Posted on September 10, 2018
Hello again, Strictly fans! It’s Series 16! Woohoo! Series 16, AKA the one where Marianka continually squawks “A YouTuber?” at her screen in the manner of Lady Bracknell’s “A handbag?” and feels about 102 and begins to contemplate the yawning void of mortality, and then remembers the state of the world and kind of welcomes it. Series 16!
So, there’s no escaping the fact that this isn’t exactly a banner year, A-list casting wise. That old joke about the dancers becoming more famous than the celebrities is now kind of…fact, except we also have new dancers, so this is a learning experience for everyone. Very much a “Back to school” week, but with fake tan and terrible eye patch jokes.
However, by the time we came to the pairings – for my money, all spot on except for the last two – even the most cynical viewer must have felt a grudging respect for the Strictly casting department. Though lacking that big name, it’s another brilliantly varied bunch, promising all kinds of tantalising drama and unintentional comedy (sorry, Seann Walsh). Bring on the sequinned escapism!
For the last time, Tess, step away from the bacofoil. Claud: entirely gorgeous in a smart tux.
Vital stats Beloved BBC broadcaster, and if that voting bloc fails, already fully prepared to deploy those Family prop points. Mostly concerned with finding a towering pro, just to really rub salt into former pro Brendan Cole’s wound… Expect a barrage of “Harder for a tall person!” critiques, especially in Latin.
Partner Aljaž Škorjanec
Most likely to…Be a class act, last a few weeks.
Vital stats Also teeing up familiar storylines, including ye olde busy schedule and a glimpse of the Northerner Card. (Or, per Grandma Tess, she can simply mesmerise voters with ALL THAT HAIR.) DJ Vick is, indeed, familiar with the concept of music – which might seem inconsequential, but, on early evidence, is not the case for everyone this year…
Partner Graziano Di Prima
Most likely to…Get the tabloids panting on their way to the closing stages.
Vital stats Ringer Defence No.1: Yes, she’s danced before, but Steps choreography didn’t exactly run the full gamut of movement possibilities, and anyway that’s all better best forgotten. Not sure it’ll do the trick – but then who could resist if they chuck in that delightful “Look, it’s my face!” move from “Tragedy” mid-paso doble.
Partner Giovanni Pernice
Most likely to… Endure some ringer mutterings, reach the semi-finals.
Vital stats Another early-Noughties throwback, and already has a full Loose Women “I went through menopause, but now I’m hitting play!” inspiring story arc worked out; accompanying ebook and webisodes to follow. Although if she was hoping for a nice Strictly hunk to seal the “You go, Golden Girl!” deal…er, not so much.
Partner Anton du Beke
Most likely to… Make an early exit.
Vital stats The heady combo of boyband Blue and EastEnders – two casting pools apparently irresistible to the Strictly producing team. Ringer Defence No.2: Suspiciously quiet on the stage school training (Sylvia Young and Italia Conti), but has dismissed Blue dancing as just leaning and air grabs. Colourful history of self-sabotage, so it probably balances out.
Partner Nadiya Bychkova
Most likely to… Provide quality TV drama, crash out around Halloween.
Vital stats Has tended to TV puppets and braved This Morning, so what terrors could Strictly possibly hold? Also a REAL DOCTOR, HONEST – but don’t imagine that’ll stop the producers semi-mocking him with doctor songs at every turn. Matches his partner in the high-decibel chatty stakes, which…could go either way.
Partner Janette Manrara
Most likely to…Have a decent mid-series J word.
Vital stats Casts a wide net fanbase wise, with Death in Paradise, Red Dwarf and Maid Marian, plus can rock a sparkly hat. Ringer Defence No.3: Smoothly bypassing West End experience like Cats, Barnum and the original cast of Starlight Express, plus music videos, Danny summarised his past as “disco dancer” – with an accompanying dismissive hand gesture for the ages.
Partner Amy Dowden
Most likely to… Become this year’s Debbie McGee.
Vital stats Strictly targeting da kids. Since I am apparently too close to the grave, I was heretofore unaware of Joe’s social media renown – though I had heard of his sister Zoella. Still, he’s clearly done his homework, sounding both the Nan and Blackpool Klaxons within five minutes of arriving.
Partner Dianne Buswell
Most likely to…Inspire a thousand impassioned think-pieces, exit early.
Vital stats A genuinely inspiring tale in the works here: the survivor of an acid attack and founder of a burns charity who now wants to reclaim her carefree, nightclub-going self. Dance ability unknown, but should have plenty of audience goodwill during the learning process – plus encouragement from lovely Gorka.
Partner Gorka Marquez
Most likely to… Join the dark horse ranks.
Vital stats Swapping the casual attire of investigative journalism for princess glamour – and if that well-worn story doesn’t hit, also has a good Mum Card in reserve. Like Katie, a Strictly-ready personality and great J word potential; no word on dance experience, but that could be an asset amongst the ringer rumblings.
Partner Kevin Clifton
Most likely to… Hit a few bumps en route to Blackpool.
Vital stats Paralympic athlete with a silver medal from Rio and the competitive spirit to match – the latter always a high-wire act where the female contestants are concerned (#everydaysexism). As Oti did so well with Jonnie Peacock, AJ will have to find the right level of supportive coaching – and not, you know, drop her on her head in the launch show…
Partner AJ Pritchard
Most likely to… Enjoy a few weeks.
Vital stats Pussycat Dolls member and ACTUAL DANCER who judged on Dancing on Ice BECAUSE SHE’S A DANCER. Ringer Defence No.4: Woeful, but never mind that, because her partner is PASHA, Teddy Bear in Human Form. So now I’m seriously torn between much-deserved snark and cheering on the Pasha Glitterball Express.
Partner Pasha Kovalev, Teddy Bear in Human Form
Most likely to… Be this year’s “surprise” dance-off or ringer-related exit.
Vital stats Not much competition for Comedy Duffer, so Seann should be set to follow in the uncertain footsteps of Sergeant, Widdy, Balls et al. Also seems determined to NOT play it for laughs, which invariably makes the results much funnier. Also funny? Katya thinking the producers might allow her a second glitterball this year.
Partner Katya Jones
Most likely to… Entertain viewers – if not the judges.
Vital stats The requisite Casualty casting – but, he’s eager to stress, no stranger to the big screen! The surprise standout of the Car Crash Group Dance, so could well get a nice career boost here (though more “Doctor Who guest spot” than “Hollywood mega franchise”). Both he and the nation seemed keen to pair him with Oti, but, well…
Partner Karen Clifton
Most likely to… Deliver some serious smoulder, bow out mid-series.
Vital stats And Strictly continues is mission to rehouse retired cricketers. The big question: are we looking at a People’s Choice Gough, a Secret Snake Hips Ramps, or Michael Vaughan Takes An Axe To The Jive: Part II? Mind, even Tufnell had a surprisingly long run, so Graeme’s assault on the floss may be with us for a while.
Partner Oti Mabuse
Most likely to… Either find a dark horse J word or fail spectacularly.
Yay, the car crash group dance – always an annual treat. My highlights:
What do you think? Are you happy with the pairings? Who’s your new favourite? And what dances and themes do you want – or not want – to see this year? Leave your thoughts below or contact me on Twitter: @mkmswain