Posted on October 5, 2015
Yes, it’s that dark week of Strictly. The week when our first couple is thrown out of paradise, and also the week when at least one blogger develops crippling RSI. Still, at least 15 dances meant marginally less filler. Just time for a few Tess jokes to bomb, Claudia to inch over the pre-watershed line by roaring for “GLEBBY GLEBBY GLEBBERS” while brandishing handcuffs, and our couples to trudge through a grim mire of terminally unfunny “comedy” VTs.
Now, it’s not just that the “comedy” VTs are terrible (though they are). By not showing training footage, Strictly takes away our opportunity to track the contestants’ progress, appreciate improvement, sympathise with challenges, and reward effort. It also removes the distinction between ringer and non-ringer – and this year, if you’re not a Sylvia Young grad, you’re going to have a hard time. Kirsty’s dances were both tough to watch, but might you view her differently compared with, say, Jay (currently benefitting from a dubious underdog narrative) if reminded of their relative experience levels?
Of course, you could argue we should judge everyone equally, regardless of circumstance, but – in theory – that’s our esteemed panel’s job. We can consider multiple factors and redress the balance with our votes when the scoring descends into madness. (For my money, at least three couples wildly overmarked and three under-. Justice for Anita!) Finally, by removing the emphasis from the learning process, we lose Strictly’s kind, democratic message: with hard work and a good teacher, anyone can learn to dance. Or at least move from hardline Conservative politics into camp-tastic panto. And isn’t that what Britain’s all about?
Other hits and misses:
Best in Show
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
“What shall we do with a drunken tailor?” “Employ him, stat!” Tess got a wonky jumpsuit held up by a repurposed bandage and hope, while Claud donned a skewwhiff tomato sack and morning-after panda eye make-up.
Jamelia and Tristan – Tuneless
The production team really stretched Jamelia this week by asking her to act like a difficult pop singer. Well, I guess the “singer” part might be unfamiliar. Tristan laughed at her diva antics. He laughed a laugh of deep internal pain. The best thing about their cha cha was the wind machine, highlighting Jamelia’s eye-watering radioactive Christmas tree dress and poodle left out in the rain hair. Didn’t straighten her legs once and came perilously close to kneeing Tristan in the lucky charms. Flat feet, didn’t close on basics, turned in, wild arms, and general air of tequila-fuelled dancing round a handbag at 3am. So perfect teatime viewing.
Song: “Don’t Cha”, Pussycat Dolls (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gavin Henson and Katya)
Judges’ comments: Len thought the performance level was high, but the technique was low. Bruno liked her attitude, but needs to work on arm placement and keeping her weight forward. Craig found it spiky, no straight legs and dodgy foot placement, but liked the bump n grind sections. (Series 20: “And now, dancing the Bump n Grind…”) Darcey agreed.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 6 – 21
Daniel and Kristina – Out to pasture
“It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” said Daniel of his waltz. No arguments here. After a spot of horse whispering (“This is your master. Kill them all”), it’s off to the Oirish-green races with Kristina’s Ascot Barbie donning a hat the size of a Sky dish. Pluses: he mostly danced in time, remembered steps and managed a small solo. Minuses: too tame and prissy for a Charleston set to “Let’s Misbehave”, kept looking to Kristina for reassurance, said solo was very geriatric penguin, and expression didn’t waver from “Trying to dislodge corn kernel from back molar when the wind changed.” Most exciting part was Kristina running away mid dance. But Daniel found her. Daniel will always find her.
Song: “Let’s Misbehave”, Cole Porter (COPYCAT KLAXON: Pamela Stephenson and James)
Judges’ comments: Bruno thought his energy faded. Craig said it lacked swivel, free arm was problematic, and needs to be more over the top, but there is a dancer lurking within. (Because Daniel ate his liver with a nice Chianti.) Darcey praised his bounce. Len found it too safe.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23
Kirsty and Brendan – Touch and go
Stop press: Kirsty doesn’t get nervous doing the job she’s done for 15 years! Unfortunately the same does not apply to dancing in front of millions with four days’ training, so carefree, sexy salsa was a big ask. All the points to Brendan for table dancing on the judges’ desk so as to block their view of her with his gyrating bum. Lacked foot pressure and softening in legs to get organic hip action, arrhythmic, excessive strutting and lifts to cover up lack of actual salsa, and grimly clutching skirt throughout as if holding the pin in a live grenade. Some determined Johnny Castle channelling from Brendan, and the tricks were impressive for a beginner, otherwise another performance seemingly conducted as enhanced interrogation.
Song: “Can’t Touch It”, Ricki Lee
Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was stiff and lacked hip rotation. Darcey praised the lifts and commitment. Len agreed, but too high and unsteady. Bruno wants her to hit the beat more clearly.
Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 5, 5 – 20
Jay and Aliona – Spin city
A haircut for Jay, and no movie makeover montage? For shame. In a reverse Samson, the replacement of Mick Hucknell wig with 411-era Justin Timberlake wig freed Jay to spin like a beautiful music box ballerina. It helped that this was a ringer-tailored contemporary waltz with plenty of wafty arms, but – but! – some heel leads (by no means all – still needs to lower more and drive into them), decent flow and movement, promising frame, even if he hunched over Aliona towards the end, and blessedly gimmick- and prop-free. Performance not really confident romantic hero so much as solemn 15-year-old made to dance with a terrifying handsy aunt at a wedding, but definite improvement.
Song: “See The Day”, Dee C Lee (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jimmy Tarbuck and Flavia, Christine Bleakley and Matthew, Chelsee Healey and Pasha)
Judges’ comments: Darcey liked his intensity and focus on Aliona. Len said it got him excited. Bruno praised the fluidity, footwork, frame and floorwork. (Today’s critique is brought to you by the letter F.) Craig noticed a thumb sticking up, otherwise very well danced.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31
Iwan and Ola – The naked truth
The most worrying part of all this is that Iwan genuinely thought he did well last week. That, and his clammy embrace of all things reality TV (see: I’M SO SAD video diary, obnoxious bleating for audience support after the judges’ comments). Ola, correctly gauging that she was dealing with a toddler, bribed him with sweets, and also brought out the big guns AKA Iwan’s chest and as much flesh as she could reasonably expose at 7pm. The combination of clothes shedding, sugar high and needy pandering gave this cha cha(?) the seedy desperation of a low-rent strip club in daytime. Out of time, zero technique, lame breakdancing, knee slide, and frantic wiggling that suggested he should really get a doctor to look at that “area”.
Song: “Sexy And I Know It”, LMFAO
Judges’ comments: Len thought it lost its finesse, which suggests it once had some. Bruno said he was like a Neanderthal, smashing the cha cha to extinction. Craig criticised the flat feet, turned in and no rhythm. Darcey said he didn’t stay in sync, but cared for his partner.
Judges’ scores: 2, 4, 4, 3 – 13
Georgia and Giovanni – Home free
“The song’s about the writer’s home town, Georgia.” Oh, bless. Yet more underscoring of our Georgia’s Northern credentials (“Make the Funny Foreigner eat black pudding! TV gold!”) before a rather charming waltz. Not a single heel lead, which Len chose briefly to care about, thus rather flat and static in places, and swallowed her neck completely, but lovely connection and body shapes. I almost forgave the return of the sickly-sweet swing and dubious plantation theming. Choose songs based on clunking references to contestants’ names and this is what happens. Besides, David Cameron’s moved on from slavery, so clearly it’s all fair game…
Song: “Georgia On My Mind”, Ray Charles
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the chemistry and musical interpretation, but lost her neck on the head whip. Craig wanted more flair, but very easy to watch. Darcey called her sophisticated, though needs to pull up through waist rather than tilt head back. Len noted lack of heel leads, but elegant.
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 7 – 25
Ainsley and Natalie – Saucy minx
Me, last week: “Ainsley can’t get more camp.” Me, this week: “I’M SO HAPPY TO BE WRONG!” Kudos to Nat for going all in on the Bake Off-style foodie innuendo juicy juicy tomatoes theme, and a good comedy contestant mix of barmy and actual salsa basics. Like Darcey, I was transfixed by Ainsley’s pointing to the sky while wiggling madly move (somewhere between Bollywood and trying to get out of a beanbag chair), as well as the vigorous pot stirring and Kenneth Williams faces. Ginormous flat-footed steps, so not much in the way of proper hip action, and several ungainly moments, that last lift included, but energetic, musical and great fun.
Song: “Don’t Touch My Tomatoes”, Josephine Baker
Judges’ comments: Craig thought he brought the dance to life, and went wrong with style and panache. Darcey loved the charming details. Len threw in a bunch of cookery puns. Bruno, not to be outdone, said it was full of spice, but tomato puree in the footwork.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 6 – 26
Carol and Pasha – Under my umbrella (Ella ella eh eh eh)
Is anyone a more hilariously inept actor than Pasha? Well no, but Carol came a close second in their “She’s a total Pollyanna!” VT. So positive she’s even DELIGHTED to start her dance hanging about by a bus stop and spend the entire foxtrot upstaged by an umbrella. Yes, that’s foxtrot – the “American smooth” clearly morphed over the week into a dance that didn’t require a) lifts or b) Pasha letting go of her ever. No heel leads or drive, left arm drooped like a wilting flower and gritted teeth throughout, but fewer errors and rather endearing overall, if soporific.
