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Friday, October 26, 2012

'Strictly Come Dancing' week 3: Neat and tidy downstairs

The Strictly train is well under way, mis amigos, which means that it is time to start introducing a theme for each week. More often than not the theme is tenuously adhered to by the dancers and even less so by the resources-strapped costuming department. It becomes reminiscent of my childhood Halloweens, when my mother would slap together an outfit for me on the day based on whatever happened to be at hand: "Well, we've got some pantyhose, an empty tube of Quaker Oats, a football helmet, and some eyeliner that isn't my shade... what can we make out of that?"

This week's theme was Hollywood, which is a place perhaps only one of the Strictly celebrities has ever been. And as such, it gave the show a feel of kids playing dress-up.

But does that mean I liked it any less? No. Jenn and I didn't get a chance to watch the show live because we were respectively managing and watching gigs at Sŵn Festival (On a side note, The Weeks are my new favourite band. I saw them upstairs in the small O'Neill's –– Cardiff, for some strange reason, possessing two O'Neill's pubs, each a street apart, so they are known simply as "the big O'Neill's" and the "small O'Neill's –– and they were awesome). But as soon as we got home, we popped popcorn and fired up the laptop to stay up until 2:30 a.m. watching Saturday's show. We stayed up equally late watching Sunday's results show. As I write this, I am reminded of something The Weeks' guitarist said to me when I was talking to him after his set. The band had just travelled 36 hours from Mississippi and were in a state of ridiculous exhaustion.

"See my face, man?" he said, deadpan and hollow-eyed. "I look stoned. But I'm just sleepy."

I do it all for the love of Strictly, bitches. So, here's a look at how things went this weekend, starting with the couple who will be watching next week's show from home.

Jerry Hall and Anton du Beke –– Quickstep –– 18
Honey badger showed some definite improvement last week. We'll never know what that might have led to, though. In seasons gone by, when the overall standard was often lower, she would have been right in there with a chance. This season, well, not so much. I get the sense that Anton had already accepted he would not go far in the programme and was just sort of plotting out routines from a dance version of one of those 1990s meal plan schemes where you draw 3x5 cards of different colour to create a well-balanced meal. Is that too obscure a reference? I feel it is.
Anyhoo, I felt Anton's wasn't putting a great deal of thought into his choreography. Additionally I feel the routines were hampered by the fact that he appears to have as much an ear for popular music as my father, who will always choose a rousing Sousa march over any of your new-fangled boomity-boom.

Sid Owen and Ola Jordan –– Tango –– 17
Sometimes, you get all dressed up to look like a burned-out and possibly gay roadie for Turbowolf and still it all goes horribly wrong. It went wrong from almost the very beginning, when Sid was faux playing the guitar the wrong way: he was doing the Pete Townshend windmill strum counterclockwise (i.e., up the strings, rather than down). How does a person get that wrong? Hand a guitar to just about any person on the planet and tell them to act like a rock star, the overwhelming majority will strum downward. It's not a matter of whether Sid has ever played a guitar but of whether he has ever seen anyone play one. He behaved as if he had been given a a book of sudoku puzzles and told: "There ya go, Sid. Make it look rock and roll."

Michael Vaughan and Natalie Lowe –– Cha cha cha –– 19
"Oh, Lord," I grumbled upon realising that the dance's theme was The Full Monty. "If Michael takes his shirt off I'm going to write a letter of complaint."
Thankfully, he didn't take off his shirt. Or, he did, but revealed another shirt beneath.
"Maybe he's wearing several more layers," Jenn said.
In addition to not taking off his shirt, Michael also did not dance. He spent a third of his 1:30 dance either standing still or sitting at a table (yes, I did time it; I'm a sad person). The only highlight of the routine came when Michael was sitting down, pretending to look at a menu, and Natalie was twirling about, ripping off her top.
"Ooh, is Natalie going to strip?!" Jenn shouted. "Take it off, Natalie! Woo!"
In the minute that Michael was doing things, he was not doing much. He looks like a younger, healthier Dave Barry and dances like the older, fatter one.

Victoria Pendleton and Brendan Cole –– Rumba –– 22
That dance was about as sexy as a set of house keys. In fairness, there were some wardrobe issues with Victoria's dress. Every year we learn that chiffon scarves are a dangerous thing and every year the costuming department continues to take the risk. Additionally, Brendan looked like a child in his outfit, or, perhaps, an immigrant waiter on The Love Boat. Either way, it wasn't a look that shouted: "sexy." Or even murmured it.
Speaking of murmuring, Crazy V looked to have been drugged. Perhaps this was her attempt at a sexy face, or perhaps she had consumed several packets of Xanax to help her overcome nerves. The end result is that it made me think of that high school prom in which your date has broken into daddy's liquor cabinet beforehand and put herself into such a state that she keeps referring to you as "Franklin."
What? That didn't happen to you?
Yeah, uhm, me neither.
Anyway, the dance could have been better and I wonder how long Crazy V can ride the "we really want you to succeed" wave before she has to produce a legitimately good dance. And, frustratingly, all this distracted from the fact Crazy V looked really good in her tight blue dress.

