Monday, September 19, 2016

DWTS S023, Week 1: Protests in the Ballroom Ruffle an Otherwise Fun Night

Tom Bergeron keeps control. Ryan ("I thought they were over this") Lochte, Cheryl Burke.
Most of the time, the "stars" on Dancing with the Stars (now back for its 23rd season) are in career hell, and want to get out. They use it as a vehicle to present a better image to America than the one they currently have. I almost can't remember a season when there were people in bigger need of rehabilitation than this season's crop on #DWTS.

As this season's stars were announced, we were just finishing up watching a pretty wonderful (all things considered) Olympics down in Rio. But then, just at the tail end, the whole Ryan Lochte mess blew up. He'd already been signed to #DWTS, but it sure looked like a Hail, Mary. And I don't think he (or the producers really realized how much venom there was floating around America about the lies Lochte had just spewed).

I can't speak for everyone, but I still have a foul taste in my mouth from the whole Lochte mess, and he may WANT to put it behind him, but it's obviously NOT. I bring all this up because the usually pretty normal ballroom was disrupted by Lochte protestors.

It's a live show, and Carrie Ann is giving her critique of the Burke-Lochte dance, and kept saying "Excuse Me," as the protestor is trying to talk into camera. Course, #DWTS has a gazillion cameras, and the show isn't going to use the one the guy's talking into. No, we see Carrie Ann's "Excuse me," and footage from the dance in question over and over. Then Tom Bergeron blissfully cuts to commercial.

What we didn't see was the security team having knocked the guy to the ground.

It turns out, there were two guys, both of whom were arrested, and four others in the stands (all wearing "No Lochte" T-shirts).

Derek Hough (God bless him) goes to those folks and tells them to leave. "This is a good show for good folks," he says. (Then why is Lochte there, one wonders...)

My sense of it all is that America's just not over the debacle yet, and aren't ready to just go quietly as if nothing had happened. So this season is going to be interesting. I have never seen such a disruption in all the time I've been watching #DWTS.

Ah, but let's get back to the dancing and the show, shall we? The grand and glorious and amazing beginning, before the mad scuffle happened.

Actually, let me start even before that. Big things are changing this season. We have a brand-spanking new director, after having the same one for so very long (although we have the same showrunner). We have Maks and Cheryl and Derek back!!!! We have no Mark Ballas (which is more gut-wrenching that I can even describe). We also have no Shannon as pro, and it doesn't even look like he's in the troupe (at least not yet, anyway). We have no Karina or Anna or Peta. But we DO have Jenna as a pro for the first time! YAY! We also have Emma Slater back! YAY. I so love her. We have Allison back, after her baby. YAY! We have Gleb back, who was on so long ago I don't even remember him. No Tony, sadly. We distinctly DO NOT have Keo, either as a pro or in the troupe. (Also YAY!) So, all in all, it should be an interesting season.

I do think they match the pros to the people they'll be dancing with, both in height and spirit and temperament. Glad to see Sasha back too.

Now, the past few seasons of #DWTS, they've had big splashy openings. Hard to top the "Everyone on Hollywood Blvd." opening, though last season's "Everyone downtown at night" tried to.

Well, this season, in a shot many will be talking about for months (was that a drone camera? what was that?), we have "Everyone at Griffith Park and the observatory." The very first recognizable person you see on screen is Maksim Chmerkovskiy, which shows you how this season's going to go. I saw him in an interview recently where he spoke about how it would be interesting coming back when his brother (Valentin Chmerkovskiy) "has basically become the star of the show." And he has. Val is the more charming, kinder version of Maks. As to the better dancer? Hmmm...

We'll get to that. Back to the spectacular opening number, choreographed by Mandy Moore, of course. Maks opens it up, and moves off frame. To Val, Sharna, Artem and Witney, who were the face of this new season before the whole Maks/Cheryl/Derek thing was announced. Then we add Sasha and Emma (nice!). Then Gleb and Lindsay, then Jenna (surrounded by men, nice callback), then Allison and Derek. They are dancing all around Griffith Observatory, and the camera (drone camera?) is circling around, as it does on #DWTS. Then Cheryl gets her moment. Then everyone, as the camera goes higher in the sky, turns into a star on the ground. Which then turns white, then red.

Then back to the dancers, who lead us to the open door, which takes us back to the actual #DWTS stage. Phenomenal work. Stunning to watch.

Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews are back. Yay! Their teleprompter is not working. :-( They cover it well.

So what is the perfect thing to follow up that amazing breath-taking first dance? A breathless fangirl star who is thrilled to be here. Enter Marilu Henner. She is paired, to her amazement, with Derek Hough. Which means, of course, that she's going to be lasting almost the whole season no matter what. She was beside herself.

They do a nice jive, even though Marilu looks a bit nervous and uptight. As Tom pans to the judges' table, we see that Derek's sister, Julianne Hough, is back in judging position. YAY! (So we have four judges now. Apparently, they only let three of them talk after each dance.)

James, the racecar driver, and Sharna have a nice chemistry. I can see rooting for them all season long. Their foxtrot (other than her dress being slightly too long) was quite wonderful.

Thank goodness we don't have a million football players this time around (only one). This guy they call "Megatron" dances well with Lindsay. I've quite grown to like her as a pro as well, so I'm looking forward to this season.

Another over-the-moon fangirl about the show is Maureen McCormick, who dances a very nice Viennese waltz with Artem. To "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)."

And Maureen's TV mom, Florence Henderson (who also competed on this show) is front and center, with tears in her eyes. Very nice TV moment.

(I'm rooting hard for Marilu and Maureen at this moment.)

