When I was a kid, television pretty much stopped in the summer. This wasn’t because my parents insisted on a screen-free season, or because my family decamped for a private island paradise off the coast of North Carolina. My brothers and I didn’t watch television because in the summer there was nothing on.
This was the 1980s, when ABC, CBS, NBC and darling earnest PBS were our only choices. What did they broadcast from June to September? I have no idea. I think they figured it didn’t matter unless it was an Olympics year. Everyone was on vacation, network executives included.
Then came cable and the Internet and "The Bachelor." Suddenly television had the need, or just the option, to entertain us every single second of every day. The downside to this saturation is, of course, the pernicious and irresistible stench of vanity and nonsense and shouting.
The upside? "Warehouse 13." "Falling Skies." "Rizzoli & Isles." "Louie." "Web Therapy." Original shows -- funny, silly, smart, smart-alecky, sincere, odd shows -- smack in the heat of summer.
I’m partial to "Warehouse 13," which mixes the supernatural spookiness of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with the swashbuckling goofiness of Indiana Jones. My husband, an old school sci-fi fan, likes "Falling Skies" (too many guns and alien tentacles for me).
The summer show I’m most excited about, though, is "Bunheads," airing Mondays at 9 p.m. on ABC
Not the most accessible of premises, perhaps. But the co-creator of "Bunheads" is Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of the late, great "Gilmore Girls," and I’ll follow her anywhere.
Sherman-Palladino’s voice and vision utterly define this new show. Like "Gilmore Girls," the characters are smart, wordy and quirky. They talk fast and quip hard. Most of them are women, and the central relationships are between women -- Michelle and Fanny; Michelle and four of the ballet students (sullen Sasha, eager Boo, flibberdigibbet Melanie and neurotic Ginny); Michelle and the town, which seems to be populated largely by women. Everyone is a lot or a little desperate, and funny about it.
It isn’t exactly easy to like "Bunheads" at first. As an ABC Family show, it’s packaged as a sweet wisp of summer nothing, which is true, but the gauzy credit sequences and showy promos hide its authentic intelligence and feeling. Someone made the editing decision to have commercial breaks fade to black, which feels antiquated and clumsy given the masterful pacing of the scenes.
As for characters, there are more than a few kooky Californians, like the ex-Wiccan artist who makes life-size nude sculptures but only from found objects, or the stoned surfer bartender and his stoned whiny wife. The ballet students are so far just sketches of real teenagers, and the young actresses don’t yet have their music as a group.
Most jarring, the tone of the show willows from broad silliness to aggressive whimsy to knowing jokiness, and then suddenly spirals out with genuine, heart-stopping, tear-jerking emotion, humor and connection. It can be hard to keep up.
But I think this must be what Sherman-Palladino has in mind, this odd rhythm, this beach-read/literary gem of a television program. And it’s all grounded most wonderfully in the fact that the show is also about dance, and that Sutton Foster is an outstandingly expressive dancer, as well as a vibrantly alive actress. When she moves, the TV screen turns into a Broadway stage.
The season is only a few episodes in, so I’m hopeful that "Bunheads" will deliver on its loopy, heartfelt promise. After all, if I’m going to be inside watching television on a perfect summer night, it really ought to be good.
Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Brattleboro Reformer.