Fern Britton and Artem Chigvinstev –– Charleston –– 23
When I was a boy, Mary Poppins would air seemingly bi-weekly on the old UHF stations (man, I'm really dating myself there), rotating with The Music Man. Inexplicably, rather than watching and swearing at football or NASCAR, like every other father in Texas, my dad would watch these films. To this day, he retains the ability to pick up from just about any point and recite all the lines to Mary Poppins. I am certain this facet of my father's personality is what led to my developing a love of Britain, as well as my obsession with Strictly Come Dancing. So, what I'm saying here is that Mary Poppins is kind of a sacred thing for me and there really was no way in hell that Fern and Artem were going to meet my expectations. Nor did the Strictly band. It started confusingly, with Fern just sort of lying on the floor, and trundled on in such a way that it turned one minute and 30 seconds into an experience on par with the five-hour train journey from Cardiff to Holyhead. I just wanted it to stop. Then I wanted it to stop some more.

Richard Arnold and Erin Boag –– Quickstep –– 25
I have so far referenced 3x5-card meal packs, The Love Boat, and UHF. I will age myself even more by suggesting that Richard looked to me like a young George Burns. I kept wanting to point this out to Jenn but resisted the urge because I was pretty sure she wasn't going to catch references to 1940s American radio personalities. So, I was distracted somewhat during this dance. I was distracted further by the tightness of Erin's trousers. I could watch her move around in those all day.
Of that which I was able to pay attention to, however, I thought it was pretty good. But sitting here after the fact, I realise that it was not so good that I can remember it. I can remember thinking Richard looked like a man born in 1896 and Erin's bum being quite pleasing to the eye, but I can't remember the song they danced to, nor any given sequence.
(Having now watched the performance again I see that the song was "9 to 5" and I remember Jenn's squealing with delight. Work a little Dolly into something and Jenn is guaranteed to be pleased)

Colin Salmon and Kristina Rihanoff –– Argentine tango –– 26
"Boobs!" shouted Jenn as Colin and Kristina took to the floor. "Wait, is Kristina naked? Woo!"
She was close to it. The costuming department apparently had no money for Kristina's outfit this week and the poor girl was forced to make due with just a few satin table napkins and a BeDazzler.
About as predictably as a Tuesday, the dance was James Bond themed. Apparently there is some kind of rule that Colin's having been in a few James Bond films must be mentioned as many times as possible. Depending on which Bond you like, the British icon is supposed to be either suave or kick-ass, but Colin was neither here. He more or less stood still whilst Kristina climbed all over him.
Not that I blame him, I suppose. I mean, if a two-napkin-adorned Kristina was mounting herself on my shoulders I doubt I'd put much effort into shaking her off. But, as Darcey said, this dance really could have, and should have, been dirtier.

Nicky Byrne and Karen Hauer –– Quickstep –– 27
Easily the biggest improvement of the week. Both Nicky and Karen looked stronger and it made me realise that the professional dancers are having to learn things, too. Karen is having to learn how to choreograph for what works in the Strictly realm. It's not just a matter of Nicky learning steps, but Karen learning which steps he can do that will work best in this somewhat dichotomous environment of needing to please both judges and the studio/TV audience. They did that last week and I especially liked Nicky's rubbery arms thing at the start, mimicking Jim Carrey's physical style. I read a comment somewhere suggesting Nicky performed well in this dance because he naturally stands and moves like a chimp –– which probably means he'll go back to struggling in his next dance.

Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor –– Jive –– 29
I was unimpressed. The judges were falling over themselves with their "You go, girl!" comments, which you feel is almost requisite. One senses that on the judges' table, there is a little message that pops up in front of each of them as Lisa is dancing that says something to the effect of: "DO NOT MENTION LISA'S WEIGHT." And as such I think the praise is just a bit too effusive so as to almost be condescending. I respect Darcey for giving the dance a 6. It deserved a 6. It was energetic and fun and entertaining and, yes, Lisa is loveable in all the energy she puts into her routines, but, uhm, you know, the dancing wasn't as good as it could have been.

