Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Strictly week 8: More painful than ever



Blackpool is often billed as Northern England's answer to Las Vegas. Apparently Northern England is playing a game in which the goal is to answer the question as incorrectly as possible.

Blackpool, for those of you playing along at home, is a cold, windy, wet and miserable city littered with shit bingo halls and pub entertainment targeted at old people and those who have suffered severe head trauma to the frontal lobe, thus rendering them incapable of high-level thought. It's like North Wales, but with bingo halls and pub entertainment. It is, in fact, Northern England's answer to the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.

Actually, I take that back. That is a really unfair thing to say and I wholeheartedly apologise to the Chickasaw Nation, who run the Winstar. I've only seen it from Interstate 35, but I am certain that their re-creation of Britain's capital is a far more pleasant experience than being in the real British city of Blackpool. Quite honestly, I would be absolutely amazed if Blackpool could manage to draw such entertainment luminaries as Larry the Cable Guy.

Viva Thackerville.

But packing up the Strictly juggernaut and shipping it to Oklahoma for the week probably would have been cost-prohibitive. Additionally, Blackpool's Tower Ballroom is said to be something of the spiritual home of competitive ballroom dance in the UK. It's their Cooperstown. For our friends in the Soggy Nations, Cooperstown (in New York state) is the spiritual home of baseball.

The upside of the show being away from boring old London for the week was that the Tower Ballroom holds roughly 1,300 people. Or 3,000 people, depending on your information source. Ricky Groves claimed it to be 1,300 in the video piece he did for "It Takes Two." His also claimed, however, that the studio in London holds 600 people. This figure blatantly goes against both the reality of what a person can see when watching the programme and the fact that the bloke who built the studio set said it seats 150 people.

It would appear that Strictly follow the Karl Rove mantra: "we create our own reality." But in the reality that I know, it's at least certain -- or, rather, my senses of sight and sound as applied to that which I was able to perceive through a television led me to believe strongly -- that this week's audience was larger. The building and dance floor, too, appeared larger. And these combined elements made for an added sense of excitement. So great was the excitement, it caused Alesha and Bruno to flash 10s like college girls showing their tits at Mardi Gras.

And in the embarrassing hangover of the next day, Britain found itself once again stuck with the ugliest girl at the party. Widdy was voted through. Her curse continues. Falling victim to it this week were Felicity and Vincent.

Felicity & Vincent ~ American Smooth ~ 30
There was a lot of walking and grinning and, in fact, a lovely little lift, but Felicity and Vincent did not actually dance one step through the first 55 seconds of their 1:40 routine. I realise the judges don't have the ability to go back and count exactly how many seconds someone was not doing something, and the American Smooth by its nature allows for a certain amount of not doing anything other than standing around trying to look glamorous, darling, but sweet baby Jesus on a kangaroo there was a lot of not doing something.
I'm not sure whether my neighbours read my Strictly updates, but if they do, it was during this routine that you probably heard me screaming: "Why are you not dancing?! What is wrong with you?! Dance! You're supposed to be dancing!"
Admittedly I scream that same thing on nights when Strictly isn't on but in that case you probably don't want to know why.
But I digress.
Whereas technically Felicity should have stayed in Strictly one week more because Widdy should have left before her, it was getting about time for the actress to pull the curtain on her Strictly experience. She graciously acknowledged as much Monday night on "It Takes Two," and then scored major points with me by saying: "I think it's about time for the people who can't dance to step aside."
When asked who she'd like to see winning the competition she said: "The couple who are the best dancers."
You hear that, Widdy?

Ann & Anton ~ Wasting Everyone's Time ~ 13
What the fuck was that? They had a six days to rehearse that. Six days. SIX DAYS. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and much of Saturday. What in the great and wondrous fuck were they doing in all that time? Clearly they weren't rehearsing. The average person could have plotted out that mess in 30 minutes.
And what was it even supposed to be? There's no way you could call it a samba. You couldn't even call it dancing; it was just moving around while music played. Actually, it was Widdy standing still while music played and a man in gold trousers destroyed every ounce of his dignity before an audience of roughly 10 million people. Then it became her being dragged around while music played.
I find myself now feeling so depressed for Anton, for what he has allowed himself to be. Anton first started dancing competitively way back when he was 14 years old. That means he has dedicated 30 years of his life to his craft. In that time he managed to win a number of major competitions and titles. Now he's doing this. Widdy is not even trying. For the samba she patently refused to do certain steps because she felt they were too suggestive (what the fuck are you doing in a dance competition if you don't want to dance?). So, Anton is left to do nothing but move about, feeling every tiny bit of his soul die as he grins madly to the braying cheers of fools who ridiculously see Widdy as a national treasure. Perhaps Nick Griffin, too, should slap on a big yellow dress and waddle around to disco hits in order to improve his public image.
In case you missed it (and bully for you if so), Widdy wore a dress that looked to have been made from the hide of Big Bird. After standing unsteadily for roughly 80 seconds, she fell to the floor and was then picked up, swung around and dropped in a move that I can only describe as: "unfortunately not causing serious injury."
Rightly so, Craig gave her a 1. Len has stated before that he gives people an automatic 4 for simply turning up, but his score of 5 was still far too generous.

