Mad World

I still don't understand why this is a thing??

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.

Weird Science

Amber Riley, Derek Hough

Dancing With the Stars – “Week 1”

When I made the final decision to cover Dancing With the Stars, I knew I would be facing a myriad of obstacles: while I’ve enjoyed a few reality series in the past (Survivor, Project Runway, and Top Chef have all brought me pleasure at some point or another), I haven’t actively watched a reality series in six years, and I’ve never seen a single episode of Dancing With the Stars, or any of its other dance-competition brethren. Add that to my miniscule knowledge about dance, and I knew I would be in for a challenge.

While DWTS holds no hands from the outset of the season, diving in headfirst with a dance number to introduce the teams, and continuing from there at a near-breakneck pace, I had almost no problem following just what exactly was going on. I still have some questions and issues with the logistics (I’m especially torn over giving the teams three different dances to choose from each episode), but the basics are all here.

Since this is the season premiere, it was light on drama, instead giving us the broad strokes of our teams and their chemistry, both on and off the dance floor. And since I’m still figuring out just how to write about this thing, for this week (at least), we’ll be dropping in on each team, looking at both their training and their performances.

Brant Daugherty & Peta Murgatroyd (Cha-cha-cha)

Full disclosure: before checking Wikipedia just now, I had no idea what Brant Daugherty was famous for, but I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that he’s a cast member on Pretty Little Liars. Brant and Peta open their training video with a (relatively) obscene amount of flirting, and their chemistry never really develops past two attractive people being attracted to each other. Their performance–to “Blurred Lines”, no less–is unexceptional, and the ending pose, with Peta on her knees suggestively in front of Brant, made the whole thing much more unpleasant than it should have been. However, Brant does show confidence on the dance floor, and the team might be able to expand creatively outside of such a sexually charged style.

Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani (Foxtrot)

While never a fan of King of Queens, I’ve always appreciated Leah Remini as a successor to Rosanne Barr, despite being trapped in an era of television where that type of woman could never truly be a lead on a network sitcom. Leah has no dancing experience, and is hard on herself over the issues she faces with her physicality on the floor and in the public’s perception. However, Tony is very supportive in their training, and is confident in her abilities. Their performance is simple and relaxed, but charged with a subtle energy, and Tony works well with Leah’s strengths in the choreography to supplement technical abilities. While nothing groundbreaking, I hope this team can be a solid thread throughout the season.

Corbin Blue & Karina Smirnoff (Contemporary)

I’ll admit it: I’ve seen the first two High School Musical movies in full, so I was well aware of Corbin’s skills going in. Corbin and Karina both wanted to work together, and they immediately fall into an energetic back-and-forth. Corbin says he’s open to Karina’s “crazy ideas,” while Karina is amused that Corbin doesn’t push back against them. Their training video shows lots of falling, but it’s clear why once they’re on the floor. Their performance was one of the evening’s most animated, filled with lots of different ideas. It was almost too busy at times, but Corbin and Karina seem well-matched in both talent and enthusiasm, which is sure to make them a frontrunner for the season.

Jack Osborne & Cheryl Burke (Foxtrot)

Jack Osborne has been on a long road back from the lows he fell into during and after The Osbornes, and it seems to be culminating here on DWTS. Despite his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2012, Jack is eager about being a part of the show. It’s clear that he’s inexperienced, but Cheryl is very direct with instructions, and their training video actually looks like a professional and amateur working together to achieve something better than where they started. Their performance is very upbeat, and the team makes a point of performing to the crowd, an unusual choice that pays off well. With some work, it’s not hard to imagine Jack and Cheryl being a surprise showstopper team later in the season.

Amber Riley & Derek Hough (Cha-cha-cha)

Like Leah Remini, Amber Riley is fully aware of the struggles facing her on DWTS. She also wants to make a point, that dancing’s not just for the skinny girls. As a child, she had to choose singing over dance, and is excited about the opportunity to finally explore the other avenue. She’s also worried she can’t take herself seriously enough to be successful. It’s a shocking amount of self-awareness for any reality show, and it’s a giant plus for Amber, especially in these early goings. But what makes it all work so beautifully is the performance. Derek’s choreography lets him do the heavy-lifting, but Amber’s subtle moves give the dance a depth of character. They smartly use Amber’s body to their advantage, Derek’s lithe frame bouncing around while Amber remains sultry, letting Derek orbit her in what becomes the episode’s most exhilarating performance. These two are easily one of my favorite teams already, and I’m excited to see what they can bring as the season goes.

Elizabeth Berkley Lauren & Valentin Chmerkovskiy (Contemporary)

Full disclosure: I was a huge fan of Saved by the Bell, especially Jesse Spano, so I am very excited to see what Elizabeth Berkley brings to this season of DWTS. She and Valentin are big fans of each other, which gives the team an easy chemistry. Elizabeth was a dancer as a child, but admits that she gave up dancing after Showgirls. Their performance seems overly busy for the song choice (John Lennon’s “Imagine”), but is technically stunning. The two both have a fluid style that matches their easy chemistry in training, and the choreography is smart and filled with interesting dichotomies. Hopefully, future song choices will better reflect the choreography (and I won’t pretend I’m not waiting on bated breath for an “I’m So Excited” routine), but the team are solid performers regardless.