Dani Harmer and Vincent Simone –– Foxtrot –– 29
If this were the Olympics, and Dani were a Chinese swimmer I think we would be accusing Dani of taking illegal supplements, such was the dramatic improvement in her ability from one week to the next. Tiny, weirdly proportioned Dani really made that work –– to the extent that having a dog run into her arms at the end of the dance was entirely unnecessary. As Brucie pointed out, it killed the applause. Which seems to be the cardinal sin as far as Sir Bruce is concerned: never –– ever, ever –– kill the applause.
On a side note, did you see It Takes Two on Wednesday, when Dani was showing off the tattoos on the backs of her calves? What back alley did she get those in? When I used to teach in the south Wales valleys I worked out at a gym in Merthyr Tydfil, which meant I gained purview into the fascinating world of abysmally poor tattoos. Every true Valleys boy-o needs to have at least one tribal tattoo and usually the name of his kids on his forearm. A dragon or the Tair Pluen is also de rigueur. Most of these tattoos appeared to have been scratched out by sleepy children. But they are art –– valuable masterpieces –– compared to the unintelligible drunken baby-scrawl on Dani's legs.

Kimberley Walsh and Pasha Kovalev –– Quickstep –– 29
"I think I'm starting to love her," Jenn exclaimed. "That might be the wine, though. Woo!"
Whereas I was simply content with being able to remember that Kimberley's on the show. I still find her utterly forgettable. Sitting here now trying to recall her face I get a mesh of Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole and pre-blonde Miley Cyrus. I can recall her voice, though, and the fact she sounds to be a three-pack-a-day girl. Honey's got a voice so husky that in a few years she'll sound like Lee Marvin. Hot.

Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace –– Salsa –– 30
I think Dirty Dancing is a stupid movie; I don't quite understand the love for it. I far prefer to think of Jennifer Grey as Jeanie in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But, still, how can you not respect Louis for rocking that performance with his usual "This is, like, only the fifth best thing I do" facial expression? I agreed with Darcey about Lisa but I feel she wasn't actually watching this one. Maybe she was just jealous of Flavia.
The crowd was loving it, though. I'm pretty sure that dance alone was good enough that Louis could suck for the next two weeks and still coast safely through to the consecutive weeks.

Denise van Outen and James Jordan –– Foxtrot –– 32
Something in me wants to dislike Denise. I think this is because I follow her on Twitter and she retweets her fan club, and she (like too many Strictly folk) has that annoying tendency to give in to people's requests for retweets. Stuff like: "Can I get an RT for your biggest fan?" "Can I get an RT for this picture of my dog?" "Can I get an RT for continuing to draw breath?"
That annoys the hell out of me. No one has ever asked me for such a thing but I have preemptively established the rule that if you ask me to retweet something, you, by that action, ensure the answer is no. I wish Denise should obey this rule.
What this has to do with her dancing, I don't know. And couldn't I just stop following her if it annoys me so damn much?
Nonetheless, something about her makes me want to dislike her. But then she comes out and dances awesome again. Every time, bitches. She rocked last week's dance so hard that James was the one who looked less at ease. Denise has the ability to own the stage, and for that talent I can't help but like her, or, at least, respect her. I was somewhat surprised her score wasn't higher.

ELSEWHERE
  • I see the BBC are again this year putting all the dances on YouTube. I don't know, however, whether this is visible to viewers from outside the UK.
  • Darcey really is the best overall judge. I love her. She's awesome, yah? If not simply for her ability to drop all the "yah" from her speech in one week. I love all the judges, but when Darcey gives her opinion it just has more weight. If anyone ever gets a 10 from her, they can rest assured that they genuinely rocked the dance. It's not like when Alesha would throw out 10s because a person chose to dance to a track she liked.
  • So far, though, no one has scored above an 8. One wonders when the 9 paddles will first make an appearance and who will earn them.

PREDICTIONS
OK, I've pretty much given up on Crazy V being in the final four. As it stands, I'm predicting: Denise, Louis, Kimberley and Dani. I think Lisa will last a long while but I predict that her rate of improvement will slow and she'll fall noticeably behind the others in the latter weeks. My money's still on Denise to win. Literally. I finally today got around to putting actual money on her –– my winnings from when I bet on Harry Judd last year. That's a whopping £8, yo. If she wins, I take home £28. Woo!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Strictly Come Dancing week 2: Crazy V gets her groove back

This is totally unrelated to Strictly Come Dancing, but, crikey, I dislike Rylan from X Factor. He is an embarrassment to... well, everything: men, people named Rylan, humankind, Essex, England, Britain, Europe, Western culture, and on and on. He sings only slightly better than a discarded can of Fosters and couldn't even manage to pronounce the word "oppa" in "Gangnam Style." He said "wahpa," as if affecting an astonishingly insulting Korean accent.

