TORONTO - Fans of the well-loved mother-daughter dramedy "Gilmore Girls" may get a sense of deja vu when tuning into creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's new show "Bunheads."
There's the crackerjack dialogue delivered at breakneck pace, the languidly winsome acoustic music and an idyllic small-town crammed with lovably unique oddballs. And at the centre of it all, there's a corrosively clever, leggy brunette occasionally butting heads with a matriarch played by "Gilmore" vet Kelly Bishop.
While Sherman-Palladino emphasizes the differences between the two shows, she agrees that such comparisons don't exactly ring hollow.
"I would be kind of a moron if I thought that automatically there were not going to be any comparisons between this show and 'Gilmore,'" said Sherman-Palladino in a telephone interview from her home in California this week. "I have a very specific style of writing ... and directing and producing a show.
"I don't want to do the show of long looks ... and a lot of dramatic scoring in the background while the heroine in her billowing skirts walks slowly — I will have already hung myself from a shower rod if I was doing a show like that," she added.
"I like snap, I like pace, I like energy, I like a lot of comedy in my dramas.... My hope is that 'Gilmore' fans will find enough things that they enjoyed about 'Gilmore' that they can bring to this, and yet sort of new fun relationships to get invested in."
And with due respect to the comfort-TV nirvana provided by the seven-season run of "Gilmore Girls," Sherman-Palladino's new show seems to have come from an equally personal place.
The show — which premieres Monday on ABC Spark — revolves around Michelle Simms (played by two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster), a classically trained prima ballerina now firmly entrenched in a rut as a Las Vegas showgirl considered too old for meatier theatrical roles. On a whim, she impulsively marries an adoring stranger (played with hangdog sweetness by the perfectly cast Alan Ruck) and moves to his sleepy coastal town.
There, she butts heads with his close-at-hand mother-in-law, Fanny Flowers (Bishop), but bonds with the four young charges at the dance school Fanny runs from the house they now share.
Sherman-Palladino drew from 20 years of ballet experience to ensure that the show's dance dimensions were, ahem, en pointe. In fact, it was only when the young writer landed a staff job penning episodes for "Roseanne" that she decided to waltz in a different direction, "much to (her) mother's horrifying chagrin."
"From age four until frankly I got my first job on 'Roseanne,' I was dancing and auditioning and I was thin," said Sherman-Palladino, who tosses off witticisms with the same rapid-fire freneticism as one of her characters.
"Then as soon as I got 'Roseanne,' it was all over. You sit in a chair a lot, your ass gets chair-shaped. It's the end of the good times my friend.... You can't enjoy a nice corned beef sandwich when you wanna be a ballerina. That sort of knocked me out of the running."
The actresses portraying the four teens taken under Michelle's wing are dancers who act, while Foster — a 37-year-old Broadway vet who claimed Tonys for roles in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Anything Goes" — is also, of course, an experienced singer and dancer.
So Sherman-Palladino was free to set the barre high for the show's dance numbers, though she stresses that the series won't break the fourth wall with characters suddenly breaking into song and dance in the style of, say, "Glee."
"If you're not into the ballet thing ... you're still going to find plenty to hook into on this show," she said.
"It's a coming of age story — when you're 16, 36 and when you're 66."
But even more impressive than her cast's dance credentials is the way they've nimbly pirouetted around her notoriously breathless scripts, which feature machine-gun patter that took even those "Gilmore" girls a while to master.
"I got some fast talkers on this show," Sherman-Palladino enthuses proudly. "My little girls talk so fast, I literally have to slow them down. I'm like, 'OK, adorable, love it, what did you say?'
"Sutton's got that Broadway engine — she knows how to handle fast-paced, long bits, walking and talking ... she's a genius at it. So yes, I found my Xanadu. There's no pace learning curve on this show. We're there."
Indeed, Sherman-Palladino has rapturous praise for all the principal members of her cast. She knew about Foster's multi-faceted talent for all things theatre but was stunned by the depth of her acting skills, she said.
And with Bishop — who so expertly played Lauren Graham's perenially disapproving, poisonously prim mother on "Gilmore Girls" — Sherman-Palladino tried to give the Tony-winning actress a role a little closer to her own real-life personality.
"(Bishop) is a broad — sit down, knock back a couple martinis, and you get down and dirty with Kelly Bishop.... Fanny is Kelly. She's fun and she's a little nuts and she's out there and she's hard and soft and caustic and diva-esque and yet incredibly giving and caring.
"She's just a whole bundle of manic panic and I love it."
On "Gilmore Girls," Sherman-Palladino was notoriously meticulous about even the smallest details of the program until her presence on the show — which she wrote, produced and directed alongside husband Daniel Palladino — was required pretty much 'round-the-clock.
She acknowledges that made life difficult, but says "Bunheads" has provided a different experience.
"'Gilmore' was — especially the beginning — really, really hard," she said, pointing out how the crew didn't initially realize how exacting she was trying to be with the show's style.
"That learning curve is gone a little bit on this. People kinda know what they're getting into when they walk into this show."
Sherman-Palladino and her husband departed "Gilmore" before the show's seventh and final season over a contract dispute.
Since it ended, the show's devoted fans have kept hope alive that she might revisit the project in the form of a movie, allowing faithful viewers to see how she would have concluded the story of the headstrong mother-daughter combo played by Graham and Alexis Bledel.
But she says her own hope is fading.
"I'm still really into doing a 'Gilmore' movie — and Lauren and I had talked about it a lot," she said. "We were kinda game and we kind of had a plan. But it's not in my hands. It's up to Warner Bros. And I just kind of couldn't get them into it.
"After a while, when you can't get them into it, what do you do? They've got the chequebook. So look, I'll never say never, but ... it doesn't seem very likely."
Of course, Sherman-Palladino also thought she'd never recapture that "Gilmore" magic on another TV project.
Now, she feels otherwise.
"You don't get a lot of opportunities in this business. When 'Gilmore' happened, I said it'll never happen again, I'll never have this sort of freedom creatively, I'll never have this sort of cast. I was totally ready for the downward spiral — like, me at the end of the bar talking sadly to people: 'I had a show once!'
"I got lucky (with 'Bunheads')," she added. "You don't want to say lightning strikes twice, but it certainly feels like it's up to me to (screw) it up. Like, the pieces are there, so the wildcard can only be me."