Bunheads: Dancing with Labels

Gilmore Girls is like comfort food to me, so when I heard that series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had a new series premiering on ABC Family, I had to watch it. So far I’ve found Bunheads pretty hit-and-miss. Sometimes the banter is spot-on and other times it feels forced or out of place. For example, in this week’s “Money for Nothing” episode, naming the handsome surfer dude Gadot is an obvious and strained set-up for the line “So you’re waiting for Gadot?” and Michelle’s jab at Fanny about living in her house being like living in a Kristen Wiig film festival was clever, but didn’t entirely make sense in context.

Shonda Rhimes (mistress of the gut-wrenching season finale) has already controversially tweeted about Bunheads’ lack of diversity, an issue that doesn’t appear to improve as the series progresses. To me, the biggest issue with the young female characters is the way they so easily fit into archetypes. Sasha is the queen bee; Boo the gamma or the chubby girl; Ginny the good girl; Melanie the dim one. This categorization is a pretty major phenomenon in girl culture, friendships, and scholarship about the above.

Think about it: Scary Spice, Sporty Spice, Baby Spice, Ginger Spice. Mean Girls (queen bee, wannabe, dumb one, new girl). Pretty Little Liars (queen bee, smart girl, arty girl, girlie girl, sporty girl). Did this type of break down by category happen in your friendships as a girl? It did in mine. Girls’ tv shows, movies, and–worst of all–magazine quizzes encourage them to think of themselves as fitting easily into one archetype or another. It bleeds over into women’s culture too. Desperate Housewives (business woman, clumsy/sweet woman, trophy wife, Martha Stewart, neighborhood slut). Charlie’s Angels (smart girl, bad girl, blonde bombshell). Sex and the City (Are you a Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, or Charlotte?!)

This phenomenon is so prevalent that an obnoxious amount of academic articles about girls and the media use it in their titles. And perhaps it’s why we love characters like Veronica Mars and, to an extent, Rory Gilmore and (moreso) Lane Kim, because they fail to fit themselves into these categories. Yet, in an ensemble of female characters playing to archetypes seems unavoidable. I wanted more from Amy S-P who created such dynamic characters on Gilmore Girls. I wanted to see an ensemble of girls who were more complex and defied easy labels for teen girl characters. You could argue that the use of the archetypes was used as a way to introduce characters in the pilot without too much exposition, but five weeks in those labels haven’t budged. The characters have been written into easy boxes and as such they just aren’t very interesting to watch. When you start out with your characters written to fit well-known molds, how do you progress? To me, Boo is the only character with much real depth, but I suspect the story about her weight and her endearing naivete can only go so far.

On the other hand, the best moment I’ve seen on the show is the scene from “Money for Nothing” in which arrogant Sasha bets she can get Gadot to give her a drink from the bar. What follows is the most amazingly awkward performance by a young actor I think I’ve ever seen. Trying to act confident and sexy beyond her years, Sasha fails repeatedly to get Gadot’s attention. When she finally does, she stumbles over her words and fails to make eye-contact. In the end, she walks away with two cherries and declares that the whole endeavor was too much work. I wish I could find the clip. I cringed all the way through as the scene beautifully captures exactly why you couldn’t pay me to be a teenager again. I wish the show had more scenes like that one to balance out the quippiness and the cliches.

Finally, Emily Gilmore is one of my all-time favorite fictional people, so seeing Kelly Bishop as basically a bohemian version of the matriarch makes me happy, even if her name is as contrived as Fanny Flowers. So, though I’m disappointed in the show in general, I still watch for moments like this:

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One thought on “Bunheads: Dancing with Labels

  1. Pingback: Response to Bright Young Things Backlash | Ph.D.s and Pigtails

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