That routine he did last Saturday was, admittedly, amusing. But everything that was good about it had absolutely nothing to do with Rylan. People who voted for Rylan were, in fact, voting for the imagination of Brian Friedman, the X Factor choreographer. If someone wants to start a show called Mental Dance Routines From the Imagination of Brian Friedman (a), I will watch it happily. But Rylan –– a hyper-camp version of General Zod –– is a disgrace. I cannot stand him.

All this, of course, simply serves to strengthen my love for Strictly Come Dancing. Both Saturday-night programmes are ridiculous, but Strictly is ridiculously fun. It is the very definition of kiki, which is a word I had to look up after the Scissor Sisters performed "Let's Have a Kiki" on the Sunday results show. 

And to my mind the bringer of the most kiki this weekend was again Lisa Riley. Jenn and I are waiting for the moment when her dance partner, Robin, works motorboating into a dance routine. Until then, here's a look at all the fun of week 2, starting with the exiting couple first.

Johnny Ball and Iveta Lukosiute –– Waltz –– 20
In my "Chris becomes famous enough to be on Strictly" fantasy one of my biggest fears is that I would be the first to go. It is an ignominious claim to fame and I feel badly for whoever suffers it, even when, as in Johnny's case, it is deserved. Johnny was never going to last long in the competition. I am more sad at the fact this means seeing less of Iveta, who was starting to grow on me. I liked how relentlessly positive she was about her dance partner. Brought in to cover for an injured Aliona, she had to know she was never going to be anything more than a fiddler on the Titanic, but she did so with aplomb.

Michael Vaughan and Natalie Lowe –– Jive –– 15
Maybe I'm being too kind or perhaps it's that I was trying to fix dinner during this specific performance, but I really didn't think it was all that bad. It's week two, yo. They can't all be Denise van Outen. True, the dance wasn't good, and I found it a bit lazy that the costumes were exactly the same as when Natalie and Scott Maslen danced a Footloose routine in the second week of the eighth season. Did you not think I would notice this, BBC costumers? This show is my life.
Don't judge me.
But in terms of the dance, I'm not sure I agree with the comment I read somewhere that the dance was a "cross between The Shining and The Wurzels." It wasn't good, but it wasn't as awful as it could have been. But what do I know? According to Zoe Ball, it was the lowest scoring jive in Strictly history.

Nicky Byrne and Karen Hauer –– Cha cha –– 17
There was a point in the dance when Karen was shimmying toward the camera with her face showing the grim determination of someone on a bayonet charge.
"Yeesh, look at Karen," I said to Jenn. "She looks as if she has no idea what she's doing and is just hoping no one notices."
Turns out, this is exactly what she was doing. Because Nicky had gone rogue. He was doing his own thing, man, running free on the dance floor, unhindered by such constraints as timing or footwork or musicality. 
He had missed the count-in from the beginning of the song, so spent much of the dance just making stuff up. I would admire Nicky greatly if this were his overall response to adversity: when in trouble, boogie. You can imagine him in an elevator in a high-rise building. The cable snaps, the car begins to plummet, and Nicky decides the only thing he can do is bust a move.
"Thank God you were doing the running man as you went down, Mr. Byrne. You jumped at just the right time and it ended up saving your life."

Jerry Hall and Anton du Beke –– Waltz –– 18
Honey badger don't care. Honey badger does a foxtrot and doesn't break a sweat. Honey badger has seen and done things you can't even imagine, sweetie. Go on, think of something. Anything within the realms of physical possibility. Nope, honey badger's done that. Honey badger did it upside down. Remember when you were watching X Factor and Brian Friedman told Rylan, "Then you'll be followed on stage by 10 fashionista pandas," and you thought: "Is this real life?" It is. And honey badger does stuff like that when she has breakfast. So doing the foxtrot, well, honey badger can take it or leave it.
And by that standard I thought it was not too bad. Jerry "Honey Badger" Hall definitely performs better on the slow dances. But I'll admit I find it impossible not to be biased in her favour because of her Texas accent.
On a side note, if Craig Revel Horwood ever again attempts a Texas accent I will start sending him my poops in the mail.

