As "Catch Me If You Can" blasts across our screen (and yes, we immediately identify the "Jet Set" tune because we're total musical theater dorks to the point of obscurity), it becomes obvious that we're going to have fun with this show. To be fair, that was kind of a given just because it stars Sutton Foster, and we totally have a girl crush on her ever since that 11-minute tap dance routine from "Anything Goes." (Google this, we'll wait.)
Yeah, she's awesome, right? Okay, now you're fully prepared to appreciate "Bunheads," despite the fact that it's called "Bunheads." And sure, it's dance rather than theater, but it stars Sutton Foster so it falls into the perfect territory for some sassy recapping from Metro's theater critic, who needed something to do while waiting for "Smash" to come back. So let's go:
Foster is playing Michelle Simms, a Las Vegas showgirl who's tired of dancing her butt off for little pay and even less appreciation. In a shocking revelation about the entertainment industry, the girls who get the big bucks are the ones who take off their tops. Another dancer onstage with Michelle says she can't do it because she's "flat as a board," which we can corroborate because she's wearing a skimpy bedazzled bra that would make Ariel's clamshells blush. She contemplates getting a boob job, but learns those are $5,000 to $7,000 - per breast. This is something she probably would have learned before tonight. But it does sound like that investment would pay itself off pretty fast in the showgirl world, right?
Leaving the stage, Michelle tells her nameless dancer buddy that she has to go straight to bed because she's got a big audition tomorrow for a swing position on "Chicago," where she'll be able to do real dancing, like jazz hands and Fosse. But someone is waiting in her dressing room, a "nice lonely guy" who always hangs around and doesn't know that no means no. He's been coming once a month for over a year, we're informed. Ten dollars this turns out to be the husband? We love it when romantic storylines take a page from the "Twilight" school of stalker seduction. Hint, ladies: This is not an admirer, this is a potentially dangerous loser. Also, where is the security in this place? How did Hubbell get into the dressing room full of half-naked women? Why is Hubbell named after a spacecraft, are we missing some symbolism about orbiting?
"I thought I missed you, but I saw your purse on the back of your chair," says the supercreep. Because of her big audition, Michelle can't go out with this lovesick psycho but kindly suggests that the rich guy take all of her friends out to steak instead because harems are very Las Vegas. She is, however, nice to the guy and accepts his presents. No wonder he hasn't stopped lurking yet. Her friends are just excited to get a fancy free dinner, especially when they're assured they just have to sit there and look pretty but they won't have to put out. Everyone wins! Except feminism.
Michelle's day starts off pretty much exactly like ours, doing sit-ups in the cheery glare of early morning in a skintight black bodysuit while saying self-empowerment mantras like, "Okay, let's do this!" Except for us, it's more like stumbling to the coffee machine in baggy sweats while complaining that the cat forgot to wake us up before noon. Same general hair messy bunhead updo, though!
Michelle heads off to her audition, which was arranged for her through her friend Jimmy Houston who's also the show's dance captain. We're not sure you need to know his name, but they've said it about three times in the first six minutes, so now you know it. The director won't even see Michelle, though, because she's "not right." This probably just means that she's too old, but then again she isn't 25 and she knew that's what they wanted before she went in. Although we have to say Sutton Foster looks damn good 37! Back at home, Michelle mopes around her sad, dark apartment and finally grabs a beer from a fridge that is mostly alcohol and condiments, plus a big jar of olives. We actually do have that in common with her. Now she just needs a cat to blame her problems on and we'll be totally twinsies.
That night, Hubbell Flowers (Alan Ruck) is back with more, yes, flowers - plus a shiny watch. He wants to get dinner tonight. Michelle agrees because she feels bad about herself today. This is sure to be a romance for the ages. At dinner, Michelle feasts on our favorite entree, the martini. She admits that she's awful to Hubbell even though he brings her gifts, which she momentarily conflates with being kind. He starts talking about his house in a town called Paradise, which is right on the ocean in California. She's like, "Wow, I live next door to a hooker."
