Let's get this out of the way right off: Bunheads doesn't know the first thing about Las Vegas. Main character Michelle Simms (Broadway star Sutton Foster) is meant to be a Las Vegas showgirl, but creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's sense of Vegas shows is seriously outdated. The headdress-wearing showgirls are almost nonexistent in Vegas these days, and certainly aren't part of any show at Caesars Palace, where Michelle mentions working. The rest of the show's Vegas references (Michelle lives next door to a prostitute and gets married at a drive-through wedding chapel) are similarly lazy.
But Bunheads leaves Vegas behind 10 minutes into its first episode, and it isn't really a show about Vegas at all, so I'll forgive Sherman-Palladino her sloppy research. The Vegas stuff is really just a plot device to get Michelle at her career low point, so low that she impulsively agrees to marry a middle-aged admirer who showers her with gifts whenever he's in town. He whisks her away to his home in the whimsical small town of Stars Hollow, er, Paradise, which is basically the quaint setting of Sherman-Palladino's Gilmore Girls transported to the California coast.
Bunheads' biggest strength and greatest shortcoming is its overwhelming similarity to Gilmore Girls, from the quirky small-town setting (full of characters with names like Boo and Truly) to the fast-talking, sharp-tongued lead character (Foster is definitely channeling Lauren Graham), even to Kelly Bishop as an imperious matriarch (in this case, Michelle's disapproving mother-in-law). After failing disastrously with the shrill sitcom The Return of Jezebel James a few years ago, Sherman-Palladino is back on familiar ground here, and that's a good thing. There's enough about Bunheads that's different from Gilmore Girls to make it feel relatively fresh, while the similarities allow Sherman-Palladino to confidently do what she does best.
Foster ably delivers the dense dialogue, and she has the same world-weary sass that Graham brought to Lorelai Gilmore. The Rory role is divided among the four teenage girls who are students at Michelle's mother-in-law's dance studio (actress Julia Goldani Telles even looks like a young Alexis Bledel), and they're a little more one-dimensional in the pilot than Michelle is, but they have potential to develop into distinctive characters as the show progresses. With the focus more varied than the intense Lorelai/Rory relationship of Gilmore Girls, there's opportunity to tell stories about a wider range of characters.
Still, Bunheads is very much about Sherman-Palladino working within her comfort zone, and anyone who didn't like Gilmore Girls or got tired of its style by the time Sherman-Palladino left may want to steer clear. To me, Gilmore Girls got tiresome the more it was weighted down by soapy relationship twists and angsty family squabbles, so a fresh start in the same style is very appealing, and I'm eager to see where Bunheads goes from here.