Richard Arnold and Erin Boag –– Cha cha –– 19
The normally tolerable Strictly Come Dancing Band had some really weak moments this week, and the version of "Love Shack" offered up for this dance was one of them. The Guardian's Strictly blog loves to complain about the band, but I think one needs to be fair about the challenges presented by having to perform songs of all different styles within strict perimeters of time and tempo. Every member of the band is wearing an earpiece that has a soulless electronic bleep piped through it to ensure the song is exactly at the tempo the dancers have rehearsed. It's hard to really put a lot of musical expression into such a situation, and usually the band perform admirably and sometimes quite well. But sometimes. Oof.
The dude singing Fred Schneider's part for "Love Shack" was just oof. Nothing but oof. So if Richard and Erin were good or bad I didn't really notice. In the dance off, he seemed half interested and messed up a good deal of the footwork. I think he may be better at coming up with lines ("More Darcey, less Bussell") than dance moves.

Sid Owen and Ola Jordan –– Salsa –– 22
Come on, Ola chops!
Professional wrestler Chris Jericho (himself a previous performer on Strictly's U.S. version, Dancing With the Stars) used to do a move designed to get heat from the crowd in which he would knock down an opponent and arrogantly pin him by simply placing one foot on his chest. As he did this, he would flex and grin at the crowd, shouting: "Come on, baby!"
The face Jericho made when doing this was the exact same face Sid was using whilst dancing the salsa on Saturday night, which made me love him just a little bit. Sid was owning that dance. Not so much in terms of style and technique, mind, but most definitely in enthusiasm. No one –– ever –– has been so keen to do a bit of the spinny-spinny with Mrs. Jordan. My opinion of Sid is changing; I think I'm starting to like him.

Fern Britton and Artem Chigvintsev –– Viennese waltz –– 24
It's rare the Viennese waltz really does anything for me. There are times when it really works, when you sit and watch a performance and think: "Wow, that was beautiful. It was art in movement."
But the majority of the time my reaction is something along the lines of: "Meh. This is a good time to get up and go get some more port."
This Viennese waltz fell into the majority category. Meh.

Colin Salmon and Kristina Rihanoff –– Viennese waltz –– 24
"Have Kristina's breasts always been that large?" asked Jenn. "Were they that big last year?"
"I think so," I said. "We just had a smaller television."
"Wow. There's so much boob."
"Indeed. I like Colin's tie, though."
"I can't pay attention to it. All I can see is boob."
"I doubt they're real."
"For her sake I'd hope not. She'd have to eat 5,000 calories a day to maintain them. How does she walk?"
 
Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor –– Viennese waltz –– 25
It was not a Viennese waltz that I thought was beautiful, but it was rare in that I liked it. I like Lisa's facial expressions all through the dance: that of someone who's really enjoying it. She looks so happy, so genuinely delighted to be twirling around with big camp Robin that one can't help but love her. She managed to make a "meh" dance a little bit less meh.

Victoria Pendleton and Brendan Cole –– Foxtrot –– 26
Admit it: you were watching Crazy V thinking: "Just hold it together. Come on, Crazy V; don't crack." And with each tiny wobble –– her teetering on high heels or looking just a little confused or failing to place her arm correctly when going into hold –– you took in a sharp breath hoping it wouldn't set off a rapid unravelling that inevitably ended with Crazy V tearing out her own hair and eating Brendan's ear live on television. OK, maybe only I was thinking that. I want so much for Crazy V to do well, to be awesome, that it's sometimes hard to watch. I am dreaming of a Jade Johnson-like transformation. 
In 2009, Johnson was on the show with Ian Waite as her partner. She started out poorly, unsteady on heels, but soon became the Lioness, flashing her powerful sexy legs and inducing all kinds of fantasies that would probably remind Jerry Hall of her teenage years.
This is what I dream for Crazy V. I feel that, like Jade, she can overcome weaknesses through her endurance. I really think she can be good. She's not yet, but at least this week she was better.

Kimberley Walsh and Pasha Kovalev –– Foxtrot –– 26
What dance was Len watching? Thanks to quality song choice, the routine had a beautiful melancholy that almost had me getting teary eyed (I had, admittedly, by that time consumed a bottle of wine). For a second-week dance you couldn't really ask for more. But for reasons completely beyond anyone's comprehension Len decided to take a big poo-poo all over it and criticise everything. I actually booed the television (again, that's probably the wine).
My only guess is that it was some sort of cunning ploy by Len to ensure Kimberley stays in the competition. By drawing attention to her he won her sympathy and, by extension, votes. Perhaps he sensed there were many people like me who have a tendency to forget Nimble Kimble is even part of the show. Or he completely lost his mind. Kimberley and Pasha's was easily the best foxtrot of the evening and was arguably the second best of all the performances.

