Posted on November 23, 2020
Well. This was not one of Strictly’s better outings. Our Staycation Blackpool Week sadly took all the worst elements of that usual jaunt – judging hysteria, inconsistent scores – without actually giving us the pleasure of performances at the Tower Ballroom. Add in some unfortunate sexism and another trying week of Judge Anton, and this really was a bad dip in the series.
Part of the problem, as per usual, is Couple’s Choice. It was always ill-defined and marked more on mawkish backstories or cartoonish antics than technique – making it an unfair comparison with a couple trying to master, say, a waltz or a samba – but this year, any attempt at even placing it within a dance genre has been abandoned. It’s now just a bye week: have fun, wear a costume, get a high score. What’s the point?
Yet even among the classic styles, this week’s show had a more dubious attitude to fairness than Donald Trump eyeing up a ballot box. It’s absolutely the stage when the judges should be challenging our celebs more on technique. Except that you need to do that with everyone. If you do critique someone – HRVY, for example – your scores need to reflect that critique, otherwise it’s utter nonsense. All the judges pointed out mistakes and technical issues, yet he scored 9s, one off perfection. Huh? Even he seemed baffled.
Meanwhile, poor Clara was basically the only celeb to be both harshly critiqued and scored, while Maisie got a much tougher talking-to than HRVY, who was praised for “recovery” from his mistakes. Yes, Clara’s performance was poor this week – but so was JJ’s. How on earth did he end up with a pat on the head and those preposterous scores? Did Prince Harry promise Shirley a castle on the sly? Yes, it’s tougher for the male celebs in some respects, like learning to lead (except that the female pros back-lead anyway), but this is an INSANE overcorrection.
Please get it together, judges. Yes, Strictly is just a fun entertainment show, some light relief in a bleak world, but viewers also invest in the competition. If you want to honour that, then play fair.
Sigh, back to ghastly with hideously unflattering cut-out panels. Claud in leopard-print PJs.
Well, we began nicely enough with this old-school American smooth – and not an elephant in sight. The jazzy side-by-side sections played brilliantly to Bill’s strength: his musicality. It all felt very light and easy, no visible effort, and some decent style, although his extensions need work: a bit unfinished, and his shoulders rise up with his arms. However, lovely partnering, keeping a connection with Oti both in and out of hold. Foxtrot-wise, pretty good on the footwork, though he seems more comfortable up on the toes then in the heel leads, so could make bigger distinctions between quicks and slows. Overall, very charming.
Song: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lesley Garrett and Anton, Anita Dobson and Robin)
Judges’ comments: Shirley loved his class and finesse. Anton praised the topline and partnering. Craig wanted him to extend more and point his feet on the jumps, but hand shaping extraordinary.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8 – 25
So, the public clearly aren’t behind Maisie, and doing a crazily ambitious salsa didn’t endear her to them. As for the judges, she got a mixed response but strong scores, so… do voters think she’s an overmarked ringer, or are they going off the panel’s negative comments, or just voting for someone else? Who knows. Anyhow, yes, this was a kitchen sink-and-all salsa: lifts (skittering out of one), tricks, splits, floor spin, front walkover, and ribbon fringe for days. Good basics with earthy foot pressure, but she never closes her feet and sometimes goes pigeon-toed. That makes it all a little ungainly. Added to which it’s feeling forced now in her understandable desire to get back on track.
Song: “Better When I’m Dancing”, Meghan Trainor
Judges’ comments: Anton said she was more fluid, but one lift landed heavily. Craig praised her isolation, spins and walkover. Shirley said she’s accomplished and fearless, but work on the feet.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9 – 27
Look, JJ seems nice enough, and he wears a purple waistcoat well, but let’s be perfectly honest here: this was a poor quickstep. Heavy and flat-footed, still, and he failed to power it – stiff and jerky, with no musicality, no style, and no dynamics. Yes, the frame was good initially, but it bounced around when he moved at speed. Attempted footwork, though he crashed down onto the heel leads rather than cushioning the transition. By this stage you should be able to place the free arm expressively, not just curl it behind your back. Also, he should be docked 10 points for lip-sync-screaming throughout; this is not a wedding disco at 3am.
Song: “For Once in My Life”, Stevie Wonder (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Di Angelo and Flavia)
Judges’ comments: Craig said it was too jagged and his top half moved too much. Shirley disagreed and said there was some impressive footwork. Anton… listed off figures.
Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9 – 25
You know what a tricky dance like samba needs? Totally idiotic, distracting and downright sabotaging chef theming! I spent the first part of this routine screaming “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PUT DOWN THE HAT”. Once she finally did, Clara had nice bounce action and some good basics, but mistakes – including treading right on Aljaž’s foot, ouch – knocked her confidence, so her footwork got messier, her weight was in the wrong place and she got out of time. Still, I’m not sure it was a total disaaaaahster, per Craig; we’ve definitely seen worse, and I’m blaming the chef outfit for at least part of it, since it physically constricted her.
