Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A heinous dilemma

On Sunday I was on Radio Wales' current affairs programme "Something Else," which basically involved a group of people half-heartedly poring through the Sunday papers amid gulps of free BBC tea and then attempting to come up with things to say. To some extent it's the radio equivalent of being trapped in some dude's kitchen while he delivers an un-requested monologue on his political opinions. But it's different, you see, because there was tea involved. And Welsh cakes. And, apart from myself, everyone had British accents. It's a well-established fact that saying something with a British accent makes you sound more intelligent. That's why GW Bush used to have press conferences in which Tony Blair would simply repeat what Bushy had just said.

Anyway, even before setting foot in the BBC studios I had known that I wanted to talk about "Strictly Come Dancing." This was my chance, I thought. I was certain that a light-hearted Sunday afternoon current affairs programme would include some discussion of Strictly. How could it not? Especially considering that we were on the BBC. It's simple cross-promotion. I expected such conversation to be strongly encouraged if not required: "OK, remember that each of you must mention Strictly at least once, or else you'll be expected to pay for all that tea."

In digging through the papers I seized upon an interview with MC Harvey, the rapper no one has ever heard of who is slightly famous for being Alesha Dixon's ex-husband. Remember when Alesha was competing on Strictly and the reason the show meant so very much to her was because her life had otherwise gone into a tailspin after her husband cheated on her? Yeah, that guy. The adversity which Alesha overcame to win the hearts of a nation. The Sunday Mirror decided to scrape the bottom of the barrel and interview him about Alesha. The interview contained this brilliant quote, which I think pretty much encapsulates why their marriage was doomed from the start: "She's high maintenance -- you can't take her to Nando's."

But to my overwhelming dismay, the show's producer wasn't interested.

"We talked about 'Strictly' a few weeks ago," she said.

"Yeah, but you didn't talk about it with me!" I thought, but did not say.

Clearly Radio Wales (or Radio Cymru, I'm bilingual) need to have a programme solely dedicated to talking about Strictly. I realise that BBC 2 already has such a thing, and it's called "It Takes Two" but. again, they're not talking about it with me. On my programme we would talk about both Strictly and "It Takes Two"; that's how it would be different. And clearly such a thing is needed because things happen on "It Takes Two" that are just too awesome to just come and go in a tiny 30-minute window.

Case in point: Craig Revel Horwood's glittery poppy on Friday. How amazing was that, darling? Craig is my second-favourite gay man in the world, after John Barrowman.

Dude. Can you imagine a show that featured Craig Revel Horwood and John Barrowman as judges? I would go into some sort of gay-induced coma. I'd be so delighted with the thing that it would almost make up for the fact that the Cougar is gone; Zöe Lucker and James were the shock couple to get the boot from this week's show. Their samba scored a 32, placing them above five other couples. They should have been in the clear. Hell, that hip-grinding action she did should on its own have been enough to move her forward to next week. I echo what Bruno shouted: "Shake it in my face any time you want!" I could watch her do that all day. But, no. As happens every year at about this point in the series, the voting fucked things up and two legitimately good couples -- Zöe and James, and Ali and Brian -- got stuck in the dance off.
I had worried in previous posts that this sort of thing would be Jade and Ian's fate. And indeed, the only plus side to losing the Cougar is that I am no longer split in my affection toward the Lioness.
*Lurid offer to "console" Zöe in my bedroom goes here.*

Ricky Groves and Erin - Rumba - 24
That dance was about as sexy as a crisp. I've never seen myself attempting to be sexy when blindingly drunk, so I can't say for sure, but that's what this reminded me of. If I were absolutely elephants on Baltika and trying to put the moves on Erin Boag, this is probably what it would look like.

Craig "Goin' to Blackpool" Kelly and Flavia - Waltz - 24
I was distracted by Flavia's shawl, which she appears to have stolen from the wardrobe of Maria Portokalos. Equally distracting was hearing Elton John in 3/4 time, which made it sound quite a lot like classic country. There was a dance in here somewhere, as well, and our Craig managed to perform well enough that it isn't a howling disgrace that he's going to Blackpool. And that's lovely, he'll get to dance in his home town. Beyond that, though, I think it's time for our Craig to pack it in.