Dani Harmer and Vincent Simone –– Salsa –– 27
I think I mentioned before that Dani strikes me as a strange sort of person who looks to have been comprised of different bits. Like a Frankenstein's monster, but far more charming, she has been pieced together with arms, legs, torso and head each from different individuals. Taking this into account, one couldn't help but be impressed by her ability to move all those bits around more or less in time in Saturday's dance. Though, it was perhaps a bit worrying to see her doing all those flippy salsa moves, for fear a foot or arm might come loose and go sailing into the studio audience.
If we accept her as a person who has not been sewn together, however, I agree with the judges that there were points in the routine that lacked fluidity. Also, I was baffled by that one move in which Vincent flung her over his shoulder, then just sort of dropped her to the ground like a trawler fisherman emptying a catch onto his boat's deck.

Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace –– Viennese waltz –– 30
First of all, I liked that dance, yo, and I thought Louis' pointing to his face at the end and grinning, as proof of his ability to smile, was a tiny moment of brilliance. Secondly, the judges complained that they saw little connection between Louis and Flavia, but can you imagine anyone having an emotional connection with Flavia? She doesn't have a personality, she has abs. It took several years of my watching Strictly before I even realised Flavia could speak English, that she is, in fact, an English girl for all intents and purposes, having been raised in Surrey from the age of 4 and speaking with an English accent.
So, give the boy some credit. Also, I kind of like his too-cool-for-school look. Ever since Jenn pointed out he looks a tiny bit like Prince, I like to imagine Louis as akin to the tiny purple sex alien. Indeed, perhaps that look of concentration is a deliberate attempt to prevent a connection with Flavia. He is so sexay that if he weren't controlling his natural aura Flavia would be writhing around on the floor, and Jerry Hall would be leaning over to Elizabeth Jagger, saying: "That reminds me of when you were conceived. Of course, in that case the audience was naked. And there were more of them. And there were monkeys involved. And 78 gallons of baby oil. And we were listening to Sade. I don't mean we were listening to a record, honey –– she was there, on a horse. Also naked, obviously. Well, not the horse. It was wrapped in velvet..."

Denise van Outen and James Jordan –– Jive –– 32
According to the Daily Mail, which I suspect may be slightly less reliable than my own imagination, Strictly Come Dancing fans are upset that Denise is a good dancer. This is a claim proven by exactly two tweets, one of which is attributed to an unnamed source the other of which appears to be more observation than criticism. The claim of viewer anger over Denise's dancing ability is then contradicted below the story by several comments expressing support for the West End star. Yes, Denise is a better dancer than, say, Johnny Ball, or Michael Vaughan, but why is that a bad thing? It's a show about dancing. What's wrong with having someone who dances well on a show where the point is to dance well?
Denise and James kicked booty, yo, and were probably under marked because the judges didn't want to go throwing down 9s in the second week. You have to think James is in a constant state of joy because he has now a partner who may finally be able to earn him the coveted glitterball trophy.

ELSEWHERE
  • Sid Owen's girlfriend is 16 years younger than him. I like him even more
  • If you don't love Darcey Bussell you have no soul.
  • Tess is going for odd dresses so far this season. Many of them have a look as if she showed up wearing a typical Cardiff slag's frock and someone in viewing standards insisted that she be covered up with a bit of mesh.
  • Hooray the return of Claudia Winkleman. I love her so hard.

PREDICTIONS
I'm still putting Kimberley, Denise, Louis in my final four. I want to put Victoria in there, as well, but this week I'm less sure. It seems Lisa would be a better bet. I still think Denise will win.

__________
(a) I also applaud Brian Friedman's choreography for Lucy Spraggan's performance, in which the out-of-the-closet lesbian happily perved on booty-shaking dancers who pawed at her as she sang. I doubt American television would have the guts to work such a routine into "family" viewing like "X Factor," even though they'd not think twice about having a male ogle women or a woman ogle men.

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.

ELSEWHERE IN THE SHOW:
  • 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.

PREDICTIONS:
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!

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Eight things I loved about September

