[This is something I felt I had to do for my own reasons, but if anyone wants to turn this into a general DWTS Season 28 thread, I’m fine with that.]
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when I was genuinely enthusiastic about reality TV. Survivor, The Amazing Race, American Idol, Hell’s Kitchen, the experimental stuff like Whodunit and Unanimous and Splash, I discussed them all here. I made predictions, dangit! And I never make predictions!
So what now? American Ninja Warrior has become so completely prepackaged and homogenized it may as well be Survivor, the Voice is as obnoxious as ever and will only get worse as an increasingly desperate Blake Shelton’s faded glory slips ever further into the past, Songland is the mehest meh that ever mehed (“You know what would make me enjoy this song even more? If I got to listen to a bunch of pretentious clowns ramble incoherently about it!” :rolleyes:), anything where Mary goddam Murphy is allowed to open her mouth automatically becomes unbearable, and The Masked Singer continues to somehow pull off being torturous and pointless at the same time. I wasn’t exactly blown away by The Titan Games in its first season, but with the crop we have now, I’m all but begging for the next season to get here already. All in all, a bleak picture.
But not very long ago, one show…one of the shows I was really avid about in the distant past, in fact…showed me something really, really good.
Ladies and gentlemen, the season 28 premiere of Dancing With The Stars.
We begin with an introductory number from the regulars, mainly to give the audience a taste of what good dancing looks like before we have to start watching the amateurs. The men are in jackets and pants, while the women are sporting really skimpy leg- and back-revealing (and borderline flesh-tone) dresses. Naturally, I dislike this arrangement…I think that the men should be skimped up as well. We never see male legs or backs on this show, and honestly, that’s a real loss. I don’t care how hairy they are, dangit!
Enter host Tom Bergeron and obligatory vapid blowhard Erin Andrews. Bergeron, let’s be realistic, is the only person on this show who will be anything more than a D-lister after it ends, which makes his appearance on The Muppets all the more inexpicable (remember that one?). Andrews is by far the worst thing about this episode, so I will naturally spend as little time on her as possible. They’re quickly followed by judges Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba, and Bruno Tonioli. I’ve had my criticisms of this trio over the years, but I do give them all the credit for one thing: unlike every other reality TV show judge ever, they need to actually have a clue what the hell they’re talking about. They have to be knowledgable about form, hold, line, posture, hip action, placement, when lifts are and aren’t appropriate, all the elements that go into the different dance styles. Occasional stupid posturing aside, every time they talk I get the feeling that I’m listening to intelligent professionals who give a damn, and it’s reassuring to have them around.
The contestants make their entrance. All of them make it down the stairs without mishap. So far so good.
Bergeron begins with a…development? Christie Brinkely had to pull out due to injury, so daughter Sailor Brinkley-Cook went in as a last-minute substitute. I still remember season 2 and what an unmitigated disaster Master P was. Fingers definitely crossed.
Contestant #1 is former The Bachelorette contestant Hannah Brown. In a long-ago thread I mentioned how for the vast majority of participants, the only real opportunity reality TV opens up for them is more reality TV (coughLeeDewyzecough), and that definitely hasn’t changed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on America’s Got Talent a few months down the road. Her profile has her, ah, pairing on that show completely misunderstanding what “break a leg” means and introducing her pro.
On to the actual performance, set to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. It’s a good choice mainly because it’s an even-tempo dancepop number, so they can truncate it without making it jarring. Actually, at this point anytime anyone plays any Whitney Houston song whatsoever other than that execrable ear-blistering “I Will Always Love You” is a cause for celebration, so I’m a happy man. She’s in the same number as the female pros in the opener but red, giving us a nice view of the best part of her. (Her legs. What did you think I meant? ;)). She looks flexible and fairly energetic, definitely easy on the eyes. Judges are mostly positive, Tonioli pointing out a couple things to be improved on. Every dance ends with a quick debriefing with Andrews, who is a complete waste of oxygen and not worth wasting keystrokes on. Scores: Inaba 7, Goodman 7, and Tonioli 6, a heck of a start, both for her and the show.
