything to snicker about the latter. It’s light entertainment, sometimes informative, with occasional sprinkles of meaning – hopefully like my blog posts…:)