The XX Factor

The Lesson of Bunheads: Stalkers Make Great Husbands

Sutton Foster

Photograph by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

In her post on the CW’s remake of Beauty and the Beast, Alyssa mentions networks’ pesky, persistent habit of having leading ladies fall in love with men who are also serial killers. There’s a related rom-com tradition that won’t die: Boy meets girl. Boy refuses to take no for an answer. Boy ventures into stalker territory. Boy … wins girl?

Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of the series Bunheads, must have missed the Onion’s classic headline “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested.” In Bunheads, Las Vegas showgirl Michelle Simms (Sutton Foster) is being unsuccessfully wooed by shoe salesman and ignorer-of-hints extraordinaire Hubbell Flowers (Alan Ruck). Though she tries her best to avoid him, he insists on visiting her backstage uninvited, bringing her expensive gifts, and hounding her to go to dinner with him. At first, she views him as “technically a stalker,” but her friends see it differently: “He’s sweet and harmless. Every time he comes to town, he brings you things.”

It takes Michelle approximately three minutes to come around to their way of thinking. “Why are you so nice to me?” she asks him over a dinner he pressured her into with a pricey watch. “I’m just awful to you.” Who knew polite rejections were so terrible? Her guilt and a few martinis are enough to convince her to marry him and move to his hometown in California—and we know we’re supposed to regard that as the right decision because the entire premise of the show hinges on it. His hometown is where the rest of the series takes place (and where she declares him “a terrific guy” and resolves to learn to love him the way he deserves, even though he neglected to tell her they’d be living with his mother).

Spoiler alert: Hubbell dies in a car crash in the first episode, but subsequent episodes make it clear that no one found his behavior threatening or coercive. Rather, they thought he was too boring—a square. In fact, the show has us believe, his domestic overtures were just what Michelle needed to escape her wild ways and discover virtues like “commitment” and “roots.” Instead of renting studio apartments with short leases, she now owns property. Instead of dancing in tawdry Sin City shows, she starts to form relationships with young ballerinas. So, you see, it’s actually a good thing that she was badgered into a marriage she didn’t want.

If ignoring women’s rejections, both implicit and explicit, is portrayed as loving dedication so often, why does this particular instance matter? Because Bunheads airs on ABC Family, and its target demographic includes teens and tweens. It’s otherwise a delightful show, reveling in smart dialogue and depicting friendship between teenage girls honestly, without most of the stereotypical cattiness. It’s capable of doing better than teaching young women that no doesn’t really mean no if you just keep asking.