Chris Hollins and Ola - Cha cha cha - 29
I figured out this week what it is I dislike about Chris' dancing. It's that he looks like he's performing a workout routine rather than a dance. It reminds me of when I lived in San Diego and did Tae Bo in the living room each morning. And then there was that one time I was really into it and I kicked the futon really hard and couldn't walk properly for a fortnight. I am hoping that Chris leaves the show soon because he bores me when he dances and he annoys me when he speaks. I especially hate the strange slave-dominatrix relationship that he has with Ola, lowering himself when speaking to her and referring to her as "Mrs. Jordan." That's just creepy.

Phil Tufnell and Katya - Tango - 30
Someone I do like, however, is Tuffers. I find that I like him and Katya a little more each week. And what I like most about them is the sort of father-daughter dynamic they have. Generally on Strictly the couples, under the direction of the professional dancer, I'm sure, will seek to portray themselves as, you know, a couple. There is an attempt in the dances to have us see the two partners as romantically linked, or something to that effect. Sometimes that works, as with Jade and Ian or Zöe and James, and sometimes it fails miserably, as with Lynda Bellingham and Darren Bennett. But in the case of Tuffers and Katya, whether by design or default, they seem to dance like father and daughter, which really works with Phil and Katya's personalities. You get this sense that he's out there doing his best for his little girl, and sometimes in the way Katya looks at him you can almost picture her rolling her eyes and groaning like a teenager: "DaaaAAaaaad!" It's endearing.
So I didn't care that Tuffers was somewhat too into the music for his tango, bouncing his shoulders in time with the beat. The whole thing was lovely and sweet and wholesome. Which is probably not how a tango should be described, but there you are.
All that said, though... Oof, that Katya's got some legs on her, doesn't she? Those high kicks she does right at the start of the dance? Yes, please.

Natalie Cassidy and Vincent - Jive - 30
Another couple who I think have adapted well to the fact that they're not convincing as, you know, a couple, is Natalie and Vincent. And you have to give credit to Vincent because in previous years he's always created for himself the character of stylish lothario. But these days he has moved toward being reflective of Natalie's obsessive-fan-like enthusiasm for the show; I think he has changed his whole style to suit her dancing. With Flavia, his professional partner, he is incredibly quick and precise in his movements. But perhaps to cover for Natalie's lack of precision he is looser when dancing with her, less perfect. It works, I think, and shows Vincent as an evil genius. He knows Natalie is beloved by the British public so if he can ensure she doesn't look bad dancing next to him, he has a better chance of securing public vote, which, as Zöe and James can attest, is kind of important.
Natalie and Vincent danced to "Good Golly Miss Molly," made famous by Little Richard. On Friday's "It Takes Two" Len revealed that he is a life-long fan of Little Richard and told a story of buying the "Good Golly Miss Molly" record for his mother's birthday in 1958, knowing full well that she would hate it. That episode is available on iPlayer for those of us under Her Majesty's purview (and it might also be available in Ireland; I don't know), and is worth watching just for the bit featuring Len and Craig.

Laila Rouass and Anton - Viennese Waltz - 33
This dance was undermarked, I think, because the judges were too focused on complaining that Laila performs better in her Ballroom dances than in her Latin dances. Yeah, fine, fair criticism, but score the dance, not her overall performance. Bitches. Perhaps another reason it was scored low is that it was performed so well it looked like they weren't really doing anything: just sort of twirling and floating about perfectly, as if animatronic dolls. You forget that they are using their feet.

Ali Bastian and Brian - Paso Doble - 33
Oh, legs. I love those legs. I wish Ali were dancing with someone other than Monkey Face, because your man just creeps me out. I'll be looking at Ali, thinking something like: "Mmm, if I had her here I'd get a jar of Nutella, 20 feet of rope, 3 litres of baby oil, a volume of Anne Sexton poetry, 56 bakewell tarts, rubber gloves, and the fan belt from a '93 Volkswagen Jetta, and then she and I would..." But then I catch a glimpse of Monkey Face and it puts me off whatever fantasy was fomenting.

