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ATX Television Festival 2015: Bunheads, Teachers and Younger

By Shelby

Photos by Waytao Shing

The second day of the ATX Television Festival gave us a double helping of the oh-so-talented and wonderful Sutton Foster with back-to-back panels on the much-missed Bunheads and her delightful new show Younger. The Tony Award-winning Broadway actress first danced her way onto our TV sets and into our hearts as floundering former Vegas showgirl Michelle Simms on the dearly departed Bunheads. Bunheads, of course, also has the distinction of springing from the mind of the incomparable Amy Sherman-Palladino, the writer who brought us Gilmore Girls. Like Gilmore Girls, Bunheads was set in an idyllic small town, this one aptly named Paradise and trading in the cold Connecticut winters for sunny California. And, more importantly, “Bunheads” also brought the return of Kelly Bishop (the erstwhile Emily Gilmore) to television, this time as dance studio owner Fanny Flowers.

Unfortunately for fans, Bunheads was taken from us after a scant 18 episodes on ABC Family, and while we won’t see anything new from Michelle, Fanny and their dance students, the episodes we got are layered with enough crackling dialogue and rapid-fire references to keep you coming back for more again and again. The relationship between Michelle and her mother-in-law Fanny is one of the most beautiful and poignant since, well, “Gilmore Girls.” During the panel, stars Sutton Foster, Kelly Bishop and Stacey Oristano (who played Truly on “Bunheads” and the always fun Mindy Riggins on “Friday Night Lights”) and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino talked about the gone-too-soon show, sharing how much it meant to them in between clips from the series run. Plenty of love was given from the talent and the audience for the beautiful dance sequences that were woven so organically into the episodes (my favorite is Sasha dancing to They Might Be Giants’ “Istanbul Not Constantinople”). If you haven’t yet discovered this brilliant-but-cancelled gem, check it out on iTunes and Amazon Instant.

The Sutton Foster love-fest continued into the TV Land panel, which featured her new show Younger as well as a sneak preview of the raunchy-fun Teachers. If the “TV Land” part of that sentence threw you, rest assured that based on these two fired-up and fun shows, the network’s original programming seems to be skewing less “Hot in Cleveland” and more like a grown-up ABC Family with a healthy dose of Comedy Central thrown in. “Teachers,” which debuts in January, is based on the web series from the Chicago-grown comedy troupe The Katydids. The panel featured all six members of The Katydids—Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien and Katie Thomas—along with showrunners Ian Roberts and Jay Martel, who also worked on Comedy Central’s Key and Peele. Based on the premiere episode we saw, fans of cringe comedy will dig this smart satire that makes you worry about the people responsible for shaping the minds of today’s children. I can’t wait to watch the full season in January.

I’ve fallen hard for Younger, the latest and greatest from the legendary Darren Star, who also created Beverly Hills, 90210 and Sex and the City. With a cast led by Sutton Foster and co-starring Hilary Duff and Debi Mazar, Younger was always going to be watchable, but the writing and performances elevate this half-hour single-camera dramedy to something special. Foster’s Liza is a 40-year-old who struggles to land a job in the publishing world after being away from it to raise her 18-year-old daughter, so when a cute guy mistakes her for 26, she revamps her resume as a millennial and lands herself an assistant gig in addition to the hot hipster guy. Clocking in at just 22 minutes, each episode feels much too short but jam-packed too, hitting complex emotional beats that most sitcoms would never aim for and passing the Bechdel test week in and out. The characters are complex too, like Liza’s shrewish, no-nonsense boss Diana, who could easily have been a stock hard-ass but instead is shaded with sadness, frustration, longing and heart. At the panel, we got a sneak peek of the first season finale, which airs this Tuesday (June 9) and comes on the heels of news that the show will have a second season starting in January (hooray!). For cord-cutters like me who gave up on cable, TV Land originals are available on Hulu Plus.

Are you still mourning the loss of Bunheads? Have you checked out Younger yet?

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