He then proposes marriage to her because he wants to take care of her and put her up in his beautiful house. She compares herself to the Godzilla of relationships. He says he will be the scientist who understands her and something about keeping her in a cave to lay eggs; we tuned out because this particular Sherman-Palladinoesque dialogue is suddenly trying way too hard - and no, you won't get boys to watch a ballerina show with one abstract sci-fi reference, Amy.
Anyway, Michelle wakes up to the very sobering realization that she's suddenly now married. So like anyone would in a midlife crisis of sorts, she decides to just roll with it - literally, because they're in a car and they're off to Cali. A lesson for the guys: If you pursue a girl doggedly enough, give her enough presents and then get her drunk enough, she will be yours! Maybe this show will draw a male audience after all.
Finally we get to some actual ballerina class stuff! The impeccable Kelly Bishop plays Hubbell's mom, Mrs. Flowers, who runs a dance studio (and he falls in love with a dancer ... can we say mommy issues?). She works her girls hard because she wants them to be good, and because that's how Balanchine taught her to do it. "We only stopped when someone dropped dead." Man, we want to see Bishop face off against Abby Lee Miller so bad! We also meet some of the girls, but they seem secondary at this point, so we'll see if there's a better place to intro them in a bit. Right now, all we know is that they all have body issues and there is a high level of competitiveness. Well, we could have guessed that before the episode even started. Have we mentioned yet that we had five years of ballet classes? We're putting ourselves back through the trauma of those memories just for you, dear readers!
Newly married, Michelle gets a tour of Hubbell's quirky home, which his mother not only decorated - we're using the word sparingly, as it's stuffed with kooky bric-a-brac like dolls and clowns - but also resides in. So yes, "mommy issues" is probably an understatement for this poor fool Flowers. Also, we learn "mother's a Buddhist." Oh, sure she is, she probably learned that from Balanchine, too.
The girls bounce around in class (what, you thought you were going to get real ballet terminology?) with a few young boys thrown in for good measure, and Mrs. Flowers informs everyone that Clara will get cut from "The Nutcracker" if they can't find a missing tutu, and that everyone should search their brother's closets. Hee! Also, auditions from the Joffrey Ballet School are coming up. We know this is a real thing from "Dance Moms," but we are still choosing to picture King Joffrey Baratheon from "Game of Thrones" having girls beaten and berated when they don't point their toes. Crossover!
One of these dance girls looks like Alexis Bledel but younger and stretched out on a rack, and one looks like a shorter, squarer Megan Hilty. All of the girls whose names we still haven't bothered to learn agree that they're going to try out for King Joffrey.
Michelle finally gets to see the bedroom Hubbell was boasting about with the balcony overlooking the sea, and yeah, it's worth it. Then Mrs. Flowers shows up and the awkward introductions begin. Michelle is like "Namaste!" and Fanny Flowers (yes) is like, "What?" Michelle learns that Hubbell lives with his mother "like a serial killer." Then she excuses herself to take a walk around the block, where she discovers the dance school. She teaches a girl how to create and hold her line; they ask who she is and Fanny shows up to introduce her new daughter-in-law, whose name she has to ask. She also introduces the girls, "Melanie, Ginny, Sasha and Boo." Yes, Boo.
All the girls and Michelle are invited to a "meet the family" party, which sounds absolutely horrible even in the best of circumstances, which this is not. The girls say they have nothing better to do on a Saturday night since the movie theater closed. They either roller skate or visit the library or dance at the studio for fun. Michelle is stuck on the idea that she won't have a movie theater. Then she confesses to Fanny that she didn't actually pack anything, so she has to visit a store called Sparkles to buy something for this surprise wedding celebration. This ought to be good.
The store attendant gets very upset as she realizes somehow that Michelle must be the pole-dancer from Reno or stripper from Tahoe or whatever that local heartthrob Hubbell always talks about. She's apparently very in love and very jealous and this is probably supposed to be hilarious but it's extremely weird and someone's wearing a dress with ducks on it. We should also mention that Michelle's been parading around in a coyote tee and cut-off shorts this entire time, plus gold earrings longer than our palm. The store clerk still loves Hubbell enough that he wants this to be perfect for him, so she helps Michelle get the perfect outfit.