Song: “That’s the Way (I Like It)”, KC and The Sunshine Band (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Wright and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her joy and energy, but couldn’t tell which foot she was on. Anton noted mistakes. Craig said she was too heavy into the floor, pigeon-toed, and bad batucadas, but there was bounce.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7 – 18
I mean… I’m not really sure what to say about this. It just felt like it was on a completely different show – possibly a Blue Peter treat for a very eager little boy who’d written in, or a contest for the whitest 1990s hip-hop ever. Funny, yes. Energetic, sure. Impressive in its way – the sync was good, the timing was mainly OK, some great tricks in there (and also some terrible breakdancing). However, when you remove all technical and partnering requirements and just let the celeb have a ball freestyling, of course that’s going to land differently than someone trying to perform while also mastering a heel turn or a volta.
Song: “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”, C&C Music Factory
Judges’ comments: Anton loved the style and timing. Craig said it was amazing. Shirley found it agile and energetic.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 29
An aggressively confused mix of music and concept here. We got masquerade ball, tango glowering and Janette really testing that Strictly insurance plan by swan diving at the floor in a “Never leave me, lover!” way – but set to a mellow Harry Styles song that’s more “…yeah, OK, text me next summer.” The song also contributed to this not feeling like a tango in style: too peppy and frantic. A good lead but wrenched the arms around, and footwork wise, he still tends to go pigeon-toed and could do with lowering into his knees more so his steps aren’t so stompy. However, great staccato and performance.
Song: “Golden”, Harry Styles
Judges’ comments: Craig noted mistakes and it should have been more on one level, but power and sharpness. Shirley said it was a difficult routine. His frame has potential but it wasn’t there today. Anton… named yet more figures.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9 – 26
Well, we did ask Caroline to give us more. Did anyone expect that to manifest as “Randy housewife shoving her cat up a tree in order to get her mitts on Fireman/Amateur Stripper Johannes”? As entertainment, this was probably my favourite number from them. It was pure camp: Johannes, er, nudging her up the ladder with his pelvic thrusts, Caroline snogging her cat, and GOOD GOD DID SHE JUST LICK HIS ARM? Cha cha-wise, having a comic story to tell did help her relax into the movement, so it was fluid, had good timing and was fun to watch. However, also still too soft and up on the toes – really lacked proper foot pressure and sharpness, and hip action was minimal.
Song: “Rescue Me”, Fontella Bass (COPYCAT KLAXON: Louisa Lytton and Vincent)
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her flow and timing. Very entertaining. Anton: “This is the way to do a cha cha.” (Uh…) Craig liked the straight legs, arm placement and cheeky cheesiness.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24
A much loved tango song on Strictly, and one of the few appropriate music choices on this week’s show. So hurrah for that. Also for the gorgeous styling, particularly Giovanni’s guyliner, and fab-u-lous drama. These two have such tangible, simmering chemistry (on the dance floor, that is – ahem, tabloid rumours), and this intimate routine made the most of it. It really looked like they were reacting to one another, rather than just stepping because it was in the routine. Ranvir could have been more precise and stronger with her leg and foot action – taking more compact steps within her body and leaning her weight more towards Gio would have helped – but a cracking number.
Song: “When Doves Cry”, Prince (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Stevens and Vincent, Kimberley Walsh and Pasha, Jay McGuiness and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Anton loved the intensity and atmosphere. Craig wanted a straight leg in the lunge and looser legs in the ganchos, but so much detail. Shirley got hot and bothered.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 10 – 27
Jamie and Karen – 29
Maisie and Gorka – 27
Ranvir and Giovanni – 27
HRVY and Janette – 26
Bill and Oti – 25
JJ and Amy – 25
Caroline and Johannes – 24
Clara and Aljaž – 18
Clara plunges right from the top to the bottom. Jamie, Ranvir and Maisie are up, Bill slips.
Back in black. Tess a sparkly top and trousers, Claud LBD with a very unkind silhouette.
Poor Maisie and Gorka again, this time facing Caroline and Johannes – not exactly a fair fight. The judges all saved Maisie.
I’m sad to lose Caroline and Johannes, but it did feel like they’d probably peaked. I’m not sure if Caroline was ever going to escape the ballet box, and I’m so relieved that Clara got a reprieve – thank you, voters!
What did you think of the scoring this week? Do you like having Couple’s Choice in Strictly? Did the right couple go out? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week, when Motsi returns and hopefully so does scoring sanity. In the meantime… keep dancing!
Photographs: Guy Levy, courtesy of the BBC.