SPECIAL NOTE: So sorry this review is going up so late. Other obligations, including an hour-long How I Met Your Mother premiere, made me unable to catch the entire two-hour show when it aired. Because of this, I was able to write much of this review as I watched the episode, meaning that I was unspoiled as to who went home until the final reveal. But just as a heads up, I’m not sure how I’ll work that into the reviews in the future, which might mean a slight format change, or might not change a thing. Anyway, on with the review!
Dancing With the Stars – “Week 2”
When I started this journey last week, one of the things I was most apprehensive about was the elimination. I knew the show is typically a two-night event, but was cut back to a single night this season, and that was about it. I did know elimination had to come tonight, but before we could get there, we had to see our teams dance once more. So let’s see what everyone was up to this week on Dancing With the Stars….
Elizabeth Berkley & Valentin Chmerkovskiy (Samba)
In the training video, Elizabeth describes learning a new dance as like learning “a new character,” and this revelation makes the push forward easier. She’s a hard worker, but Val pushes even harder, keeping the atmosphere in rehearsal casual in order to barrel through the technical business. Once on the floor, the duo take off, flying around the stage in a dance both very clearly a samba, but also drawing on some of the contemporary elements that won them such high praise last week. In the middle of the dance, the two briefly switch roles in the dance, adding another unpredictable layer to an already live-wire performance. Berkley’s past as a dancer is certainly paying off already, and the two putting so much out there early on really distinguishes them amongst the crowd.
Christina Milian & Mark Ballas (Paso Doble)
Christina Milian wants to take things to the next level. Much of her interviews in the training video are about how glad she is that Mark is pushing her, and how she wants to make a bigger impression on the judges. Mark is excited that they’ve got a contemporary song (Lady Gaga’s “Applause”), and also wants to hit hard with their performance, telling Christina that they’re going to move fast and be technical. Their performance is dark and tight, with the two never allowing too much space to creep between them. A pulse-pounding routine (and song choice), with interesting dramatic elements (using thrones as set dressing for the dance floor is an inspired choice), continues to explore this team’s potential and establish a team identity.
Bill Engvall & Emma Slater (Jive)
Bill Engvall earned a nugget of sympathy from me tonight. “I feel a little deflated by the scores,” he tells Emma in their training video, “I thought that their comments were great, but they didn’t correlate with the score.” I feel you, Bill. When it comes time to rehearse, Bill is clearly intimidated (or is it embarrassed?) by the moves, but Emma reassures him by revealing that she’s going to steal from moves from Derek, who’s also performing the jive and goes on after them. On the floor, Emma’s routine plays up the inherent hokiness of the jive, which turns out to be a blessing for Bill. In the more traditional moves, Bill’s flopsweat is visible from a mile away, but the comedic bits give Engvall a chance to relax and seem in his element. However, even acknowledging the silliness doesn’t keep the performance from being once again being remarkably average. Oh, and Emma, that costume was atrocious. Please, never again.
Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke (Rumba)
At the beginning of this week’s training video, Jack lambasts himself for a myriad of physical flaws, but as bemoans his inability to sing or act, present-day Cheryl interrupts “But he can dance.” Cheryl’s confidence in Jack is matched only by his lack of confidence in himself. Back in the video, every failing seems to cut Jack to the core, but Cheryl never gives up. Sharon Osbourne herself finally stops by, telling Jack to “wipe the look of terror” off his face, but Jack still isn’t convinced. Here’s the thing: he should be. Their performance is poignant, with a hint of the macabre, and Jack performs admirably, even going down into a near-split at one point. The two have a strong sense of control on the floor, and it lends the dance the sensuality it demands. While it’s difficult to watch such a solid performer beat himself up, if it produces results like these, it might not be the worst strategy.
Keyshawn Johnson & Sharna Burgess (Samba)
It seems the response to last week’s performance has made Keyshawn reexamine the way he views the competition, as he opens the training video admitting that he wants to get better, and knows he must to succeed. Keyshawn’s comrades at ESPN are supportive, and Sharna urges him to have the same confidence on the floor as he does onscreen with them. Another funk/soul-inspired routine offers more than last week’s, but jumps ship midway through, with Keyshawn dancing awkwardly to the side while Sharna does the real moves. There’s also a bizarre moment when Keyshawn mimes “motorboating” Sharna, and to top things off, a final-pose slip sours another middling performance from the team.
Nicole Polizzi & Sasha Farber (Rumba)
The rumba is the dance of love, and that concerns Nicole. She’s worried about what her fiancee will think, watching her perform these inherently sexual moves with Sasha. But she diffuses the situation with jokes and teasing, and while Sasha hasn’t completely caught on, it keep their training video fun and light. Their performance, another programmatic routine, has the air of eroticism, but smart uses of space keep the moves from ever being overtly sexual. The costume choices were especially interesting, but made sense in the context of the dance, where the two distinct individuals would separate and intertwine. Nicole insists that she wants to keep their dances classy, and this was a great example of how to bring that class to a competition with a built-in sexual atmosphere.
Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani (Samba)
When their training video opens, Leah and Tony are working hard in rehearsal, but Leah can’t help and mutter a curse for any and all missteps. It’s then revealed, to those unaware, that Leah is coming back from a big life event, leaving the Church of Scientology, from the summer. According to Leah, the Church wants her to fail, so they can use her as an example of what happens if you leave. Tony is concerned that this is weighing too heavily on Leah, but he’s also confident in her abilities, and urges her forward past her restraints. And on the floor, it shows. Their routine is very traditional, but they take the opportunity to work in some more technical moves at the very end. Leah shows a flash of uncertainty at the beginning of the routine, but it fades quickly, and she relaxes into the Latin style well. While not particularly flashy, they take the basics and elevate them to a higher level.
Bill Nye & Tyne Stecklein (Paso Doble)
Bill and Tyne aren’t going to take last week’s disparaging comments lying down. They both want to push back hard (and it seems Bill’s found a friendly rival in Len Goodman), and Tyne isn’t afraid to hound Bill until she gets what she wants. On the floor, the pair deliver a Beethoven-inspired routine that is equal parts theatrical, ferocious, and sexual. Bill was acutely focused, and while it made some of the more elastic moves seem stilted, it also gave their performance the gravitas they were aiming for. No other team has established even half as solid an identity at this point in the competition.
Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff (Jive)
Whoa, that “rice and beans” comment was kind of racist, right? Regardless, every thing about this team’s segment had me groaning. In the training video, Corbin wants to pay homage to his High School Musical roots, and the two design a routine to some One Direction song. But I couldn’t imagine what it would actually look like on the floor. While the moves themselves are strong and interesting, everything else was just so bizarre. With the lone locker segment and hyper-sexualized costumes, I’ll be frank, the beginning of the routine looked like the beginning of a porno, and the team pushed the silliness factor of the jive way past the point of appropriate. What comes out is a technically stunning but bafflingly surreal mess that never quite hits the mark. I like Corbin and Karina as a team, but leave the homages to Bill Nye and Tyne.
Valerie Harper & Tristan MacManus (Paso Doble)
As we learned last week, Valerie’s biggest concern isn’t her cancer, but her knee, and this week, we see it attempt to bring her down. In the beginning of their training video, Valerie suffers a nasty fall, and while Tristan urges her to rest to eliminate any chance of long-term injury, Valerie pushes through. “I’m 74 with terminal cancer… I don’t care,” she insists. Tristan is inspired by Valerie’s drive, and she never lets up in rehearsal. Their performance isn’t quite the showstopper last week’s was, and Valerie never quite seems totally comfortable during the routine, but she begins the dance on her own, an impressive choice, and brings a feisty grandeur to the floor to compensate for any shortcomings.
Brant Daugherty & Peta Murgatroyd (Rumba)
Last week, I said that Brant and Peta had no chemistry outside of “two attractive people,” and unfortunately that trend continues. The sexual tension of their training video is almost cringe-worthy, but maybe that’s just my bias against beautiful people coming out. Their performance (to “Underneath Your Clothes” by Shakira, a song I typically enjoy) is more technically adept than last week’s, and the two are obviously very comfortable on the floor, but the whole thing comes off more air-fucking than dancing. I’m sure there are fans of this, but it’s a one-note style that’s already getting stale.
Amber Riley & Derek Hough (Jive)
“I don’t want anyone to be like, ‘She can move for her size,’ I want them to be like, ‘She can dance.'” Amber is apprehensive about dancing the jive because of her physicality, and it shows on the training video. Derek wants to show her that her perception about the jive isn’t totally accurate, but when it is, Amber’s frustrations rise. But on the floor, those apprehensions seem to melt away, as Amber moves with purpose and focus. Their routine brings the perfect amount of camp to the jive, and is heavily reminiscent of Hairspray. Derek takes on some more physically demanding moves, while Amber provides a heightened attitude that fits perfectly in the character of the style. It’s a performance full of content that delivers on almost every level. Oh, and there’s another weird motorboating thing, but I think the less said about that, the better.
After the performances came the aspect of the show I was most curious about: elimination. I knew going in that the eliminations were a combination of judge’s scores and viewer votes, which doesn’t thrill me, so I was anxious to see the system in action, especially given the show’s new format this season. When we see the total leaderboard for the judge’s score, it’s a 20 point split between the top (Amber & Derek, 51) and the bottom (Bill Nye & Tyne, 31). The hosts reveal which teams are safe, one by one: Corbin & Karina; Leah & Tony; Bill Nye & Tyne; Christina & Mark; Amber & Derek; Valerie & Tristan; Nicole & Sasha; Jack & Cheryl; Brant & Peta; Elizabeth & Val; and…
Bill Engvall & Emma! Farewell, Keyshawn & Sharna, I can’t say I’m surprised. But I can say that I’m okay with the remaining teams. After elimination, Keyshawn shows a remarkable amount of poise, and while it’s a shame he and Sharna were never able to develop into a better team, that’s just how a competition like this works. If you don’t bring it hard or distinguish yourself right off the bat, you’re going to get left behind quickly.
And now that I’ve seen two episodes of Dancing With the Stars, including an elimination, I feel much more comfortable going forward. I have no doubt that as we get to spend more time with these teams, more drama will unfold, but I’m honestly more excited just to see what each of them is going to bring to the floor.