Why There Is a Quest to Save 'Bunheads'

While its fate hangs in the balance, the renewal of ABC Family's ballet dramedy Bunheads has become the impassioned cause of TV writers.

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If ABC Family's small-town ballet dramedy Bunheads concluded on its first season's finale, which aired in February, ultimately TV watchers would recover. Like Freaks and Geeks before it, Bunheads ended on a quiet note. There were no major cliffhangers to be resolved, just a tearful admission. But Bunheads's fate, which is still hanging in the balance at the network, has nevertheless become the impassioned cause of TV writers.

Just today, Todd VanDerWerff issued the latest plea to save Bunheads on the AV Club, writing "probably the best argument to make at this point is the qualitative one: This show is so good that ABC Family should renew it simply on those grounds." VanDerWerff is certainly not alone in his crusade. The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum has been a champion of the show since its beginning. Immediately after the finale aired, Time's TV critic James Poniewozik wrote a story about the show's "importance." Kate Aurthur at BuzzFeed has been tracking its renewal status. Last week Denise Martin of Vulture explained why there's a chance it could still come back.

But it's not just writers and critics campaigning to save Bunheads. There are myriad Tumblr posts and Twitter petitions from all sorts of civilians, too. People have tried to read the signs — analyzing star Sutton Foster's concert schedule, fretting over the fact that the show no longer has its studio space, etc. — but the show's future remains agonizingly unclear. There have been some indications that we will finally learn the show's fate this month, so we can only wait, and hope.

When Bunheads premiered last summer, I wasn't immediately convinced. Though I was a big fan of Gilmore Girls and was thus eager to see what creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had up her sleeve, the pilot rang a bit false. It brought its main character, Vegas showgirl Michelle (Foster), to the quirky town of Paradise by having her marry a man who basically stalked her, only to have him then promptly die, leaving Michelle with his sassy mother, dance instructor Fanny (Kelly Bishop). It felt too easy to just up and kill a character like that, simply to give the show its somewhat rickety setup. Disappointed, I set it aside.

But as the TV Twitter mafia started slathering on the praise, I returned to it and quickly fell under its quirky spell. The odd set-up mechanism gone, the show honed in on the actual Bunheads, telling the stories of four relatively ordinary teenage girls through humor and dance. Sure, the show has outlandish moments—there's an incident with mace and The Nutcracker—but mostly it's about girls who talk really quickly navigating friendships and relationships. The stakes aren't particularly high, but the show connects where it counts. But, truly, it's the dances that sell you. VanDerWerff explains that "what makes Bunheads worth saving is the dancing" and he's right. Often people cite the "Istanbul" dance as an example of what the show could do with it dance scenes, but I was partial to this number, Erin McKeown's "You, Sailor." The dances work on their own, but are even better when reflecting the mood of the show. Watching this one, I sobbed. (Sobbing is not uncommon when watching Bunheads.) 

Many of the calls for Bunheads's survival focus on what the show is up against. Poniewozik explained that he wrote his piece about Bunheads in the midst of researching a piece "about the profusion of gory violence in TV dramas today." Though, yes, someone did die in the pilot, Bunheads is not at all grim. It's cheery, it's sweet, it's honest, and that's a rarity on TV today, where everyone's an anti-hero in a dark and gloomy world. 

There is much more about what makes this show so worthy of rescue out there in the rest of the "save Bunheads" canon. There are plenty of good reasons to keep the show on the air, but those sadly may not add up to a mandate for the network—which, as Margaret Lyons wrote in Vulture yesterday, has plenty of other worthwhile options.

Yes, it would be great for Bunheads to survive on its merits as a wonderful, innocent show. But, if the axe does fall, we're prepared to let go, something we've advised doing in the past. If it is the end, at least the season-closing dance will be pretty great way to remember the show. It's a high note to go out on, if Bunheads has to go out at all.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.