Contestant #2 is Kel Mitchell, who’s did a kiddie movie one time. He sounds exactly like the kind of competitor with far more confidence than ability, a bad sign if you’re rooting for him (you know who you are). He’s in a conservative suit, apparently in an attempt to keep his limbs under control. I don’t recognize the song they gave him, which is a definite plus (it’s boring listening to the same songs over and over!). Looks a bit stiff, doesn’t do a whole lot, but at least can get around the dance floor. Judges…hot dang, is this possible? Generally try to be positive, but still tell him what he did wrong and why it was wrong? Great stuff, man! Scores: 6-5-5, which sounds about right. And hey, props to the audience for not getting all boo-y at the 5’s.
On to #3, Kate Flannery, former star of The Office, and given that The Muppets lasted only one season, no, I’m not going to watch the whole thing just to understand the connection. Sorry. (Are spray tans really in such demand that they need an entire room for them?) She looks nervous. Song is Pat Benatar’s “She Works Hard For The Money”, which Flannery lip-syncs the first few words off. She starts out in an waitress apron but almost immediately rips it off to reveal a blue dress (which covers the same amount of skin). It’s never a good sign when the very first thing a contestant does is a classic desperation move, let alone the first two things. Dance itself is nothing to write home about; a hip wiggle here, a gesture there, as much grace as she can muster into those teensy spike heels. Inaba softballs her comments, Goodman says that she needs to straighten her legs, and Tonioli says she needs to finish her movements. Scores…5-5-5? Hold the phone, after Inaba was all sweet ‘n nice, she gives the same score as the other judges? She’s not going to softball anyone tonight? A little tepid applause from the crowd, definitely a refreshing change from their usual reaction to 5’s. Andrews fires off a “Come on!” drawing absolutely zero response. Bergeron mocks that “You guys spent the past year practicing your booing!” which gets the same result. Hot damn, this just keeps getting better and better!
#4 is Lamar Odom…oops, excuse me, TWO TIME NBA CHAMPION Lamar Odom, an extremely tall former basketball player, who should do just as well as every other extremely tall former basketball player we’ve had here. Seriously, could they at least try to get someone like John Stockton or Muggsy Bogues? Song is some piano-based number I haven’t heard before; he’s in a dark maroon suit. The dance…what’s to say? He looked like he could barely walk. I half-expected him to fall down. Goodman and Tonioli do a lot of hemming and calmly point out his problems, but you know they’re going to be merciless with the paddles. Inaba gamely acts the cheerleader, but she fooled us once; it’s not happening a second time. Scores: 5…3! And another 3! Ye gods…I read on Primetimer that there was an interview where the judges said they’d be harsher in their scores, but I never would have expected this. Seriously, the last person I remember getting a 3 was David Hasselhoff, and it was so long ago I’m not even sure it was David Hasselhoff! The best part? A tiny bit of tepid groaning, whereupon Andrews obligingly belches out “Let’s hear those boos!”…whereupon the crowd goes silent. I have never seen such absolute defiance of the happy-happy-everything-positive paradigm this show has built up, reinforced, and defended at gunpoint over 27 seasons.
A little break with a past winner before #5, Lauren Alaina, who…finished 2nd on American Idol? Another reality TV transplant? This is starting to get unnerving She’s a country singer, but since this is Dancing With The Stars and not The Voice, that doesn’t guarantee her anything. She’ll be performing in a green dress with a big ole cowboy belt and to a country song, as if there were any other possibility. The dance…works, I guess. Inaba is mostly positive again, Goodman is a bit critical of the middle part, and Tonioli gives a couple pointers about her legwork. Scores: 7-6-6. Clear contender.
