Sunday, September 15, 2013

Strictly Come Dancing: First impressions

The mornings are getting cooler, the air has a certain smell and feel that triggers a twinge of happy nostalgia. It's autumn; the Long Dark approacheth. And that can mean only one thing: Strictly's back. 

Yes! It's time for bowls of popcorn, glasses of port, glitter, awkward faces, imagined dramas, fake tans, milquetoast covers of pop songs, cheesy humour, scantily clad women, and, occasionally, a bit of dancing.

This year marks the 11th series of "Strictly Come Dancing," and the fourth since the format changed to include a "launch" show, in which the celebrities are paired with their professional partners before being hidden away in a hermetically sealed dance bunker for three weeks. There, they learn the basics of Twitter banter and are taught how to smile all the way through one of Sir Bruce Forsyth's jokes. They may also pick up a dance step or two, which could potentially help them in the weeks ahead.

The aforementioned launch show took place on 7 September, with a record-number 15 "celebrities" in the lineup. As always, the word "celebrity" is applied loosely, but I'm proud to say I recognised seven of them without having to consult Google. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the prospect of having to sit through so many people this year, but the plus side is that more "celebrities" also means more barely dressed Eastern European dancers.

One of the biggest changes this year comes in the absence of Erin Boag, who had been with the show from the very beginning. That leaves just Brendan Cole and Anton du Beke as the only two dancers left from the first series. Personally, I'd put my money on Anton to last the longest. If Strictly is ever cancelled, he'll retreat into the sewers, Phantom of the Opera-style, and host his own version of the programme with people he has abducted from Tube stations.

Also missing from the starting lineup this year is Natalie Lowe, the uber-athletic Aussie with whom I would liked to be trapped in a lift, armed only with PowerBars and several albums of sexy mood music. Natalie broke her foot just a week or so before the launch show. She probably did this kicking a charging rhino in the face, as part of her training regimen. The good news is that one of my favourite dancers, Aliona Vilani, was drafted in at the last minute.

So, without proper segue, let's look at the couples who will be taking to the floor when Strictly returns on 27 September:

Abbey Clancy and Aljaž Skorjanec
There's a formula to the celebrities that end up on Strictly, and Abbey is ticking the boxes of Pretty Girl With No Discernible Talent Of Her Own, as well as that of Woman With An Annoying Accent. Abbey's claim to fame is that she married Peter Crouch, who, of course, is famous for being tall and having a name that sounds like an unpleasant sex act. Her professional dancer Aljaž, meanwhile, is from Slovenia, which is a place all of us have heard of but know absolutely nothing about. In an effort to rectify that situation, I will hunt down one fact about Slovenia for every week that Abbey and Aljaž stay in the show. Here's Slovenian Fact no. 1: Slovenia is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. (You still can't picture where it is, can you?)

Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola Jordan
Ash was in a pop band, apparently. But he's on Strictly because he ticks the box of being The One From Hollyoaks. I know nothing else about him, but I hope he does well because he's got Ola as a partner. Ola, of course, is well-known for suffering an affliction that makes her allergic to clothes. She battles on, though, trying to live a normal life as a dancer on a light-entertainment programme. Truly, she is a hero. A hero who may one day snap and get naked on live television. The longer she stays in the programme the more likely this is to happen. So, please vote for Team Ashola.

Ben and Kristina
Ben Cohen and Kristina Rihanoff
Ben was one of the people I had actually heard of. And I have to say, I like him. Firstly, he was on the England rugby squad that won the World Cup in 2003. I got really emotional when that happened. For years afterward I kept a sound file of the BBC commentary when Jonny Wilkinson made the last-second drop goal, winning the match. The commentator is rapturous when he shouts: "Wilkinson kicks for World Cup glory!" Genuinely, every time I listened to it I would cry. This goes a long way, perhaps, to explaining why I have had so much trouble fitting in in Wales. But another reason to like Ben is that he set up a foundation to combat bullying, which he promotes the hell out of on Twitter. Also, he rides motorcycles. And he is dancing with she of the warrior princess thighs, Kristina.

Dave Myers and Karen Hauer
Another person I had actually heard of, Dave is the goofy one off "Hairy Bikers." Prepare yourself for endless food puns and intolerable attempts at his accent by Brucie. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Karen. I think I managed to make myself like her last year, but I can't remember why. Side note: Am I the only one who feels Dave's head is now much too big for his body since he's lost weight?

Deborah Meaden and Robin Windsor
Hey, it's that one lady off that one show I never watch. But in fairness, I've decided I like her after watching her bio video. Asked who she would invite to a dinner party she said: "Well, I know it's cliché, but Elizabeth I." Which doesn't strike me as all that cliché, really. Our Debbie is dancing with the Big Gay Awesome that is Robin Windsor, who is, in my opinion, the personification of what Strictly is about. The man embraces the sparkle.

Fiona Fullerton and Anton du Beke
Anton du Beke is the answer to the question: "Who's going to get stuck suffering the formerly attractive woman with zero work ethic?" Fiona was in a Bond film no one saw and hasn't really done anything since. Including update her hairstyle. If these two last beyond Week 4, I will be surprised.