Gavin & Katya ~ American Smooth ~ 27
Wales v. Fiji is a metaphor for Gavin Henson right now. Wales struggled to maintain form throughout a performance that really should not have been the challenge it turned out to be. I am a fierce supporter of Gavin, and I recognise that all his excuses are legitimate (I wholly accept that the fear of dropping Katya on her head can be unsettling), but I am growing weary of his almost-but-not-quite-ever getting it. He should be better, he can be better, but he's not. I'm pretty sure it's almost time for him to go. Almost. Because Widdy should go first.
When he does leave, I shall miss his quotes most: "Mondays and Tuesdays put me in a dark place."

Patsy & Robin ~ Samba ~ 28
Whoa, hey, what happened there? I was not expecting Mad Patsy and Big Gay Robin to wind up in the bottom two. Admittedly things got a bit hectic in the middle. It was sort of the dance version of this video. Not really. That video just makes me laugh. In truth, Mad Patsy was perfectly acceptable through much of the routine; it was just a boring routine.
One of the problems, I feel: I'm not sure Big Gay Robin is all that great a dancer. He doesn't seem to have the same snap of movement that other male dancers have. Also, he has the face of a builder from the Midlands.
What I'm getting at is that I feel Mad Patsy and Big Gay Robin will have to go pretty soon. But I was still surprised to see them sitting in the bottom two on Sunday; I thought she had a fair amount of public support.
Perhaps, like me, people got distracted by Mad Patsy and Big Gay Robin's music, "Copacabana." Rather than pay attention to the dance they were thinking of the Muppet version of that song. Ah, the good ol' days when children's television involved scenes of murder and alcoholic stupor.

Scott & Natalie ~ Samba ~ 32
Someone feed Scott. The boy is wasting away. He looked a bit apprehensive this week in his dance but perhaps that was just one of the signs of advanced level starvation. He's starting to get a wild-eyed look to him. Soon he will come running to the judges' desk after each dance, like a Dickensian street urchin, and rifle through their belongings for candy bars.
Or perhaps he was nervous because Natalie is beating him. If you watch the dance, you see that she slaps him in the chest two or three times during the routine. But, then, that old line from Jake Blues comes to mind: "If women kill me, I don't mind dying." Because, oh, Natalie in her dress made of tea towel and tinsel is the sort of thing I would happily be run ragged and slapped around for.
Something about Scott and Natalie in the last few weeks has made me unsure of their ability to carry through to the final. I think it's even possible they could make a shock exit if they aren't careful. The only benefit of that would be a massive backlash against Widdy. People need to realise that Widdy is to blame for everything. The collapse of the Irish government, North Korea coming close to starting a big clusterfuck war that absolutely no one wants, Wagner staying on "X-Factor" -- all these things happened while Widdy has been on Strictly. You're trying to tell me it's coincidence?

Kara & Artem ~ American Smooth ~ 35
First off, I'd just like to express how heartbroken I am that Kara and Artem are now an item. This almost certainly means I will be spending Christmas alone. I blame Widdy. But even still I can't help liking Artem just a bit. I love his Russian pessimism. He and Kara will pick up a load of 10s and he just sort of mumbles about having to focus on next week. I wonder if perhaps I am Russian; I do the same thing about writing projects. People will tell me that something I've done is good and I'll think: "Yeah, well, that's something I've done. Past tense. What I'm doing now is probably shit and everyone will be disappointed because it doesn't match up."
But, if Kara's into that sort of self-hating man, then perhaps there is still hope for me.
Their dance Saturday was incomparably good, to the extent that I found myself watching both dancers rather than just the celebrity. They work so well together that there is little sense of the amateur and the professional. One wonders how Kara and Artem would match up against Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough. Kara and Artem's dance was so good that I have watched it again several times, picking out new, small things I like: Kara's hands, the kick she does that just barely misses Artem's head, the way she is still acting out the routine and "dancing" even when sliding across the floor. The chasm between Kara and Widdy is Grand Canyonesque, so the fact that Len gave the former only one point more than the latter was bullshit.