#6 is Sailor Brinkley-Cook, daughter of the ill-fated Christie Brinkely, and now we’re going to see exactly what happened. Christie was really pumped for this, but just five days before the premiere, she tripped and fell. Couldn’t even tell what happened; it looked like she lightly brushed against her partner’s foot and just lost it. The fall broke two of the bones in her arm, which gave Sailor three days to get to Hollywood and learn how to do a ballroom dance…something she’s never done in her life.
On that ominous note, we go to the dance floor, where she’s in a long white slit gown. The song is Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”, which I thought was an iffy choice given that it was made by the man Christie DIVORCED many years ago, but Wikipedia says they’re still friends, so whatevs. Typical rough first outing…it actually looked like she was having trouble remembering what to do…but she stayed on her feet and there weren’t any really glaring failings I could see. At the end she gave her mom a hug and got choked up in a way the New York Yankees probably found ridiculous. Largely, and understandably, softball comments from the judges, although Goodman did say she needed a little more contact. Scores: 6-6-6, which is definitely enough to keep her around. If nothing else, this is one of those competitors where you want to find out just how good she really is, and it looks like we’ll get the chance.
#7 is Karamo, star of Queer Eye, yet another show I’ve heard about but never seen. (Hey, YouTube videos take up a lot of time! :)) He’s rocking a shiny purple suit to an unfamiliar disco song. He does okay, but he looks like one of those second-tier also-rans more concerned with polishing his image and building support for his real job than doing what it’s going to take to win the competition. (I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that much forced smiling!) Inaba says he underperformed and was underwhelming. Goodman says it’s disappointing and has not enough hip action, drawing the first round of boos the entire night. A very short round of boos, I might add. Tonioli compliments his “good looks and style” but reiterates the need for hips. Scores: 6-5-6. Tiny bit of lethargic wailing at Tonili’s score; I figure this is one of the really popular stars, and even then the response was limited. Good stuff.
#8 is former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis, who has a highly checkered history I need not repeat here. Let’s just say that there were very good reasons Got Milk chose Trent Dilfer instead of him after that Super Bowl. He comes out in a plain purple suit to Nelly’s “Hot In Here”. I’m almost certain there was a time when playing a song about demanding a woman take off her clothes on this show would’ve drawn some pretty nasty complaints, but then the same could be said about Lewis himself, so six of one. He doesn’t do very much and seems to have real trouble moving his big body around. Judges comments follow the usual pattern, and then…
…Holy cow, is this really happening? Bergeron says that the show’s running a little behind schedule, so they’re going to dispense with “the usual chitchat” and go right to the scores! DWTS staying within its allotted time by taking out the absolute worst part? I know it’s way too early to be Christmas! Scores: 5-5-5, and man, you can tell that Goodman didn’t want to do this to him. But he did. Because he is a judge, not a mom. Little bit ‘o booing; ends as quickly as it came. I am absolutely loving how this episode is coming together.
#9 is Mary Wilson of the legendary soul band The Supremes. “You Can’t Hurry Love” plays during her profile, and man, I don’t even want to speculate as to how many girls were royally messed up by that one. She comes out in an elaborate white coat but immediately discards it to reveal a white sequined long-sleeved shirt and pants; the song is, appropriately, The Supremes’ “Baby Love”. She’s…sluggish. Really, really sluggish. She looks exactly like the typical DWTS contestant who’s simply too old for this; no speed, no stamina, no passion. Judges are on eggshells with their comments; I honestly think they’re frightened of ticking off certain fanbases. Scores: 6-5-6, which she seems unusually happy to have, which Bergeron obligingly points out the unusualness of for any of us have been a cave for roughly the last 15 years. :rolleyes:
#10 is Ally Brooke, a former member of Fifth Harmony, which is apparently a girl pop band which has some success. (You want to enlighten me, go ahead. Don’t everyone get up at once. :)) She struck out on her own, which is highly noteworthy for some reason. She’s in another opening-number dress and dancing to what I presume is a Fifth Harmony song. And right away I see the difference between her and nearly everyone else here. She can dance. She starts dancing before her partner is even on the stage. The range of motion, the speed, the energy, all the things a contestant needs to contend for the trophy. Inaba says she needs to find a balance and keep her core tight. Goodman says there was a lot of hip thrusting and Beyonce stuff…hey, his words, not mine…but it didn’t fit the dance. This has always been a sticking point, and it’s a good reminder that they actually have to know what goes into a samba, or a foxtrot, or a quickstep, not just move around a lot. Little groaning, nothing more. Tonioli says she went ahead of the music. Scores: 5-5-6. Not impressive, but not a cause for concern. Improper execution can be fixed; having one foot in the grave cannot. If she can get her head in the game, expect her to develop into a real contender.