I am so so so very glad to have Allison back again. She was greatly missed. And her foxtrot with Babyface was quite nice to watch. (Gorgeous dress, as well.)

Next up? Amber Rose and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Excuse me if you know her, but I've never heard of her. She's got a very Kim Kardashian-esque body. Very unique. In their package, Amber says to Maks: "You're misunderstood, just like me." Maks: "Everybody has a Kanye moment once in awhile." Amber: "I don't." Maks, sheepishly: "I've had a few." And here he is, back again. This really is the season of second chances and rebirth.

But now, their foxtrot. I need to pause here for a moment. By and large, my belief is that, if someone has done a really amazing dance to something on this show, the music for that shouldn't be used again. No one's ever going to do a "Singin' in the Rain" that topped what Derek did, so don't even try. Now, admittedly, this wasn't a dance in competition, so maybe it's fair game, but... I've mentioned this in my column before. Of all the dances on this show, many of them ingrained into my brain, the single dance which I've replayed over and over and over again the most times, was this one.

Jenna and Val dance, Season 21

This is the video that made Jenna a star, and proved she needed to be a pro (IMHO). Every step, every movement is iconic, IMHO. Val and Jenna. Seriously one of the best dances on this show, IMHO.

This is the dance with which big brother Maks decides to return. He does a screen thing at the beginning (where they are seen in silhouette on a screen), which was very interesting, but it took at least that long to accept that he was dancing to this dance, Val's dance. (Loved her sparkly costume, btw.)

Next up in the badly in need of image rehabilitation category: Vanilla Ice. He pushes all my buttons (the negative ones). He hadn't seen the show before, so didn't know what he was getting himself into. And, oh by the way, is currently on tour (so has no time to rehearse). Ugh. Luckily, he won't be long for this world. They dance (he and partner Witney) to, of course, "Ice Ice Baby," which was a hit before Witney was born. Yikes.

This song was the first to feature troupe dancers (see my previous comments about how they use troupe dancers to cover up that you suck).

Suffice to say that Vanilla Ice kicked off the "less good" parts of the show.

They were followed by Gleb Savchenko and some country singer named Jena. Gleb was on a long time ago (before I started watching, so it had to be before Season 10), which is to say before #DWTS hit the stride it's in now. They may not have had the strict rules about content in dances that they do now. Not sure. Only know that they were doing a Viennese waltz, which came out, steamy. Judge Len put it best: "I wasn't transported to old Vienna." It's supposed to be soft and light and sunshine and roses (when done properly) and this was all hard-edged, and I want to bang you now (never a Len favorite). Even Carrie Ann, who is normally ok with such stuff, blurted out, "Maybe you don't have to work on sexiness anymore." (This couple better watch it, if they don't want to be detracted for no content.)

Now, the Jake T. Austin and Jenna Johnson combo is an interesting one. He strikes me, at first glance, like a pretentious twat that I wouldn't give the time of day to normally. But since he is dancing with one of my very favorite dancers, who is now a pro for the first time, I'm going to find myself compelled to vote for them. They did a nice jive this time around. (Jenna is a PRO!!! *jumps up and down*)

Then we have Rick Perry, my vote to be first to leave the ballroom. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Emma Slater, and wish she would win the Mirror Ball someday. But people who come on the show with an agenda rub me the wrong way. (Perry said he wants to "do it for the troops.") How about just getting in there and enjoying whatever the experience provides? How about not deciding what it's going to be before it even begins? Then, they danced to "God Bless Texas." Dear God, make him go away already.

#DWTS has never had (in any of the multinational versions either, apparently) a "little person" dancing. And now they have. Terra is about half of Sasha's height, and he's not the tallest of dancers. But they were entertaining and fun, and I want to see them continue. Win that Mirror Ball, Sasha!

Cheryl Burke, who just looks like a goddess these days, is a sight for sore eyes. I've missed her dancing. Not sure if it's a good or bad thing that she's been paired up with Ryan Lochte this season. They do a foxtrot to (I'm not making this up) "Call Me Irresponsible." It was pretty glorious. I did enjoy it.

But then, the scuffle...

The cast was all pretty shook up. Lochte, backstage, is still flabbergasted that people are still upset about the whole thing. (Are you kidding me?) We still hate Mel Gibson, and his drunken incident was over a decade ago now. I do believe that him jumping on this show RIGHT after the whole Olympic mess was really too soon. Whatever happens, it's going to make for good TV, but to just brush it off like it never happened, well, that's not going to happen anytime soon, pal.

So, expect #DWTS security to be way tighter next week. At least around Lochte and Burke.

Somehow, the show pulled it together to perform the last dance after all the madness. Laurie Hernandez? Who are you? Oh, yeah, you're the Olympian who actually did our country proud, and didn't cause an international incident in the process.

It's a great credit to these two performers to follow what just happened. Laurie Hernandez seems to sparkle in every room she's in, and Val Chmerkovskiy is, arguably, the face, the star of this show, the one always concerned about the fans and those at home. And they cha cha'd to "An American Girl" (note the red, white and blue?). They were not going to let us down. It was quite spectacular.

Laurie said that being on #DWTS was "the congratulations lap" after the grueling training of the Olympics. Um, ok, then.

1. Laurie and Val (cha cha)
2. James and Sharna (foxtrot)
3. Marilu and Derek (jive)
4. Maureen and Artem (Viennese waltz)
5. Amber and Maks (foxtrot) (would've been higher except for song choice)
6. Babyface and Allison (foxtrot)
7. Calvin and Lindsay (cha cha)

1. Rick Perry
2. Vanilla Ice

NEXT WEEK: TV Themes Night


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