It’s true that Bunheads couldn’t boast many shocking storylines or big reveals. (And while we’re nitpicking, we might as well let out a collective groan over its stupid title.) But at a moment when we’ve already got Homeland and Breaking Bad and Scandal and even Downton Abbey, TV suffers from no shortage of suspense. What Bunheads contributed was something subtler and more rare: not just the lively, pop culture-studded conversation Sherman-Palladino is so well known for, but also a close-up look at how relationships form and evolve, among new family members and friends and teenagers falling in love for the first time, and between adults and the kids they mentor. Encouragingly, most of these interactions cast girls and grown-up women not as romantic or professional rivals but as each other’s sounding boards and support systems — an especially notable feat for a show that happened to be set in the notoriously competitive world of ballet. Yet these supportive relationships between women never read as prim, by-the-book, eat-your-vegetables feminism; there were flaws and spats and moments of mistrust, too, although they never overpowered the characters’ genuine affection and concern for each other.
In fact, all the attention that has been paid to Bunheads‘ positive representation of its overwhelmingly female cast of characters can obscure just how much fun the show was. There were throwaway jokes that could make you spray that mouthful of wine across the room. There were genuinely tender moments between friends and lovers that would have elicited an audible “aww” from even the most cold-hearted of cynics. There were the impromptu dance numbers to Björk and They Might Be Giants — some connected and others entirely unrelated to the themes of the episodes in which they appeared, each one a strange and beautiful gift in a medium that has never had much time for that particular art form. There was, admittedly, the soothing fact that most of the characters’ problems were relatively minor, and all of them took place against the backdrop of a carefree California beach town. It all added up to one of the most pleasurable viewing experiences of the 21st-century television renaissance, which would have been so much richer and more diverse had Amy Sherman-Palladino’s odd, little show made it another few seasons.