Sunday, October 7, 2012

Strictly Week 1: Riley shakes it

OMG. I think that's a good way to start. As in, OMG Natalie is even more beautious than I had realised, and Kristina's boobs are even more massive than I had ever noticed. Seriously, yo. Kristina wasn't actually wearing anything on Friday night but a bra and the necessary support structure. How does she stay upright with those things? I'm put in mind of ODB's tales of hanging out with "the boys."

All of this new perspective comes courtesy of the HD television Jenn and I bought for the explicit purpose of being able to watch the Olympics and Strictly Come Dancing. I find myself spotting all kinds of amazing things, like the members of the Strictly Come Dancing band, and the spaces in the dance floor floorboards, and people in the audience and that light structure over there and... you know how dogs are when they've been kept inside for a while (Sky! Grass! Tree! People! Other dogs! My paws!)? I was like that watching Friday's first episode of Strictly. OMG, this is going to be an incredible year.

On Friday and Saturday night, Jenn and I set up our camp camp on the sofa, armed with a bottle of port and a large bowl of popcorn. I don't want to tell you how to live, my bitches, but, really, that's it. Booze. Starch. Bespangled low-level celebrities dancing for your amusement. And Bruce Forsythe struggling to read an Autocue. This is what makes Britain great; who cares about the lost empire when you've got this? I find myself more excited by the start of this season than any other.

With each new season of Strictly Come Dancing recaps I make a promise to myself to shorten the posts a bit –– I know I tend to be longwinded. And still I end up writing enough words in a season to fill a book. But I will try. So, without adequate segue, here's a look at how the first proper weekend of Strictly Come Dancing unfolded, starting with the lowest-scoring couple:

Victoria Pendleton and Brendan Cole –– Cha Cha –– 16
Oh, Crazy V, what happened? The music started, Crazy V's face went all Amy Poehler and things tumbled downward from there. The I Dream of Jeannie trousers weren't much of a help, either (Hey, nice 40-year-old pop-culture reference, Chris –– way to stay relevant to the kids). I wanted so much for her to do well. Take a look at my recap from the launch show and you'll see I was predicting her to make it to the final. But this. Oof.
Poor Crazy V knew it, too. From a few seconds into the routine, after she screws up for the third time, you can see from her face and body language that the gates to an internal hell have been opened wide and her ego is plummeting down into its depths; all she can hear is her own crazy-voiced self-criticism. This is the sort of thing I fear would happen to me on that show. Not that I'd get stuck dancing with Brendan Cole and 10 million people thinking, "Why don't they show off her abs?" but that I'd do poorly.
You can probably guess that I would love to be on Strictly Come Dancing. It is my daydream fantasy that I could somehow become famous enough to be invited to participate. I would be so happy and so excited, but deep down inside I'd be trembling with fear thinking: "What if I screw it up? What if, after all this time of wanting to be a part of the Strictly family, I just go out there and mess it all up?"
I feel so badly for Crazy V. What I hope is that she will come back next week with the confidence that sometimes comes from surviving a disaster, and performs amazingly.

Johnny Ball and Iveta Lukosiute –– Cha Cha –– 17:
Yeah, well. It was grandad on the dance floor. No one was really expecting a great deal from Johnny were they? He got to twirl around for a bit with a hot Eastern European girl, which is all any of us could ask in our autumn years. It's early in the show and there are still worse dancers (Jerry Hall) and he's a likeable fella, so good on him.
Craig called him out for singing along to the song, but if you watch the dance again you'll note that he's not really –– he appears to be singing some other song, for which the chorus is "BOM BOM BOM." Perhaps this song is the one he was dancing to, which explains why his footwork didn't correlate to what Iveta and the band were doing.

