Posted on November 5, 2018
Post-Halloween Week, and it’s possible the judges were still hopped up on Haribo and egging unsuspecting strangers, with the series’ most inconsistent show so far in terms of scoring and comments. Of course, Strictly is a mix of dancing and entertainment, ringers and J-worders, and subjective interpretations of different styles, but even so, I think viewers sense when the panel has lost its sense of fairness.
It’s absolutely fine (positively welcome, in fact) to start drilling down on technique in Week 7 – but then you have to do the same with every couple. Conversely, if someone essentially gets points for trying, so should they all. And if two contestants suffer injuries, then either play up both or neither.
In the midst of this egregious inconsistency comes (sigh) Couple’s Choice. Already so ill-defined its tagline might as well be “Couple’s Choice Means Couple’s Choice! Red, white and blue! IT’S THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE! COINS!”, we’re now, already, getting a “twist” on the genre?!
I thought Stacey did brilliantly with what she was given, especially with the injury, but there’s no denying that Strictly has never specifically spelled out the rules – or, say, given us pro demos – of each genre, and that further muddling styles together in some kind of postmodern, “Drama students go to Edinburgh and like totally deconstruct Chekhov you guys” manner just leads to further confusion.
With the unwelcome addition of an X Factor sob story VT, Couple’s Choice really just feels like a “Do whatever your celeb is already comfortable with” Get Out of Jail Free card – and, Lauren aside, is conspicuously judged with less rigour than the set ballroom and Latin styles. Not to mention we’ll have run out of both tricks and tears by the time the actual showdance round comes along.
Ill-fitting black satin. Claud in tailored blouse and trousers.
Skate park visit, and the neverending delight of AJ’s “Kidnap victim listing demands off a card” line readings. Yes, because all the cool kids today are rocking out to Avril Lavigne with their skateboards. So, I’ve really enjoyed seeing Lauren’s confidence grow, and she made this jive look quite fun and natural, but lots of issues – kicks soft, feet (in trainers) not pointed, basics laboured, needed more springy bounce, and lots of repeated content. Sidenote: two illuminating training moments (Lauren saying she has to try to keep up with AJ, and noting he always puts in a trick for himself) show he still has work to do prioritising his partner.
Song: “Girlfriend”, Avril Lavigne
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised Lauren for surviving the leapfrog, and great content. Bruno thought it was streetwise but also sharp and clean. Craig noted some hesitation, but lively and good armography. Darcey liked the toe heel swivels, but work more on expressing the character of the dance.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31
Family prop points galore, with Graeme’s parents and the supportive ghosts of his grandparents and quite possibly also Liesl from The Sound of Music since that’s all I can think of when I see people dancing in a gazebo (albeit in bobble hats). Big improvement from Graeme, whose early ballroom was pretty painful – nice rise and fall in this waltz, decent footwork, and generally good frame, though sometimes lost the shape on transitions. Timing also slightly variable, but managed to reflect the music and character of the dance, even though this calmer, more understated performance was less natural for him. Not perfect, but moving in the right direction.
Song: “The Last Waltz”, Engelbert Humperdinck
Judges’ comments: Bruno was impressed by the quality of movement and ease. Craig noted his topline needs finessing and lost balance on the pivots, but graceful and felt like he was leading. Darcey liked the flow, but maintain eye level. Shirley praised the footwork, and he looked like a gentleman.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29
Stop press: visit from fellow newsreaders Katie Derham and Andrea Catherwood. Comparatively underreported was Kate’s rib injury – and adventures in laughing gas. So, I wanted more from this Argentine routine; it had a great smoulder and intensity, but didn’t crescendo theatrically with the music. (What happened to the Mr & Mrs Smith passionate assassins theme?) Also, Kate needed to stretch her legs and point her feet more in all those decorations. However, some really great content in there, well executed, including challenging partnering and tricks, so a good attempt that seemed rather unfairly castigated. Sidenote: we smothered Aljaž in raspberry doily sofa upholstery because…?
Song: “Assassin’s Tango”, John Powell (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jason Donovan and Kristina)
Judges’ comments: Craig called it stuck in the mud – should be lighter and feel like she’s moving in reaction to him. Darcey liked the storytelling, but saw effort in the lifts. Shirley praised her ganchos, though wanted more chemistry and breath. Bruno saw great shapes and lines, but she didn’t throw herself into it.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 7 – 23
Fireworks for Dr Ranj, because…I don’t know, I lost the will to live again with these VTs. Anyhow, this was another unarguably gaymazing number from the good doc, from the styling and blinding grins to the shimmies and tush-shaking. He also attempted samba basics, which was great to see. However, lots of technique issues –double bounce action absent, footwork often stompy and flat, a missed whisk. Perhaps most noticeably, body action only came in the shimmies and other free moves, rather than from correct foot pressure, weight transfer and rhythm in the samba steps. Entertaining and likeable, but slightly cheated.
Song: “Freedom! ’90”, George Michael
Judges’ comments: Darcey said he sold it, but technique not perfect. Shirley thought he commanded the room. Bruno called it flamboyant and high-spirited. Craig said he found his groove, but voltas and timing needed work.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27
Stacey’s backstory showed her working in hostile environments – none more so than the Strictly training room, where she sustained an injury. So, what exactly is “street commercial” if it needs a “modern twist”? Are we talking 90s hip-hop? Gene Kelly’s rainy street? Roman roads? And how do we fairly compare this to Charles’s James Brown-a-thon – or, indeed, the theatrical or contemporary Couple’s Choice numbers, since it referenced those styles too? Do we have any technical criteria here? Stacey looked gorgeous, had an easy connection with Kevin, and moved in time to the music – albeit with the same relaxed posture and club-y vibe she’s had since Week 1. It’s frustratingly impossible to judge anything beyond that.
