Slip on your point shoes, 'cause Bunheads is back! The ABC Family series returns Monday at 9/8c, but will Paradise still live up to its name now that Michelle (Sutton Foster) has left?Returning Winter Shows: Where we left offWhen Bunheads picks back up, Michelle's life is a far cry from her idyllic teaching gig at Fanny's dance studio. She's living in Nevada again, sleeping on a friend's couch and trying to make ends meet as a magician's assistant. To make matters worse, the magic act isn't even on the strip - it's in Henderson! Ouch! How the mighty have fallen. But the former showgirl isn't the only one who's struggling to get her groove back after the infamous Nutcracker macing.The Worst of 2012"I think Michelle's biggest surprise is the hole that her departure actually left for people, because I think Michelle's a girl who thinks: I don't get attached, I don't latch on, I don't fall in love," creator/executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino told reporters during a conference call. "It's a new experience with someone like her that she would come back and realize she's been missed, she's been needed. ... I think Michelle, who probably doesn't really think much of herself in the grand scheme of things, is very surprised that she means a lot to people."But don't worry, Michelle does come back (and soon too). While we won't spill the details on her return, we will say this: Have a box of Kleenex out because it's pretty darn touching.The best performances of 2012That's what makes Bunheads such an accomplishment. The series can shift from whip-fast dialogue to a toe-tapping dance routine to a "squee"-inducing sobfest - all within a few minutes. But while Bunheads' range might be a treat for current viewers, it's become an obstacle in attracting new ones."It doesn't really fit into a particular category," Sherman-Palladino said. "It's an amalgam of women basically and coming of age at many stages of your life. So I think that it's also been a challenge for us and for ABC Family and everyone to figure out how to make people understand that there's actually a little something for everybody in here. It's a delightful grab bag of craziness."Discovering how to properly market the series is one of the many things the executive producer learned after the first batch of episodes, which also included budget issues, a constant focus on dance and relying more on Foster. But the Broadway legend isn't the only star of the show. Fanny (Kelly Bishop) and Michelle's four favorite students, Boo, Sasha, Ginny and Melanie, have also taken center stage since the first season premiered last summer. "We got very, very lucky because these girls all just really rose to the challenge," Sherman-Palladino said. "They weren't going to be peripheral characters anymore. They needed to really be whole, dimensional, flesh-and-blood, as much as Michelle and as much as the dance."Photos: Kim Kardashian's nude photo shootsViewers can also expect a batch of fresh faces to pop up in Paradise, including a few you might recognize. Foster's brother (and fellow Broadway star) Hunter Foster will play Michelle's brother Scotty, and her favorite So You Think You Can Dance contestant Jeanine Mason will also stop by, along with fellow SYTYCD alum Niko Pepaj. But as it turns out, none of Foster's fellow Bunheads (not even the possum) can hold a candle to Bishop.Winter TV Preview: Must-see new shows"I think my favorite co-star of all is Kelly Bishop," Foster confessed. "We have a really wonderful rapport off-screen and onscreen. It's like one of those things you don't want to talk about too much because you don't want to break the spell. But then also you want to bottle it up forever because you want to be able to have that type of rapport with everyone that you work with."Foster and Bishop's onscreen chemistry almost never happened. Sherman-Palladino revealed that she didn't originally approach Bishop for the role of Fanny. It was only after three weeks of auditions that she finally realized: "There's nobody who could have done this part but Kelly Bishop. It was Kelly Bishop."Photos: Celebs with their petsCasting Bishop hasn't help Bunheads' constant comparisons to that other Sherman-Palladino and Bishop series: Gilmore Girls. But as Sherman-Palladino sees it, her writing requires a special kind of actor. And hey, if it's not broke, why fix it? "I understand the whole concept of you're trying to build a whole new reality, but the reality of show business is when you find people that are great, you've got to work with them and you've got to latch on to them, because there's not billions of people out there who are special," she explained."But at some point, to me, the work is the work, and yes, sure, some people can take swipes at me for Gilmore, or comparisons or whatever, but it's not Gilmore. It's different relationships. They're playing different characters. Sutton Foster is not Lorelai at all. And I just feel like, again, you've got to get the best person."And once she finds that person, Sherman-Palladino doesn't seem eager to let them go - even if she already killed them off in the pilot!That's right. Expect at least one more appearance from Michelle's late ex-husband this season, because as Sherman-Palladino explains: "I will figure it out, because he shows up and the whole world is a little cheerier. He's just so great."Are you excited for more Hubble? Or do you want Michelle to find a love interest with a pulse?Bunheads returns Monday at 9/8c on ABC Family.
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Gilmore GirlsKelly BishopSo You Think You Can DanceSutton FosterAmy Sherman-PalladinoJeanine MasonBunheads