Nicky Byrne and Karen Hauer –– Waltz –– 17:
Nicky is the winner of the First Person To Be Screwed By Fickle Judging Award. No, it wasn't the sort of waltz that's going to start a riot, but then again, what waltz would? (Side note: Waltz Riot would be a good name for a band). True, the lift –– so unnecessary that I didn't originally see it –– cost them points, but that still isn't a good enough explanation for Nicky and Karen's low standing. Plus, doesn't Nicky get any credit for breaking new ground by dancing with his hands in his pockets? Surely this is going to be the new thing, what the kids will be doing as they listen to MK1.
Hopefully they'll stick around (they being Nicky and Karen, not MK1) for a while, so I can decide whether I want to perv on Karen Hauer. Is she pretty? Well, she's definitely not unpretty. But her bold indio features make me think of her as a character in, say, Into the West, who would be intergal to the story and far more likeable than any of the white characters, but who would die some poignant, valiant death for the sake of saving a mostly useless blonde woman. So, as I'm sitting there thinking, "Wow, she's hot," I'm also thinking, "Her people will turn on her for teaching this tiny Irish man to dance."

Jerry Hall and Anton du Beke –– Cha Cha –– 18:
Did Anton steal money from old ladies or punch some children or some other socially reprehensible crime? I have to think he did something bad, else he wouldn't keep finding himself saddled with such horrible partners. This is his second year of trying to make an off-the-rails former model look good and he's doing no better with Jerry Hall than he did with Nancy Dell'Olio (you had forgotten about her, hadn't you?). Like Nancy, Jerry seems to be taking a honey badger approach to the show: she doesn't give a sh*t.
Which kind of annoys me. It's OK if you're not great, but if you don't try I'd prefer you not be on my TV. Some of us, Jerry, would happily go on that show and make an ass of ourselves for free. Whereas you're being paid more than I will earn over several years. Please try.
Or don't. Jenn's best friend thinks the two of you look creepy dancing together.
And maybe Anton likes it this way. He seems to have lost the ability to choreograph a dance. Perhaps he's just sticking around, waiting for Brucie to drop out so he can take over the hosting reins. In the meantime, he stays in the loop by grinning stupidly at a waddling model of yore for a week or so.

Fern Britton and Artem Chigvinstev –– Cha Cha –– 19:
Until I saw Lisa Riley dance I had the sense that Fern would be in the show for a while based solely on the feel-good factor. There is always the celebrity who's doing it for the big/old girls, whatever that is supposed to mean, and it seemed Fern was going to carry that mantle. She may do so still, but in light of Lisa's skill she loses a bit of her thunder, and the weakness of her dancing becomes a little more obvious.
Artem wore the face of a WWI soldier being sent over the trenches –– just don't stop moving –– and the whole dance had a feel of sets of moves strung together, rather than two people responding to music.

Michael Vaughan and Natalie Lowe –– Waltz –– 20:
Never have I seen someone thinking so hard as they trundled through a dance. It was like a scene in All of Me when Steve Martin is battling Lily Tomlin for control of his body.
Man, I am rocking the out-of-date references today. Honestly, who is going to get that one?
For the people who are not me or my mother, All of Me is a film in which half of Steve Martin's body is possessed by Lily Tomlin. That's what Michael Vaughan looked like: each step was like a mathematical equation solved whilst navigating the space shuttle, reciting pi to the 78th decimal, and conjugating Welsh verbs. But I sense there are better moments ahead, and for Natalie's sake (and the sake of my being able to watch Natalie), I hope that's true.

Dani Harmer and Vincent Simone –– Waltz –– 21:
Am I allowed to comment on what a strange body shape she has? It's as if she's been given the wrong head, or the wrong shoulders, or something. All of her bits and pieces seem OK in and of themselves but combine to make a strange little cartoon person. But she strikes me as a nice strange little cartoon person, and one that works pretty well with Vincenzo. In size, Dani seems the most naturally appropriate partner Vincent has had in a long while.
I hereby predict that if she performs even decently in a latin dance Bruno will shout at her: "Dani! You little firecracker!"
I didn't quite get the reason for the little figurines that Tess gave them. Were those just things she picked up at the petrol station on the way in? Perhaps this is a sign of Tess' being a mother; she has hit that point where gift giving is about the act rather than the gift, dispensing trinkets with intangent links to the recipient, like when my mother gave me a singing chihuahua. No doubt next week she will be handing out thimbles in the shapes of U.S. states to Crazy V and Brendan.