Julien Macdonald and Janette Manrara
Ticking the box of both The Camp One and The Welsh One, Julien is a fashion designer, apparently. I had to be told this. In my own little alternate Strictly universe I would have teamed him with Robin. The power of their combined campiness could have powered London for a year. Instead he gets stuck with ultra-tiny and unknown Jannette, who looks to me like that girl you knew in high school who made a point of turning you down for Prom, even though you never asked her to go.

Mark Benton and Iveta Lukosiute
I recognised Mark from the posters outside the Wales Millennium Centre advertising his role in the musical Hairspray. Jenn had no idea who he was. I don't expect him to last too long. Which is too bad because Jenn and I are both fond of Iveta. Now that I think of it, though, I can't remember why we're fond of Iveta. Ah, according to a previous post: "I liked how relentlessly positive she was about her dance partner... she had to know she was never going to be anything more than a fiddler on the Titanic, but she did so with aplomb."

Artem and Natalie
Natalie Gumede and Artem Chigvinstev
No clue who she is. She ticks the box of being The One From Coronation Street. But, in her favour, she has Artem, which means that at some point she will be thrown 30 feet in the air or have to balance on dental floss or some other mental thing. I like Artem because he rides a motorcycle.

Patrick Robinson and Anya Garnis
He's a doctor on TV, apparently. So prepare yourself for numerous medical-related puns. I have no idea who Anya is, but apparently she's Pasha Kovalev's professional dance partner and possibly romantic partner (here they are dancing on the US version of "So You Think You Can Dance"). Since no one really knows who either of these people are, I suspect they are doomed to not get past Week 7.

Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev
This is Jenn's favourite couple because she loves Pasha. I'm not so sure, though, because I can't decide how I feel about Rachel. I think she annoys me. It's that whole "I'm an Essex girl, me" thing. But if you consider how Pasha managed to eventually turn Chelsee Healey into someone I didn't hate on every level, there's tremendous hope for the "Countdown" lady. Expect to hear that show's theme song worked into at least 30 more jokes, by the way.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan Cole
Murder on the dance floor. Get used to hearing that phrase over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And again. What upsets me, though, is that Sophie's saddled with Brendan, which I feel is something akin to a jail sentence. Perhaps Sophie was caught shoplifting, or she attempted to blackmail someone, and as punishment she has to spend several hours in the arms of that intolerable goof.
Jenn quote: "Oh dear, Brendan's looking a little bit tubby."

Susana Reid and Kevin Clifton
I have long had a wee crush on Susanna Reid, so I was really hoping she would end up with James Jordan as a dance partner, because of his classic ability to get ladies to behave like naughty, naughty whores. Instead she's been paired up with Kevin Clifton, fiance (a) of Karen Hauer. An interesting little fact I worked out about him: Grimsby-born Kevin is the first British dancer to join this British show since Robin Windsor, back in 2010. With his addition, there are now four British dancers on the show –– all male. The last British female on the show was Karen Hardy, who left the show in 2008.

Tony Jacklin and Aliona Vilani
Poor, poor Aliona. Jenn and I love her so much that we named my motorcycle after her. She had been reported to have been dropped from the show but was brought back at the last minute after Natalie's rhino-kicking episode. However, being stuck with some bloke of whom I had never heard before, despite the fact that I was partially raised by a grandfather who never stops watching golf, suggests that she is at very high risk of going out in the first week.

Vanessa Feltz and James Jordan
As mentioned above, I feel James was a poor choice here. But it may be that this pairing is more a reward to Vanessa, who has frequently been a guest on "It Takes Two," the daily Strictly programme hosted by Zoë Ball. Initially things don't look very promising for these two and I'm hereby predicting a Week 5 exit.

Elsewhere: The launch show featured musical performances by Jessie J and Rod Stewart. Brucie asked Rod if he'd ever consider doing Strictly and Rod said he'd "love to" in a tone that suggested the only time he'd genuinely "love to" take part in Strictly is if painful death were the alternative. This led to Jenn and I discussing who we would like to see in an all-rock-n-roll version of Strictly, with David Bowie being one of our top picks. Somehow (probably because we had consumed an entire bottle of port) this resulted in our doing impressions of a David Bowie robot. Here's Jenn's.

Who will be in the final: It's so hard to guess at this point, because so much depends on how well the celebrities take to the silliness of the show. Strictly is all about conformity; you give in and you accept the Tao of Strictly or you go home. I feel a safe bet for the final contestants at this point are: Ben Cohen, Natalie Gumede and possibly Ashley Taylor Dawson.

What do you think?

–––––

(a) I really wish I could have arranged for a band to launch into "Ballroom Blitz" when I proposed to Jenn. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Got to agree Chris. As an older bloke can't think why I enjoy this spangly stuff, but I do. GBB is going that way likewise, perhaps it's the coming of Autumn dunno, but Brucie (he's 85 FFS)and Sue Perkins on GBB really make me laugh. Nothing quite like it (or them).It's top quality telly.
Regards to you both, toodle pip
Huw