Song: “Isn’t This A Lovely Day”, Irving Berlin
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her improvement, but she needs to maintain her topline. Len agreed, though it made him smile. Bruno criticised her footwork, frame and musicality, but fewer mistakes. Craig wanted more movement and her dress swirling looked like she was waving a tea towel.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 5 – 20
Kellie and Kevin – Chip ‘n’ Dale
Kevin took Kellie to the seaside, except they didn’t actually leave London because the producers maxed out the budget sending Georgia oop north. (“Black pudding! Comedy gold!”) Their cha cha continued this faux-seaside date, with Kellie, to judge by her baffling outfit, taking time out from her performance in a fast food-themed Vegas show. Crisp, precise and confident, with nice chemistry between them, but she needs to work on straightening and then softening both arms and legs rather than locking them, and brush feet to avoid gapping. Kevin’s cloying, stop-start routine didn’t show her off enough – needed more continuous content, less cutesy, over-literal faff.
Song: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, Elton John & Kiki Dee (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lynda Bellingham and Darren)
Judges’ comments: Len said it was tasty. Bruno found it overly clipped, so lost hip action. Craig agreed it was a bit spiky and aggressive, and needs artistry in arms, though good energy, straight legs and clean. Darcey praised her leg action, but agreed the arms were too harsh.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27
Anthony and Oti – Raining in my heart
Solid Family prop points for the appearance of Casey the fiancé in preparation for Anthony’s romantic waltz, and good follow-through – far more committed performance than I was expecting from him. Technically less secure, if pretty much par for the course (hoho) for a sportsman at this early stage. A tad stiff, needs to get lower to drive and create proper movement, and hunched over Oti awkwardly in hold – both height difference and injury probably playing a part. If he can work on the flat feet and topline, still definite potential here, and another nicely judged routine from Oti. Plus: the Joey/Chandler rainy window of emotion!
Song: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, Simply Red (COPYCAT KLAXON: Carol Smilie and Matthew, Kara Tointon and Artem, Michael Vaughn and Natalie)
Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was too jagged and he needs to work on footwork. Craig praised the effort, but hands need to be shaped and lacked rise and fall. Darcey’s looking forward to next week’s paso. Len said it was “OK, not a KO”.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 5 – 19
Anita and Gleb – In full swing
Anita brought her partner to visit The One Show, because it’s Take Your Objectified Pro To Work Day! The story of their Charleston is that Gleb is a cartoon robber with a bag marked “Swag” and Anita starting getting dressed for a burlesque show, but then gave up and booked a tennis lesson. I don’t quite understand the comment (and corresponding scores) about lack of authentic content, since Charleston on this show has always boiled down to CRAZY FACES – really, that’s a point we should have addressed years ago. Yes, could have used more basics and swivel, and a few timing issues, but a fun mix of swing-based steps, lifts, spins and tricks dynamically performed, and high performance level.
Song: “Pencil Full Of Lead”, Paolo Nutini (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian, Richard Arnold and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was ambitious, but she pulled it off. Darcey loved the contemporary (??) feel and fabulous energy. Len wanted more Charleston content. Bruno thought it was a vivacious interpretation of a swing-based style, but went off sync.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 6, 6 – 27
Jeremy and Karen – Odd couple
Honouring his dad dancer mantle, Jeremy performed at his daughter’s school. Lucky girl. Now, first time round I thought I’d spaced out and missed the point where they explained why on earth this American smooth was set in a library, but no – it really is inexplicable. As was the foxtrot, better known as “walking while hugging”, and stately lifts: one featuring a very slooooow turn, like a pedestal fan stuck on its lowest setting, another Jeremy proudly holding Karen aloft while flashing her knickers. This is becoming a worrying trend in Series 13. Like Anthony, hold troubled by height difference, among other things, and never finishes his lines, but still oddly (I stress the “oddly”) likeable.
Song: “Happy Together”, The Turtles
Judges’ comments: Darcey thought the lifts were controlled, otherwise lacking. Len said it was lumpy and bumpy, but mainly on time and a heel lead. Bruno said he made the dance his own. But not in a good way. Craig called it a “paranormal phenomenon”, in case any Doctor Who fans were getting restless.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17
Katie and Anton – Smart phone
I won’t lie – I heard “Anton Lady Gaga tango” and spent the week dreaming of the crazy camp magic to come. But no: he actually played it straight. Or at least in the region of straight – we did begin with a Noël Coward play, featuring Anton in velvet smoking jacket and baby poo-coloured polo neck and Katie reclining on a chaise longue. Good staccato, elegant lines and coped well with a lot of fast content, though a couple of stumbles, a bit upright and some gapping, and could have used slightly more drive, sharpness and aggression. Still, a lovely controlled performance supported by a rather inspired Dave Arch arrangement.