Bill Nye & Tyne Stecklein (Cha-cha-cha)

Now this, this was my biggest draw to DWTS. I was a huge fan of Bill Nye the Science Guy as a kid, and have enjoyed growing into a fan of Bill Nye, the person, as an adult. Tyne is a new member of the professionals, and the chemistry between her and Bill is awkward at first. But Bill doesn’t waste time, as he already has partner dance experience, and encourages Tyne to push him. Their performance (to “Weird Science”!!!) is a fun, high energy number, with some of Bill’s trademark kookiness thrown in. They play well off the “beauty and the geek” trope that Bill references in their training video, and while Bill is still green, he does get a chance to show off some moves of his own. I’m already a fan of what these two are doing, and I can’t wait to see what they can do later in the season, if given the opportunity. (I’ll address my issues with the judges later, but for now, I’ll just say that all of the judge’s issues about this performance seemed to come from miscategorization, and if they had gone with contemporary instead, I imagine the scores and comments would be much kinder.)

Keyshawn Johnson & Sharna Burgess (Cha-cha-cha)

Despite having never seen DWTS before, I’m aware of the controversy about professional athletes on the show. But just looking at the training video for this team, I would never imagine a pro athlete like Keyshawn Johnson having an advantage. The tension between Keyshawn and Sharna is obvious from the beginning, when he says that ballroom dancing is too “feminine,” and continues throughout, with Keyshawn being very reluctant when Sharna wants to take charge. While training, Keyshawn is leaden, barely ever seeming to make an effort at the moves Sharna is trying to teach him. Their performance is soul-inspired, and while the colors and music were exciting, the routine itself was exceedingly bland, though Keyshawn does become more engaged than in the training video. I won’t be surprised if this team becomes a hit, but don’t count me among their fans.

Christina Milian & Mark Ballas (Contemporary)

I was a fan of the song when “AM to PM” was out, and was excited to see Christina Milian among the contestants on DWTS this season. While a long-time solo performer, Christina has never danced with a partner, and is worried about people’s expectations when she’s on the floor. Mark is supportive of Christina, and while she calls his choreography “unusual,” she stays open-minded, and the two have an understated chemistry that never betrays the pro-amateur dynamic, but is also never overbearing and uneasy. Their performance is the most experimental of the night, and is very emotionally charged. It’s clear this is Mark’s wheelhouse, as he takes the lead, but he still gives Christina a chance to show off her solo skills. With lesser choreography, this team might not stick out much, but if Mark puts together routines this interesting every week, I could see them sticking around for a while.

Bill Engvall & Emma Slater (Foxtrot)

Everything about this team feels decidedly middle-of-the-road, in a way very befitting Bill Engvall. Their training video doesn’t reveal much, except that Bill is worried what his friends will think and that this is Emma’s first year as a pro. Their performance is very safe, though Emma adds flair both in her moves and her costume. Bill can probably stay in the competition for a while on personality alone, but the unremarkable nature of this first performance isn’t promising.

Valerie Harper & Tristan MacManus (Foxtrot)

If there’s one strong narrative to this season of DWTS, my early money is on Valerie Harper’s journey. Using the show as a chance to attack her cancer, Valerie has history in dance, and is excited about performing again. Tristan is concerned at first, but comes to appreciate her as a partner quickly. The two have a fun chemistry, and Valerie’s energy is palpable at all times. Their performance has a classy, old-fashioned vibe, which means that there’s nothing flashy in the moves, but a smart costuming choice in Valerie’s dress and Tristan’s choice to use the length of the stage to the fullest elevate the simple moves to a higher level. I can’t imagine a scenario where this team is out soon, and I look forward to seeing more.

Nicole Polizzi & Sasha Farber (Cha-cha-cha)

Despite having never watched Jersey Shore, I was interested to see what the infamous Snooki would bring to DWTS. Aside from a distance from her nickname, Nicole also claims a newfound maturity that she found after becoming a mother. She and Sasha are happy to be working together because they’re both physically small people, though I must admit that to see Nicole working with a much taller partner could’ve made for some interesting television. It’s clear Nicole knows how to play for the cameras, but as she insists during the training video, this isn’t the wild child Snooki anymore. Their performance is high energy and very sensual, and while it seemed to be just a handful of moves, the way those moves were repeated and rearranged made for an interesting routine. Sasha even lets Nicole take the spotlight at one point, a wise choice that lets her insert some character into the performance.

So, we’ve met the teams, but what about the judges? I’ll be upfront: I don’t know who these judges are, and frankly, I found that most of their input added almost nothing to any performance. Very rarely was there any constructive criticism, and in some cases (such as Bill Nye & Tyne), I felt the missed the point entirely. It seems that Carrie Ann Inaba is the only judge really open to personality in the routines, with Len Goodman and Bruno Tinolli praising tradition and drama, respectively. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with them or their scores going forward, but for now, I don’t feel compelled to show them much attention.

And so I begin my great adventure into Dancing With the Stars. I really hope those of you reading will be patient with me while I find my footing and figure out just how to talk about this thing. For now, consider me solidly invested, and I look forward to the drama ramping up as the teams dwindle down.