Song: “Empire State of Mind (Part II)”, Alicia Keys (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Baker and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Shirley enjoyed the modern twist. Bruno said it was like watching a movie. Craig loved it. Darcey praised the fusion and sass.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36
Oh dear. It all went disaaahstrously wrong in this quickstep. As ever, a confident intro from Danny on his own, with lovely jazzy touches. But once in hold, ginormous gapping, lost the sync, and a chain reaction of mistakes – he just couldn’t seem to find his way back into it. That might be partly the exceedingly unhelpful music, and also perhaps points to the problems they’ve had establishing a strong connection as a partnership – the latter less an issue when all’s well with your routine, but makes a big difference if you go wrong or have to improvise. What a shame.
Song: “Freedom”, Pharrell Williams
Judges’ comments: Bruno said Danny’s performance almost covered a lot of mistakes. Craig thought he went completely out of whack. Darcey said it was light and effortless when it went right. Shirley said it was a misstep that couldn’t be fixed.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 7 – 22
Borrowed family prop points via bandmate Kimberley and her camera-ready kids, doing idyllic park set-ups like an M&S autumn fashion shoot. Other than that (and the flying bench, and Pasha’s butterfly shirt), this was a no-frills foxtrot, earning its impact through the dance alone. I know Ashley is an uber-ringer, but I don’t mind so much when they do a number like this – very much steps and technique in a different style to her background, and challenging content at that. Lots of great footwork, expressive hold, connected partnering, and a gorgeous routine that hit every accent in pleasing fashion. Bonus points for Pasha smouldering down the camera at me. Er, us.
Song: “Orange Colored Sky”, Natalie Cole (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Craig said it was proper foxtrot, pure and unadulterated, with no tricks or gimmicks. Darcey praised the unbelievably difficult content. Shirley called it exquisite classic foxtrot, and couldn’t find a foot error. Bruno loved the details – flawless.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39
So, yes – you can’t have a giant cube clogging up your dancefloor unless you do something thrilling with it (and an overlong Argentine intro does not count). Otherwise I just start thinking about Matt LeBlanc’s fake game show on Episodes. Other than that, a crisp, dynamic tango from this consistent pair, with sharp staccato, good if occasionally meandering frame, committed performance and nice musicality. The same criticism of Kate could be used here, that Faye was sometimes anticipating moves rather than reacting to Giovanni’s lead, and perhaps needed to be looser in her back to create more expressive shapes, but overall impressive.
Song: “Call Me”, Blondie (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kenny Logan and Ola)
Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the passion and clipped changes. Shirley said there were phenomenal moments, but frame jiggled and don’t turn feet out. Bruno found it mesmerising. Craig questioned the cube.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38
“Charles Venn is the best ever dancer and who could question the artistic genius of Charles Venn, certainly not I, Charles Venn’s son, can I have my Xbox back now?” Yes, more family prop points, and a Viennese danced – in awkward song-referencing fashion – in the vicinity of a pub. Not in a pub. Just…near one. Charles Venn also donned a flat cap, because that’s how he rolls. Viennese wise, nice flow and timing, and some frame improvement, but occasional gapping and still too casual with the footwork – no lowering into 1 to drive the dance, stompy flat feet on the fleckerl, and bobbed up and down rather than keeping it smooth.
Song: “Piano Man”, Billy Joel (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Shirley liked the sincerity, but needed to be flatter and have more glide. Bruno called him a charming romantic lead. Craig noted the excess rise and fall and posture pedestrian, but acted it beautifully. Darcey liked the storytelling, but work on the frame.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 8 – 28
Joe, the human bendy straw, was all about being tough this week in preparation for paso. That’s still a work in progress, but what he did do well was the strong shaping and lines – elements that sometimes get lost when celebs focus on the “Grrr!” bullfighting bit. (In fairness, the bull would probably be scared off for good by Joe’s bouffant ’do and sour lemon pout.) Another effective routine from Dianne, and he looked in control of it – great timing, partnering and characterisation. Wasn’t wild about the knee slide, or indeed the music, and needed more extremity in places, otherwise a great job.
Song: “Pompeii”, Bastille
Judges’ comments: Bruno called him a lean mean paso doble machine. Craig found it a bit wooden, but loved the routine. Darcey said he was dramatic and powerful, but watch the free arm. Shirley bestowed another hug. (Now worth two Strictly8s and a Donny 10.)
Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34
Ashley and Pasha – 39
Faye and Giovanni – 38
Stacey and Kevin – 36
Joe and Dianne – 35
Lauren and AJ – 31
Graeme and Oti – 29
Charles and Karen – 28
Dr Ranj and Janette – 27
Kate and Aljaž – 23
Danny and Amy – 22
Battle of the Blonde Ringers update: Ashley grabs back the lead from Faye. At the end of the series, one will consume the soul of the other. Also, a massive tumble for Danny.
Backwards, or upside down, or inside out – or all three – shredded LBD. Claud still on sparkles.
Charles and Karen again, versus Dr Ranj and Janette. Interesting. Both felt like contestants voters had assumed were safe, busy saving others lower down the leaderboard, though it’s possible too that the Great British Public shares my aversion to Charles Venn and his ego…
Anyhow, both improved in places and also introduced new errors. Craig voted for Dr Ranj, Darcey, Bruno and Shirley went for Charles.
I shall definitely miss Dr Ranj and his lovely sunshine-y personality – he’s given us so much joy this series. However, he was running low on dances that he could conquer based on shimmies and smiles alone, so perhaps it’s best he leaves on a high.
Who impressed you this week? Did you agree with the scoring? And were the right couples in the dance-off? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week for the last show pre-Blackpool. In the meantime…keep dancing!