"Bunheads" represents the best bet yet for ABC Family to broaden its appeal and creative credibility.

Michelle Simms - Sutton Foster
Bettina "Boo" Jordan - Kaitlyn Jenkins
Sasha Torres - Julia Goldani Telles
Ginny Thompson - Bailey Buntain
Melanie Segal - Emma Dumont
Fanny Flowers - Kelly Bishop

Hatched by the same distinctive voice that created the WB’s well-respected “Gilmore Girls,” Amy Sherman-Palladino’s “Bunheads” represents the best bet yet for youthful cabler ABC Family to broaden its appeal and creative credibility. Toplining Sutton Foster as a Vegas showgirl transplanted to a quirky small town on California’s coast, the pilot delivers a more grownup perspective than the ABC Family norm, nicely balanced with a supporting cast of promising young actresses and the heart and humor that earned “Gilmore” devoted fans.

The decision to center the show around Foster as thirtysomething Michelle Simms — a classically trained dancer who saw her Broadway dreams devolve into a haze of Sin City drinking and partying — is enough to distinguish “Bunheads” from schedule mates “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Sherman-Palladino’s snappy banter and slightly melancholy characters only enrich the texture of a series perfectly pitched between comedy and drama.

The pilot takes its time introducing Michelle and her life in Vegas, which includes backstage visits from lovestruck fan Hubbell Flowers (likably played by guest star Alan Ruck). As Michelle feels increasingly boxed in, Hubbell offers her a way out when she needs it most: Marry him and come to Paradise, Hubble’s quaint hometown in the middle of nowhere, California. They don’t even have a movie theater. But they do have a dance studio, run by Hubbell’s formidable mother Fanny (“Gilmore” vet Kelly Bishop), who is more than a little leery of her son showing up with a stray showgirl.

Fanny’s ballet students fill the requisite teen roles to allow “Bunheads” a place on ABC Family, but do so without coming off as cloying or contrived. The initial hour focuses on sweet Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), who has the desire but not the tiny body required to be a star ballerina, and sour Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), who fits the physical bill but has none of Boo’s passion. There’s less definition afforded wide-eyed Ginny (Bailey Buntain) and Sasha’s sidekick Melanie (Emma Dumont), but despite minimal-to-zero prior onscreen experience, all four actresses fit in effortlessly enough to suggest the show should have fun fleshing them out later.

Foster, who seems to relish Sherman-Palladino’s rapid-fire quips and the rich complications of Michelle’s hot mess of a life, delivers a commanding turn in what already feels like a creative collaboration comparable to what Sherman-Palladino enjoyed with Lauren Graham on “Gilmore.”Foster has instant chemistry with Bishop, who retains the sharp-tongued delivery she utilized so well as Emily Gilmore, while trading that character’s high society rigidity for Fanny’s more bohemian looseness. It probably doesn’t hurt that two actors recently shared the Broadway stage in “Anything Goes.”

The biggest hurdle for “Bunheads” may be its awkward title — a colloquialism alternately viewed as a nickname or insult for young ballerinas, which goes unexplained in the pilot — but when the show itself is so immediately captivating, what’s in a name?

Popular on Variety


ABC Family, Mon. June 11, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by ABC Family. Executive producer, Amy Sherman-Palladino; producers, Tim Marx, Maria Melograne; director-writer, Sherman-Palladino;

Crew: camera, Anette Haellmigk; editor, Raul Davalos; music, Sam Phillips; casting, Jeanie Bacharach, Gillian O'Neill. 60 MIN.

Cast: Michelle Simms - Sutton Foster
Bettina "Boo" Jordan - Kaitlyn Jenkins
Sasha Torres - Julia Goldani Telles
Ginny Thompson - Bailey Buntain
Melanie Segal - Emma Dumont
Fanny Flowers - Kelly Bishop

More TV

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun

    Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun Rights

    Viacom has sealed a deal with Sony Pictures Television for the cable rights to “Seinfeld” starting in October 2021. The deal comes on the heels of a blockbuster new deal between Sony and Netflix for the streaming rights to the beloved NBC sitcom that also begins in 2021. “Seinfeld” reruns have been a staple of [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Elite Season 2

    San Sebastian: Spain’s SVOD Players Debate Competition, Brand, Talent

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Executives from HBO, Netflix, Amazon and Movistar+ and “Elite” co-creator Darío Madrona took to the stage to field questions on the Global Impact of Spanish Series. Here, briefly, are five takeaways: 1.Spain First “La Casa de Papel” was watched by 34,355,956 Netflix accounts over its first seven days,  after a July 19 [...]

  • Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers

    Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

    Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it. During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings [...]

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content