#11 is short-lived Donald Trump lackey Sean Spicer, who’s an…interesting choice. Now, obviously I don’t brook his noodlebrained bible-thumping, but as right-wingers go, he’s definitely one of the more palatable, or at least less disgusting, choices. If nothing else, he didn’t stick around long enough to do any serious damage; mostly just tiresome whoppers about media bias and the like. He’s got some really, really super-duper basic stuff for his opening number, so the main challenge is if he can stay on two feet and not become a deer in the headlights.
He comes out in a gaudy ruffled outfit and banging a drum. Some Latin number starts playing. Then he hits the floor, and…oh. Not good. He can pivot, he can sway, he can flail his arms a bit, and that’s it. Remember that Dave Barry book where said that Republicans have no rhythm? Prime example here. The judges know that reactionaries get a freakish amount of fan support on this show and treat with him kid gloves in their comments. But they don’t hold back with the paddles: 4-4-4. Exactly what he deserved, and this sent a powerful message to the rabid right-wing fandom that’s been plaguing this show for years: We don’t give a damn what you want, and we won’t be bullied. We will give him the scores he earns. So go right ahead, waste hours and hours of your life propping him up with thousands of bogus e-mail votes, and let’s see who cracks first. Oh man. Crowning. Moment. Of. Awesome.
Our #12 and final contestant is James Van Der Beek, who’s acted in a bunch of TV shows I didn’t watch. (I was a sitcom guy! Sue me! :)) He has a bit of an ego problem but seems to be genuinely enjoying the experience so far. He’s in a classy vest and dancing to Imagine Dragons’ “Whatever it Takes”. (Finally, a band I actually listen to! :)) And…well now. He looks graceful. No stiffness, no awkwardness, just fluidly moving from one step to the next. The judges, needless to say, love him and proclaim him an early favorite. Given what he’s up against, I can’t disagree. Scores: 7-7-7, the best of the night.
So, there you have it! A nice range of styles and skills, an almost completely polite crowd, honest, sober, pull-no-punches judging (aside from a little rah-rah from Inaba), a genuine feel-good story in Sailor Brinkley-Cook stepping up, no truly awful missteps, and Erin Andrews being completely ignored liked the empty-headed bloviator she is. Wow. Just…wow.
Of course, episode 2 would turn into a complete meltdown. Apparently NBC freaked out at the prospect of a fun and entertaining season and so brought all the moronic howler monkeys back in the stands, spiked the judges’ drinks so they’d turn back into total spazzes, and enforce happy-happy-everything-positive with bazookas. We all know what’s going to happen now: The useless right wing clod will last at least 4 episodes longer than he should thanks to a mob of degenerates whose literal sole purpose in life is flipping the bird to everything in the world that isn’t them, the order of eliminations will make no sense whatsoever, the judges will realize that their scores mean diddly-squat and grow increasingly pitiful in their comments, and the winner, of course, will be the one whose partner has the biggest fanbase.
But for one beautiful, magical night, Dancing With The Stars reminded me that reality TV could be good, and entertaining, and even riveting. Enough that it gave me hope for the future. For the world, if not reality TV.