Song: “Telephone”, Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce
Judges’ comments: Len called it “a mango of a tango” (OK, Dr Seuss) – sweet and delicious. Bruno thought it was alluring and fantastic performance, but wobbled on the freezes. Craig loved the drama and false finish, though a couple of errors. Darcey told her to work on core strength in transitions, but beautiful.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28
Peter and Janette – Knees up
Mr Reality TV is indulging in too many tropes too soon, already doing a “comedy” fitness bit AND freely crying on camera. Pace yourself, love. The vague story of their quickstep was Janette the retro housewife sending Peter off to work in Jersey Boys, but thankfully not too much messing about before a light, bright, slightly disjointed routine. So many variations that there wasn’t much flow or momentum, frame too busy, and the high-kneed galloping was bizarre – as though he’d sat on a cactus and was still feeling the aftereffects. Decent attempt at footwork and good performance value, but needed more drive to get proper movement round the floor.
Song: “Valerie”, Amy Winehouse (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew, Holly Valance and Artem)
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the variations. Craig said his knees were too high, feet limp and lame in Charleston, but excellent timing and storytelling. Darcey thought he was light on his feet, but effort showed in topline. Len said the footwork could be crisper and could have moved more.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30
Helen and Aljaž – Grease monkey
Of course upper-crust Helen’s best friends are dogs, prompting an admirable “indulge the crazy lady” act from Aljaž. Also a fine contribution: his greasy mechanic get-up, which I’m sure didn’t work for anyone AT ALL. Helen executed the routine nicely, but it was all rather upright and stilted. At the opposite end of the spectrum from Jamelia, she kept her legs too straight, rather than releasing one into the hip action, and the arms were very forced. Not so much down and dirty Latin as a minor royal politely joining in with native dance while on a tour of the Commonwealth. Good effort, but could be trouble ahead with samba and salsa.
Song: “Uptown Girl”, Billy Joel (COPYCAT KLAXON: Denise Lewis and Ian)
Judges’ comments: Craig told her to loosen up, but best cha cha of the evening. Darcey praised her confidence, though trouble sinking into hips. Len agreed, noting her ballet background. Bruno thought it was a very accomplished performance.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 – 29
Peter and Janette – 30 + 30 = 60
Jay and Aliona – 27 + 31 = 58
Helen and Aljaž – 29 + 29 = 58
Kellie and Kevin – 27 + 27 = 54
Anita and Gleb – 27 + 27 = 54
Katie and Anton – 26 + 28 = 54
Georgia and Giovanni – 27 + 25 = 52
Daniel and Kristina – 24 + 23 = 47
Ainsley and Natalie – 20 + 26 = 46
Jamelia and Tristan – 21 + 21 = 42
Kirsty and Brendan – 20 + 20 = 40
Anthony and Oti – 21 + 19 = 40
Carol and Pasha – 16 + 20 = 36
Jeremy and Karen – 19 + 17 = 36
Iwan and Ola – 17 + 13 = 30
Peter stays at the top, while Jay and Ainsley rise, Anthony falls, and Iwan drops into the bottom. Lots of ties, just to keep the conspiracy theorists going…
It’s girl power! By which we means lots of wafting, feathers and glitter, with Aliona smothering everyone in a ginormous skirt and Janette powering the nation via manic trapeze rotation. Some nice partnering, but in the “Post-cheese-eating fever dream” category of pro dances.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Black boob tube savaged by a tiger. Claudia’s frock printed with…trees? Broccoli? The inner workings of Darcey’s mind? Unsettling.
Recap! A long, long recap. Make tea. Run a bath. Build Rome.
Rod Stewart dropped by to take us back to the styling and sexual politics of the Seventies: snakeskin, leopard print and younger women gyrating around him while he crooned lasciviously. WHAT FUN.
Len’s lens highlights:
Not that Strictly’s at all scripted, but here are some bloopers. Ahem.
In the dance-off: Iwan and Ola, and Jamelia and Tristan. Not terribly surprising, and not coincidentally the two routines I least wanted to see again. Choosing between the lesser of two evils, the judges all saved Jamelia. Iwan seemed gutted. Ola…did not. He threw in one last disrespectful and dangerous lift to remember him by.
Who was your Week 2 favourite? What did you make of the scoring? And did the right couple go home? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
Coming soon, Movie Week, when Daniel plays Danny Zuko and ruins all our childhoods. See you then, and in the meantime…keep dancing!