~ 8 ~ Paralympics: I'll be honest: I didn't watch as much of the Paralympics as I would have liked. I managed to take in the opening ceremony and became so annoyed with Jon Snow's inane commentary (if you were lucky enough to miss it, he did nothing but list off the tragic wars each country had been in, until Germany showed up, at which point he chose to comment on their hats) that it took several days for me to feel interested in watching again. Channel 4's coverage seemed incomplete by and large, with much of it consisting of Clare Balding and Adrian Adepitan sitting in a studio talking about things that had happened, rather than showing those things. Then, suddenly, it was the closing ceremony and Rhianna was sailing Annie Lennox's steam punk ship up to do a little sing-song with Chris Martin.
But on principle, see, I really liked the Paralympics. I liked that so many Britons were keen to watch, and show up at the stadium. I liked that Channel 4's coverage, though not as good as the BBC's Olympic Games coverage, was so thorough and immeasurably better than what NBC provided (or, rather, did not provide). This past summer was one that bolstered the British spirit: the Queen's jubilee, Andy Murray, the Olympics, the Paralympics, and so on. Britons' genuine enthusiasm for the Paralympics was a reason to feel pride in this island of rain that I seem to now be calling my home. Britons are sometimes just a little too self-critical for my liking, and you start to wonder why any of them ever stay. The summer of 2012, however, was one in which people allowed themselves to admit that –– despite the rain –– there are reasons to stick around.

~ 8 ~ Visiting Devon: Devon is one such reason to stick around. Jenn and I travelled down to her native turf in September to celebrate her grandmother's birthday. Much of the family on Jenn's paternal side were there, including several people I had never met before, which provided for another thing about which I am consistently happy, regardless of month: Jenn's family don't hate me. Or, if they do, they are very good at hiding it. I usually feel pretty welcome around my future in-laws, which, obviously is a good thing.
Devon itself, meanwhile, was lovely and not too terribly rainy. We had a barbecue at Jenn's grandparents' house, and as the resident Texan I was placed on grill duty. It's in my blood, see. I don't read so good, but I have innate talent for putting animal flesh to flame. And I was happy to do it. Social gatherings are always awkward things for me. But if I can stand there focusing on a given task, rather than having to try to figure out what to do with myself, I am more comfortable. Everyone claimed to be happy with their food and no one had to be taken to hospital with food poisoning, so I suppose I did alright.
There were also opportunities for walks on the beach and a visit to On The Waterfront in Exeter: a pub/pizza place on the banks of the River Exe.
On the way to and from Devon we made little side trips to Cheddar Gorge and Killerton respectively. I wish time and money allowed Jenn and I the opportunity to do stuff like this more often. I am pretty sure one of the reasons I so often get frustrated with life in the Soggy Nations is that I get very little chance to see more of it than what exists outside my door. I don't get around as much as I'd like.

~ 8 ~ Driving an Audi A4: The reason I don't get around much, of course, is that I don't have a car. Oh, sure, that makes me environmentally friendly and I save hundreds of pounds a year, but great googly moogly is it frustrating. I think this is especially true for myself: someone who has so long attached his sense of freedom to cars. It is legal for a person to drive in the United States when they are 16 years old; on my 16th birthday I insisted upon taking the day off from school to get my license. Being without a car in Britain makes me feel like a bird with clipped wings.
I was delighted, then, when Jenn and I decided the most effective means of getting to Devon was to rent a car. Rant goes here about how much the UK train companies suck for making their services so inefficient and expensive that renting a car is the more intelligent choice. And I don't mean the more convenient choice. Remember that Jenn works for an organisation that encourages people to use public transportation; I work for an organisation that promotes Britain's natural landscapes. We are the sort of people who go out of our way to be all Earth-friendly, yo. But here it was just plain stupid and Byzantine to travel by train.
So, I rented the cheapest thing Avis offers. When I showed up, however, the guy behind the counter clocked my American accent and asked: "Do you mind driving an automatic? I've got one here and most people aren't comfortable with it. They'd prefer a manual."
Huh? Who can't drive an automatic?
"Yeah, no problem," I said.
And on that I was given the keys to an Audi A4. Oh, my sweet baby Jesus in heaven, that was a nice car. I need more of that sort of thing in my life. I have decided that I need to become obnoxiously wealthy so I can own one.
Also, completely to my surprise, it was fuel-efficient. A diesel, it sipped petrol and we were able to drive from Cardiff to Devon and back, with all the side trips between, for just £40. That same trip in the Honda I used to own would have cost roughly £100.

~ 8 ~ An evening at the Hardwick: Our friend, Laura, turned 30 in September and decided to celebrate with about 60 birthday parties. One of those involved a small group of us staying the night at the Hardwick, the gastro pub/hotel run by Great British Menu regular Stephen Terry in Abergavenny. Terry doesn't have a Michelin star to his name but has worked for a number of chefs who did and has competed against several who do on Great British Menu. In other words, he's one of the best chefs you're likely to find in gastronomically deprived Wales.
Actually, in fairness, I don't eat at enough fine restaurants to claim that Wales is gastronomically deprived. I just know other people say that, and it is a claim that seems to be backed up by the dearth of Michelin-starred restaurants in Wales (there are just four [a]). For my own part, though, I have never eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Not once. So, going to the Hardwick felt very much like a treat.
And by and large it was a treat. Assuming you like your treats on the salty side. Don't go there if you have high cholesterol. I went there healthy, though, and had a good time. Between seven people, we ran up a bill of £500 ($804), which made me feel a bit sick, but I suppose that's what you pay for salty fine cuisine. I'll bet Stephen Terry drives an Audi.

