“Bunheads”: “For Fanny”, Once more with feeling

I have no idea if last night’s second installment of “Bunheads” was any good.

That might seem like a curious lead for a review of a television episode. But this isn’t a review of a television episode. Rather, it’s a way for me to express how bizarre it was to tune into “For Fanny” after the previous twenty-four hours of my life. I don’t think I had watched a single minute of television in that time, and all I wanted to do was watch something mindless to get my mind off the previous day. What happened between Sunday night and Monday night?

Well, my father-in-law died.

He had been sick for a few years, but the suddenness of his departure still shocked everyone. I had to scramble to drive from Boston to New Jersey, where my wife had already been for a few days as part of her recent bout of intermittent visits. I arrived well after midnight on Sunday, and he passed away about an hour later. Between the time I left Boston to the time I sat down to watch “Bunheads,” I had maybe four hours of sleep to my credit. My wife, her mother and her brother had far less. Everyone was numb, having cycled through several stages of grief and no closer towards any sense of closure than it began. Because I’m a night owl by nature, even with four hours sleep in me, I was up past everyone else, alone in my in-laws’ living room, bawling my eyes out watching a bunch of non-descript girls perform a ballet routine to Tom Waits.

bunheads-for-fanny-425×318.jpgWatching the episode probably wasn’t the smartest move in the first place, in that the entire hour was about the death of Fanny’s son. I knew this going into the episode, although in my dazed mind I never really put two and two together until the installment started. Even when it dawned on me that the connections might be a bit too raw, I didn’t think they would actually cause a problem. The specifics surrounding Hubbell’s death and that of my father-in-law were vastly different, and Lord knows no one in this part of New Jersey (myself included) knows how to engage in Amy Sherman-Palladino witty banter. But there were plenty of universal aspects to the episode that nevertheless rang true, none more so that the aforementioned balletic ode concocted by the girls for their dance instructor.

It’s a moment that should be hokey, but instead turned fairly transcendent. There’s nothing worse than a mawkish use of a shared piece of popular culture to stand in for actual sentiment. But there are also plenty of glorious times in which those pieces represent a type of emotive expression that words simply can’t encompass. As verbally dexterous as these people are in “Bunheads,” they still run up against the same type of roadblocks that we normal talkers often hit headlong.

Before I wrote about television, I used to design lights for dance companies. I did it not because I got to hang around lithe women all the time, although come on, AWESOME side benefit. Rather, I loved complimenting the “story” of dance through lighting, employing it as a tool to help convey the message that the choreographer wanted to tell. In a way, I was already a writer, using light instead of letters . But I never felt burdened with specificity in those days. It was all about what felt right. It was an intuitive process, one that took technical skill but also creative input in order to make the audience feel something.

Whether or not last night’s “Bunheads” was good or not is besides the point. But it’s also besides the point, ultimately, in just about every television show I watch and/or critically analyze. There’s a point at which the technical aspects just fall away. Rules don’t always matter. What does matter is how that show makes me feel. It doesn’t necessarily matter WHAT that show makes me feel, so long as it engages that emotional side of my psyche. And last night’s “Bunheads” made me a feel a hell of lot. Last night wasn’t just for Fanny. It was for my father-in-law as well.