There were plenty of things to nitpick about when considering the ABC Family show Bunheads, which was cancelled, sadly, inevitably, on Monday evening. Despite fawning reviews from many notable television writers, the show still displayed little diversity amongst its cast, no matter how realistic it would have actually been for a group of young ballet dancers in a small, wealthy California town to be all white. That being said, Bunheads had one important thing going for it: It was on its way to becoming one of the best depictions of teen sexuality on television in a very long time.
Bunheads was an especially bright star given ABC Family's middling history with depicting sex in its teen shows. While The Secret Diary of an American Teenager at least acknowledged that teenagers do stuff together, that show was largely dramatic and full if ridiculousness. The shows that ABC Family did put out that handled young adult sex with nuance – like the surprisingly funny 10 Things I Hate About You or Greek for the slightly older demographic – always seemed to get cancelled before their time. The shows that have been big successes, like Pretty Little Liars, have treated sex a little more Hollywood-ized, a little less realistically.
Though the second half of the first and only season of Bunheads increasingly dealt with the sexual lives of girls, it's the final episode that gave such a hint of what the show could have become. One of the main characters, a young dancer named Sasha, spends the episode doing some serious research because she feels that she needs to have sex with her boyfriend, but only wants to do so if she's prepared. Sasha tells her best friend Boo that they all "need to step it up" and start getting to it. Sasha might not actually be ready to have sex, but she's definitely not ready without the support of her friends, and drags them into the mess with her. This is despite the fact that Boo has specifically said that she's already decided that she and her boyfriend are waiting to have sex until prom. Cut to: a montage of the four best friends doing lots of research into this activity that probably already knew a fair amount about, though not from personal experience. (Judy Blume's Forever and Our Bodies, Ourselves make appearances.)
Sasha is going through plenty of personal stuff that somewhat explains why she wants want to control and plan her sexual life, but that's also just her personality. In her haste to make everything right, however, she inadvertently pushes her own agenda into the lives of her friends, who are just fine with their sex lives, or lack thereof, which they make clear to her; these girls are not cookie-cutter figurines of personalities. In a final attempt to figure out what to do, Sasha goes to Michelle, the kind of older sister figure in her life (played by Sutton Foster) to ask for more information:
Sasha: ...not like the mechanics of sex, I'm up on that, penis, vagina, blah blah blah.
Sasha: I just have questions, you know, things to talk through. You see, I always wanted a dog, from the time I was five, but I decided that if I wanted a dog, I'm going to do it properly. So I bought a lot of books and I went to shelters and dog parks and I bought more books and I dog sat and I made lists of names–
Michelle: And you never got a dog, did you?
Sasha: No. Because I over-intellectualize, you know.
What ends up happening is that Sasha never gets her meeting with Michelle, but her friend Ginny does, after the whole dance class is forced to sit through a relatively hilarious sex ed class from their dance teacher Miss Fanny. Ginny tearfully reveals to Michelle that she has lost her virginity to a sexy mysterious boy she's been crushing on who just moved to their town, a boy she's not sure even knows her name. She tells Michelle:
I never know what he's talking about and he can go for hours without saying anything at all. He's just so beautiful.
This whole scenario isn't presented in a way that's meant to shame or scare teenage girls, but as if to say, you can't plan everything and you don't even need to. Somehow, you know Ginny is going to be okay. Or at least, I hope she is. She's a bit confused but it's okay.
The episode ends with a classic Bunheads choreographed routine to the song "Makin Whoopee." "Another season, another reason, for making whoopee," the lyrics sing. It's these words that were Bunheads's best message. It let us know, however briefly, that you can't control every aspect of your life – the entire show, let's remember, began based on the premise that Michelle has moved from Las Vegas after a career being a showgirl to live with a man she spontaneously married and barely knew in a small town in California with his mother. Bunheads said it was alright to make mistakes. There's always another opportunity, if you fuck up. That being said, you should try have as much information as you can.