~ 8 ~ Lindy hop: People often assume that my love of Strictly Come Dancing translates into a desire to dance. I can see why people would make such a logical leap, but being fascinated by something does not always equate with wanting to do it. Bull riding, for example. I can watch hours of bull riding, but I have no desire whatsoever to tie myself to an angry 1-ton animal. But, in this case, when Jenn came home one day and suggested we sign up for Lindy Hop classes, I decided I wanted to do it.
Have you ever watched those Lindy Hop videos on YouTube? Who wouldn't want to dance like that? But, as it turns out, that stuff's really super hard. After a month of going to classes, Jenn and I are still struggling with the basic step. I have the rhythm of an old car tumbling down a hill. That's an image that probably doesn't make a great deal of sense, but I can see it in my mind and I assure you: the sound of the old '54 Hudson of my imagination being tumbled down a Nevada hillside is wholly arhythmic. It is an image that best describes my dancing: clunky, graceless and deeply saddening. But I'm sticking to it. Jenn and I are dreaming we will somehow have progressed enough by our wedding day to do some sort of impressive first dance.

~ 8 ~ Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan: As a writer, every once in a while you will come across an author who makes you sit back and think: "Oh, that is it. This person has hit it. They've grasped that intangible thing."
This may or may not make sense to you. In my writing I feel I am always reaching for something, trying to encompass something in a beautiful-perfect way. Like when you hear a song and the beat makes you move or grunt involuntarily. Have you ever had that happen? You're at a bar and some whatever band is playing blues, and in a perfect moment it goes from being a bunch of dads killing time on a Wednesday night to something pivotal, a mile marker in your life: I was there when all the notes came together and all the band seemed to lurch at exactly the right moment, everything aligned, the harmonica player wailed through his harp and suddenly I felt myself shouting "Oh!" –– a moan that had not been thought or processed but was issued simply and purely from my soul.
As a writer, you –– or, at least, I –– ache to figure out how to create that moment with words. How to describe a feeling or thought in such a way that the reader will think: "this is the thing in its best form." Barbara Kingsolver does it pretty much all the way through The Lacuna. Hemingway and Kerouac had a tendency to hit it, then veer pretty far off the mark attempting to hit it again.
That's more or less how I feel about John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead. The reaction I had to the book, which is well-written, funny and informative, was more one of thinking: "See. There. That's almost what I'm trying to do. This is what I've been aiming at."
He gets at it, whatever it is, in the way that I'm always trying to. His is closest to the style I'm trying to develop. If you like books that are good, I suggest buying a copy. There is a tendency in reviews to compare Sullivan with Hunter S. Thompson, but I think that is a lazy comparison based, it seems, solely on the fact that both are writers from Kentucky.

~ 8 ~ Doctor Who: Well, that series came and went pretty quickly, didn't it? Though, I'm not sure how much more I could have taken. Each episode made me cry. Also, can someone explain to me why the Doctor couldn't just go back in time to wherever Amy and Rory were sent by the weeping angels? I didn't quite get that one. Indeed, why would the Doctor have any sense of his friends being dead unless, as in the case of Rose, they have been zapped into a parallell universe? He can always just go back to a time before they died and hang out with them.
One thing you do have to like, though, is that the Doctor has now been written to a clean slate. He's erased all record of himself throughout time and space and he is now companionless. Which means he can be moulded into something new and different. Whether writers will choose to do anything with such an opportunity remains to be seen.

~ 8 ~ Parade's End: Just before the Olympics, Matt Smith was in a one-off drama in which he portrayed 1948 gold medallist Bert Bushnell. It was a fun little show but it really felt like the subtitle could have been: "The story of how Doctor Who won gold in Olympic rowing in 1948." Matt Smith playing any character is still Matt Smith.
Parade's End was a short drama series that ran through September starring Benedict Cumberbatch, who, of course, is best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in another of Steven Moffat's wildly successful projects. In this case, though, it was not Sherlock Holmes set around WWI. Cumberbatch managed an entirely different character –– a wholly believable and wholly different person. He was helped, of course, in the fact that he had a brilliant (albeit occasionally difficult to follow) script from Tom Stoppard.

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[a] There are just 10 in the whole of the United States, so obviously it is a system that is not the final word on great cuisine