The home that Michelle inherited at the end of last week’s Bunheads stretches over seven acres. We learned this tonight in a guided tour that sought not only to introduce Michelle to her newly obtained property but also to give context to the estate, and by extension, the literal land itself. “Inherit the Wind” moves past the quirky inhabitants of Paradise and instead looks at the earth upon which the town is situated in order to examine how various characters view the abstract notion of “home.” All of them have a roof over their heads. But not everyone has a place where they feel they belong.
Noting that a house isn’t a home puts me in the same philosophical ballpark as the hundred of so American Idol contestants that have warbled the same phrase over that competition’s lifespan. But it’s still a necessary thing for Bunheads to explore as it seeks to provide reasonable grounds for Michelle to stay within the world of the show. It’s a dicey endeavor, one that lesser shows such as The Killing have had a hard time pulling off. But while we learn tonight that Michelle is so commitment-phobic that she chafes under the shackles of a six-month lease, we also come to understand that she’s had little keeping her in any one place at any given time. Her problem isn’t so much a need to flee so much as a lack of anything anchoring her in place. And just like the vegetation that overtakes the guesthouse behind the dance studio, Paradise might just have a way of wrapping its roots around Michelle just yet.
Fanny frets because while the main home is littered with “things that stare,” she has never actually owned the property she and Hubbell shared. As such, she’s essentially squatted on that property for decades, in no better or worse a situation now (legally speaking) as she was while Hubbell was alive. But while Fanny could delude herself into thinking she could maintain ownership by sheer force of tchotchke while her son still lived, she’s unable to do anything but slip into sweet, Sherman-Palladino—scripted passive-aggressive mode with Michelle in charge. Having the guesthouse “magically” appear behind the dance studio in what felt like a deleted scene from an early entry in the Twilight series is certainly a convenient way to avoid weeks of awkward roommate scenarios. But that’s fine, since Fanny’s labored attempts to drink a cup of rusty tea marked the episode’s low point. Weeks more of those types of interactions would have worn out their welcome quickly.
While Michelle and Fanny struggle to grasp the meaning of the earth around them, it’s clear the denizens of Paradise have strange ideas about the composition of the town’s topsoil. Ginny’s mother Claire appears tonight as yet another wacky-yet-lovable citizen of the town, filling Michelle’s head up with dire warnings about the expensive upkeep of the land in order to gain the property as a listing for Claire’s real-estate business. Later, when taking a joyride in Hubbell’s prize sports car, Michelle accidentally drives onto an unmarked private road. The road doesn’t represent possibility so much as foreboding for Officer Clayton and local tow man Lou. They won’t tow her car without express permission from the owner of the street, who lives hidden from view at the end of the “autobahn” of a driveway. The rich recluse atop the hill sits in the town’s mind not unlike a real-life Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. People are unsure of his name, nor his profession, but are sure that he’s no one worth troubling. “Everyone knows it’s a private road,” Clayton and Lou continually repeat to Michelle. But few in Paradise seem to understand the road’s meaning.
The man who lives atop the hill, Grant, turns out not to be a mass-murderer but a down-to-earth guy who also happens to have a telescope pointed towards a local nude beach. Like ya do. The meet-cute between him and Michelle feels too perfect by half, a scene designed to set up a long-term, slow-burn romantic simmering between the pair that will inevitably cause conflict on the homefront with Fanny. But if it’s too perfect, it’s also a perfectly good scene designed to introduce Michelle to someone that doesn’t know every iota of her life. Despite living on seven acres, news travels fast in Paradise, almost as if the denizens hold their ears to the ground and soak up information from the very roots themselves. While the guesthouse will offer Michelle a chance to find herself, Grant’s mansion may be a place she can be heard.
Not that Michelle is above lending an ear herself, mind you. Part of what’s keeping her in Paradise are the titular bunheads, who are moving, as Michelle might say, slowly…slowly…slowly…into the main narrative of the program. We understand that Michelle will eventually become entwined with the lives of these dancers, but she herself is slow to grasp the concept. “A dancer with a dance studio. That’s something,” Grant notes to her as Michelle seeks reasons to not simply allow Claire to sell the home. Michelle sees Sasha dancing alone, out past her curfew. Sasha insists that no one will miss her, and from what little we see after practice, she’s right: Sasha’s mother all but pushes her out the door, too obsessed with her own first-world problems to offer a smidgen of the love and affection that Boo’s mother bestows upon her daughter. Whereas Sasha’s exchanges with her mother felt rote, Boo’s interactions with her mother were a total joy, and gave context to her in-studio attitude to date. It was also equally refreshing to see Melanie actively help Boo try and court Mel’s surly brother Charlie. Other shows would pit Melanie and Boo against each other in a pissing contest that would debase both characters. Here? There’s total love and support all around. Another example of this: Ginny doesn’t give Boo a snood which later turns into a prop in an elaborate scheme of betrayal. Ginny gives her the snood as an act of love and friendship. These aren’t pretty little liars. These are wonderful young women. Here’s hoping the show gives Sasha as many simple, yet unexpected, beats in the coming weeks.
Bunheads is a show much like Michelle herself, searching for identity in a gorgeous yet quirky landscape. Tonight’s episode offered neither the initial thrill of the pilot nor the quietly affecting emotional tone of last week’s follow-up, but did a good job in expanding the world of the show while laying down reasonable arguments for why Michelle won’t pack up and move onto the next phase of her shapeless life. The title Bunheads itself is still fairly ridiculously when coupled with the actual content onscreen, but I’ll wager we’re just seeing the beginnings of how the two narrative worlds will intertwine. After all, it takes a while for roots to grow deep.
- Tonight’s episode is the first without creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s name on the writing credits. Tonight’s honor went to Sarah Dunn, although you’d be hard-pressed to really detect any difference in the hyper-articulate cadences on display.
- The “ugly foot” competition was such a bizarre storyline that it simply must have a real-life precedent. Even if not, it yielded Mel screaming, “Suck it, La Quiñata!” So, you know, totally worth it.
- “Taco In A Bag Casserole” sounds horrible. Also, I want a lot of it in my stomach right now.
- I’m not a car guy, so I won’t even pretend to know what make/model Hubbell’s dream car was. That’s where you all come in.
- Boo’s explanation to Mel and Ginny as to why Sasha acts out was so on-the-nose that I expected the show to zig instead of zag when it came to explaining why the latter is such a mean girl at times. Still, it’s in Boo’s character to be that overly earnest, so it’s not an egregious offense.
- One day, I’d like to be “Manilow rich”. That sounds nice.
- If the cul-de-sac crew from Cougar Town ever saw Michelle decanting wine, there would probably be a murder. Ellie seems the likeliest to do it, but don't count out Laurie when it comes to committing a crime.
- Erik should be back next week to resume his weekly coverage of the show.