At the Flower residence, we learn that Ginny (lil Hilty) hates her big boobs and Boo is starving herself for the impending auditions. Sasha (lil Bledel) gets bored with everyone and goes looking for beer, so she's our new favorite. Fanny is dancing by herself in front of the mirror, but Boo finds her to ask if she should just stop fooling herself and skip the auditions. Fanny says it won't hurt to try. Boo loathes herself in the mirror, and this is keenly juxtaposed with Michelle looking at her gorgeous frame in her new dress. She then wanders into a standoffish crowd and goes straight for the wine until Hubbell rescues her and introduces her to everyone. The weeping Sparkles girl is there, and her name is Truly. Really. Truly.
Michelle runs away in fear of everyone and everything. Hubbell chases after and they talk about some important things, like this town and this house and the fact that Michelle doesn't love him and has never loved anybody and doesn't think she even can. Attagirl. He says he's not an idiot, he knows she doesn't love him, but he believes in her capacity for love. He says he understands her, that she wants laughter and travel and surprises and challenges. So does everyone on OKCupid, Hubbell. But you're not kissing them, now are you? Nope, just Michelle. And she's actually digging it, although she clumsily asserts that he'd better not have learned how to kiss from his mother, too.
Fanny is telling Truly that Michelle will quickly get bored and leave, but then the happy couple comes out of the bedroom all smiles and sunshine. Fanny's like, "Have you had sex?" and Michelle returns, "Ever?" and Fanny cautions her not to be smart - before beginning to rail at them for their indecent behavior in front of all of their guests. Poor Truly. Michelle tries to make light of the situation, but Fanny screams: "The quips, the chatter, does she ever shut up?" Michelle runs off and Hubbell defends her to everyone - that's his wife, this is his house, no one will disrespect her, not even his mom. "I love her, nothing more to say."
Commercial! (Wait, again, really?)
The girls have managed to find beer thanks to Sasha, but Boo won't participate in the calorie fest. Boo calls her a "mean drunk," but Sasha says she's just bored. We feel it, girl. They start to gossip about Michelle and Hubbell, but the former walks in to interrupt and clear up some of her career history. She trained at American Ballet Theatre and became a showgirl for the money. Fanny is the only other professional dancer they've ever met. Michelle tells Boo she just needs an audition outfit that makes her feel strong, like a fire-engine red one that Michelle used to wear (with gold tassels, but hey maybe it was the '80s?). Boo says she would look like a crime scene in a red unitard. (Boo: Apparently going to be the token "fat one.")
Michelle decides to cheer them up by pretending to give them a real-life audition and it's an absolute gem as she treats them like cattle and gives Sasha some sass. "Ain't She Sweet" plays and Michelle starts making up a routine for them to follow. It involves some ponying and pirouetting and a pas de bourree. We learn that Boo picks up choreography fast! So she has that going for her. Obviously Fanny sneaks in and watches and gets a bit of a smile. Boo earns some confidence, and Sasha hates losing the limelight so she challenges Michelle. Yay, arch-nemeses! And we thought Mrs. Flowers would be her biggest problem.
Out for drinks later (thank goodness Paradise has a bar), Michelle makes fun of Fanny's boombox and CD collection. Mrs. Flowers is all, "I can work a computer!" It's very cute. Fanny is also all caught up on ABT (full scholarship!) and her Broadway history, and she wonders how Michelle wound up in Vegas. (She went to pursue a friend and a job opening but then got stuck.) They also discuss how Fanny was a star soloist until she got pregnant, so that was the end of her career. They also dish about Sasha's unhappiness because her mom's never around and her dad's in the closet.
Fanny soberly asks if Michelle's as good a person as Hubbell, and Michelle says she's at least handy around the house. Fanny says that could be more useful than love. Next, the two ladies decide to see if they can metaphorically and literally dance together, with Fanny in the lead. They work it out and spin around the floor, then pull in other dancers - well, this has been a much more natural transition than any musical number from "Smash!"
Truly comes in crying as usual, but this time it's for a real reason - Hubbell went out looking for his ladies and he got into a car accident. Goodbye, Hubbell. Hello dramatic setup for what promises to be an excellent premiere season of "Bunheads"! Catch ya on the dance floor next week.