Richard Arnold and Erin Boag –– Waltz –– 22:
"Wait to see (me next week)," Richard said after his waltz. "There is no safe place to rest your eyes, Tess, when I'm cha-cha-cha-ing."
For this line alone he became one of Jenn's favourites. She repeated the line over and over for about half an hour, giggling to herself the whole time. Admittedly, at that point she had consumed two rather large glasses of port, but I think some credit should be given to Richard. He's got a likeable personality, though the judges felt it didn't really come out in this dance. That's probably due to the presence of Erin who has negative personality. I do not mean "negative" in the sense of cynical or mean, but in the sense of less than zero.
She is a personality void. The girl has been in Strictly from the very beginning –– she, Anton and Brendan have been there for all 10 years and the Christmas specials –– but can anyone remember anything about her? Anything at all? Go on, without Googling, tell me something, anything, about Erin Boag –- some funny thing she's ever done or said. She's so personally untenanted that I usually forget to perv on her. She is like the persona absentia produced by a Star Trek holodeck programme: "Computer, give me a dance partner. Set difficulty level at 10," and there's Erin Boag.
As such, it's going to be hard for Richard to build any rapport, which is the sort of thing that carries a couple through the Strictly journey. I stand by my belief that he may be the first to go.

Colin Salmon and Kristina Rihanoff –– Cha Cha –– 23
I wasn't expecting that. Based on the seriousness of Colin's Twitter updates I had expected him to be a human manifestation of James Earl Jones' voice: stern, rigid and sensei-esque. On Twitter he says things like "Go well" and "Ever forward" and "One Life. Live it, love it and fly free my friends." But then he goes out there in a leopard-print shirt and minces around with Kristina. I just didn't see that coming.
I loved all his snarky, one-eyebrow-up facial expressions and occasional pointing at Kristina. It was like a camp version of the Old Spice ad: look at her, now back to me, now back to her, now back to me. The tickets are now sequins on the shirt of a man whom I hope will stick around for a while.

Denise van Outen and James Jordan –– Waltz –– 25
Again: suuuuure Denise can't dance. Her going out there and giving a performance others would deliver in Week 6 or Week 7 was all up to hard work and James' skill as a teacher. Right. I'm half-inclined to agree with Chris Addison that she was faking a lack of skill.
Not that I really care, I suppose. I'm going to put money on her to win, so it's all the better for me. And being good at something doesn't mean not having to try. Indeed, if she suffers from being too good too early it may hurt her further in the show when our expectations have progressed. Whereas we'll be happy to see Dani dancing in Week 6 as Denise did in Week 1, we'll be expecting Denise to be doing backflips. I mean, already my expectations for her rumba are that I will need a bag of ice in my lap whilst watching. Anything less than that level of eroticism and I will question paying my license fee.

Sid Owen and Ola Jordan –– Waltz –– 26:
Playing devil's advocate in Denise's favour however, the Jordans are taskmasters. Both Mr. and Mrs. Jordan consistently get the best out of their partners, Ola especially. She has a history of dragging unlikely contestants much further than anyone would have guessed, and that's showing again with Sid Owen, a man with the personality of a worn bicycle tire. Put him into a room alone with Erin Boag and the very fabric of time and space may begin to bend into a dullness vortex. But with Ola steering him around he seems tolerable and competent. How well he'll move once the music tempo picks up, however... well, that'll be a dance when it's probably safe to get up and go get some more popcorn.

Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace –– Cha Cha –– 27:
He wasn't as good as you were thinking he would be, was he? And admit it, you were thinking about the time Matt Baker did a backflip off the judges' desk and telling yourself: "Louis is going to kick Matt Baker's butt."
So, when he didn't, when all he managed was an ill-placed street-dance handstand, I found myself thinking: "Oh, well. I guess that was OK."
Perhaps I was just expecting too much. He's a gymnast who looks like Prince. I guess I was expecting him to dive off the balcony, back flip over Ola and impregnate all the women in the audience with his aura. Maybe he's working up to this. It is only Week 1. And obviously he had an effect on Darcey, yah, who was just about ready to teach him how to rumba naked, yah. And, also to his credit, I liked his facial expression. He didn't look too serious, as the judges suggested, he looked as if he was thinking: "Bitches, U B luvin dis." (a)

Kimberley Walsh and Pasha Kovalev –– Cha Cha –– 28:
Jenn was so taken with Kimberley's performance that she immediately signed up to Ladbrokes and put £5 on her to win. I feel this may have been a little premature. Although I have said I plan to wager on Denise I have not yet put my money where my mouth is; I prefer to wait a bit. But fortune favours the brave and it is not so outlandish to think Kimberley could win if she were to develop some kind of likeable personality. Being a member of Girls Aloud does not, in my mind, count toward that goal. In fact, as Jenn and I were going through the contestants in breakfast conversation Saturday (obviously I talk about Strictly Come Dancing at breakfast, spare a thought for poor Jenn) we were unable to remember Kimberley. We remembered Richard Arnold and Sid Owen but not Kimberley Walsh. If we are at all representative of the average Strictly viewer (OK, we're not –– or, at least, I'm not), that probably doesn't bode well for her. Obviously, the best answer for this is less clothing. She should start dressing like Aliona and Natalie, which is to say: hardly dressing at all. Less is more Kimberley, that's my advice.
Also, points to Pasha for rocking the haircut I had when I was 15.

Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor –– Cha Cha –– 30:
If you didn't love that performance you are incapable of experiencing joy. Really. You have problems and I feel deeply sorry for you. The rest of us, the ones who are not cold, unfeeling wretches, were loving that noise, yo. Because it wasn't just that the dance itself was fun and energetic and great to watch –– which it was –– but also that it hinted at something more, something better, something camper. That performance encapsulated so much of what I love about Strictly Come Dancing.
Robin started the season wearing a sparkly vest. That was his starting point, amigos; let your mind run free at the possibility of what could come after that. If Lisa's out there shaking her big ol' bazooms and Robin's shimmying in a sparkly vest and they're doing the Carry On-style camp grabbing thing on the first dance what happens in, say, the Halloween episode? Add to this the possibility that Lisa's talent will probably continue to progress on the usual Strictly scale: she and Robin have the potential to be one of the all-time great Strictly couples. Is it too early for me to predict her being in the final? Well, yes, probably it is. But certainly that's a possibility.

  • Darcey's got a slightly annoying speech habit, yah. One that most of us spotted pretty quickly, yah, and that Twitter made a lot of fun of, yah. I can't decide, though, whether it's going to annoy me, yah. It may grow on me, yah. Especially since she is otherwise a pretty good judge, yah. Her tips and suggestions are actually helpful, yah. Not overly vague, yah. Or a cheap attempt to arrive at a pun, yah.
  • Would Aliona have performed better with Johnny Ball? I feel she would have. She was out of the show because she injured her ankle. If Johnny stays in she'll be back in two weeks and I feel she would be better suited to making Johnny look good. Though, certainly Iveta gave it her best by trying to make it sound as if he is some sort of breeding stud horse rather than an erstwhile TV maths presenter.
  • When do we get the live performances from pop stars mixed with pro dance routines? Is it at all possible that they could get PSY to perform "Gangnam Style?" I think I would wee myself with glee were that to happen. It is more likely, however, we will be subjected to a performance by Leona Lewis.

I'm inclined to remove Crazy V from my list of predicted finalists. I can still see Louis, Denise and Kimberley in the Final Four, but the final slot now seems more likely to go to Lisa or, possibly (dark horse prediction), Dani. But don't hold me to that; I want so much for Crazy V to do well that I'm not willing to give up on her yet. Come on, Crazy V! Pull it together!

(a) That's not some weird, mildly racist imagining of how Louis thinks, by the way, it's how Prince writes. 

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