Jade Johnson and Ian - Foxtrot - 35
The fact that I do this somehow makes the whole Strictly obsession all the more disturbing, but I make little notes while watching the programme. I sit there in my armchair, beer to my right and notepad in my lap, jotting down whatever comes to my head. It's nothing too detailed, usually something along the lines of, "Bee Gees. Large female back-up singer has cowbell," but the fact that I do it is just wrong. It displays too much dedication. Nonetheless, if you were to look at my notes from last Saturday one phrase would stand out from several feet away. In enormous capital letters I wrote: "JADE AND IAN WERE GREAT!"
And they were. The Lioness is hitting her stride, and I absolutely love her. I worry the voting will let her down at some point, which would be heartbreaking because you get the feeling she's benefiting in an emotional, psychological sense from being on the programme. More so than the other participants. She's used to the ego-fuelled over-intense world of elite athletics, the kiss-hug glitter-camp world of celebrity dancing opens up new parts of her personality. It's good for our Jade. And good for me, too, because I get to see her flailing her legs about.

Ricky Whittle and Natalie - Quickstep - 39
I loved Craig Revel Horwood's response to this dance: "Pigeon-toed and bandy-legged. But that never stopped Brendan Cole from dancing, darling."
The audience's response, meanwhile, was a massive, wild roar of applause befitting the dance that would earn the highest score so far in the series. And despite my feeling that Ricky has got all the personality of a double-glazed window, I'll admit to clapping at the end of it.
All of which sets us up beautifully for the inevitable fall. I am convinced that some terrible misfortune will befall Ricky and he won't make the finals. Because that's the sort of thing that always happens on Strictly. That's why we watch.

Craig referred to this week's dance off as a "heinous dilemma", Alesha looked like she was near emotional breakdown, and Len called it "ludicrous." And I'm sure that somebody, somewhere in the control room was calling it "brilliant television." The crowd for this week's show was amazing in their enthusiasm and noise and rowdiness. Having the Bee Gees perform sky-rocketed the level of delightfully surreal (a) to unmatched levels. The show dance cha cha cha (which I'm guessing was choreographed by Aliona (b) and featured bits that would indicate she was a stripper at some point) was incredible, if not simply for the fact that it contained a wrestling spot (when Aliona hit Matthew with an incomplete hurricanrana). And the shock result was icing on the cake. It was, almost certainly, the best show so far of the year.

I found myself clapping along, cheering, and bouncing up and down in my chair as I watched. I literally jumped up and pumped my fists when Ricky and Natalie scored three 10s. It was a full-on vindication of why I am so stupid for the show.

I worry about myself.

I genuinely do. As the show was coming to an end, Zöe and James receiving the condolences of their fellow dancers and the band playing the archetypal Last Dance Of The Prom kind-of song they always perform at the end of the show, I felt an awful emotional comedown. I became immensely depressed because the show was over. What the hell?

"Fuck, I'm lame," I texted to a friend.

You will almost certainly have picked up that a large part of this whole Strictly obsession is displacement -- pushing out one set of thoughts (my life) and replacing them with others more cheerful (Jade Johnson in a high-cut skirt). But in those tiny flashes of sanity that I get every fortnight or so I fear I am too wrapped up in it. Already I find myself getting nervous over life after Strictly. A winner will be chosen by Christmas, and then what? I get legitimately upset thinking about life without Claudia and Bruce and Tess and Craig and Alesha and Len and Bruno and all that glitter and cleavage and flailing about. What will I do when it's gone? How will I cope? Please send help.

Although, don't send it just yet. Next week the show goes on the road to the mean streets of Blackpool, which is, previously unbeknownst to me, "the home of ballroom." According to Len, the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where the show will be held, has seating for some 1,000 people. If that's true, Saturday's show will likely be loud and raucous. I can hardly wait.

(a) My favourite commentary on that whole scene came from Times columnist Giles Smith who wrote: "We thought the high-tide mark for musical interlude-based weirdness had been reached earlier in the series, when Andy Williams turned up in tennis shoes and looking as though he had been specially re-created for the night in bonded polymers by Gerry Anderson. We thought again as Barry Gibb stood alongside his brother, Robin, and reached back down the years for the old, vibrato-strafed falsetto, sounding, in the process, like a crow being fed, feet-first, through a mangle."

(b) Yes, I am so sad that I have learned you can often guess a dance's choreographer based on certain key moves and where the choreographer usually places him- or herself in the line-up.


Anonymous said...

Sounding good mate...........
Toodle pip

Huw said...

I watched it this week. My first time doing a whole episode. I feel around 40% of the blame lies with you.

phyllisjanes said...

Can this still be viewed anywhere?

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