Pamela & James ~ American Smooth ~ 37
Quite possibly the highlight of the entire Blackpool night was the fact that James Jordan picked up his first 10s in the five-year history of his being on Strictly. Admittedly those 10s came from Alesha and Bruno, who were throwing 10s like Brett Favre throws interceptions (For our friends in the Soggy Nations, Brett Favre is the 197-year-old NFL quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings who has a bad habit of throwing the ball to the wrong team). But a 10 is a 10 and you have to be happy for the Double J.
In my mind I had written off Pamela some time ago, so I really wasn't paying attention to her and James when they took the floor Saturday; their scoring two 10s meant I had to go back and watch it again. And it was, in fact, pretty good. James has some magic, evil power to bring out the cougar in women and that was in full display Saturday. At the start of the routine she was even prowling toward him with pawing motions. Pamela does quick spins and acts the dance with reckless abandon (early in the dance when she pulls Double J close you half expect her to bite his lip). But I can't quite get myself to agree that it deserved two 10s. However, I will accept it if the knock-on effect is that we all now decide we love Pamela for "having a go" and representing older women and whatever else it is that Daily Mail columnists would probably say in support of Widdy.

Matt & Aliona ~ Samba ~ 38
How good is it to be Matt Baker these days? He's on three of the BBC's best-rated shows right now -- Strictly, Countryfile, and One Show -- and he gets to spend several hours a day wriggling about with a girl who clearly has an aversion to being fully dressed. One wonders if/when he sleeps. I suspect he doesn't. Aliona's dress Saturday brought to mind a number of activities but sleeping was not one of them. Whereas Natalie's dress had been made of tea towel and Christmas tinsel, Aliona did not even have the tea towel. Her "dress" would not have covered the paddles upon which were displayed the 10s she and Matt got for their dance.
God bless you, Aliona Vilani.
Yes, I have completely changed my opinion of her since the beginning of the show. Yes, that probably is due to the fact that she's gorgeous. Yes, that does make me shallow. Let's just acknowledge that fact and move on.
Obviously you should watch their dance again. Admittedly, this routine to "Young Hearts Run Free" could never live up to the one performed by Mercutio when Romeo is tripping on acid in Romeo + Juliet (still the best Shakespeare adaptation ever), but it was pretty stunning. The thing I like is that in eye contact and facial expression and often body language, Matt and Aliona seem genuinely comfortable in the routine. They have managed that aspect of making it look like it's something they know how to do and that little flicks of wrist or looks are simply things they are throwing in at the moment to amuse themselves.
It reminds me slightly of when I was a stage actor and how we would keep ourselves focused through the dozens and dozens of performances by adding little tiny things. We knew our lines and where to go and so on, but to keep it fresh and fun for ourselves each night there were tiny, tiny differences that we improvised. Somehow Matt and Aliona manage to portray that level of confidence and knowledge of routine within just a week. Again, the space between them and Widdy is so incredibly vast that they should be on a different programme. Or, rather, they should be on Strictly and Widdy should be sitting at home, alone, wishing she weren't so awful a person and wondering what it must be like to feel another's touch.

Elsewhere in the show:
- Tess seems to have hit a particularly rough patch with her choice of dresses of late. This week she looked like a disco car mechanic.
- Len was on fire with one-liners: "I'm as confused as a baby in a topless bar." "Because you can do something doesn't mean you've got to put it into the routine -- a boy at my school could fart 'God Save the Queen.'" "Ann, it's like haemorrhoids; you keep coming back more painful than ever."
- On a side note I find it interesting how various recaps I've read have consistently failed to accurately quote Len. They get the basic feel of what Len said but what they put inside of quotation marks are not the actual words he used. I have long found this to be an annoying aspect of British journalism. In the few times I've been interviewed for stories, I've noticed that what I said is not what ends up being written down. British reporters: what you put into quotation marks is supposed to be what the person actually said, not what you heard. If you don't remember what the person said and you didn't record it, summarise their words. Don't make shit up and then slap some quotation marks around it.
- I suppose, though, the total lack of disregard for accuracy in quotes is part and parcel of British tabloid journalism. Many papers in the UK simply make up the whole story. For example, the Mail Online reported that Kara and Artem had a "lover's tiff" outside her apartment recently. But Kara pointed out later that, in fact, Artem was not even there that day.
- That dance in the results show? Yeah. I most certainly approve of that sort of thing.
- I was less fond of Duffy's caterwauling. I realise that I am violating a major rule of Welsh citizenship by saying that, but, crikey, she gets on my nerves. Her voice makes my ears hurt and her most recent single is the sort of thing I would play to prisoners at Guantanamo to get them to talk.
- The United States version of Strictly, "Dancing with the Stars," had its own problems with the continued success of someone who can't dance (although, compared to Widdy she's did incredibly well). But in the case of Sarah Palin's daughter you can at least see she was trying. She wasn't not amazing but at least she was trying. At least she was willing to put out -- though, I guess we already knew that.
- Speaking of "Dancing with the Stars," how good is this routine?
- In light of the above, has anyone ever considered an international Strictly Christmas special? You get the top-scoring couples from a handful of the 75 countries that have versions of Strictly, put them in front of a large British or American audience that will cheer at anything and, shazaam, in the cost of making one programme you've got something you can air in several countries. Damn, I'm a genius.

Who's going to win:
This week I am supporting Matt & Aliona in a final with Kara & Artem and Pamela & James.

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