Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Final: Frankie and Simon

It’s the final, you guys. THE FINAL. In celebration of there being no new show on Saturday night, I decided to wait until Christmas Eve to write my bit of the blog. Either that or I have spent the last several days getting quietly tipsy on Bailey’s every night. Or both. (It might be both.)

In this week’s credits report, I am appreciative that they have moved all the finalists to the end, though resentful that Mark is last (though of course this turns out to be prescient[/pre-ordained/OBVIOUS]).  Also, here is a bonus final week screencap of how mental Joanne From Grimsby looks during the credits. I think she might want me dead.

There is a fairly pointless pro dance, leading to the finalists slightly pointlessly but festively emerging from a giant glitter ball. As a special treat for the final, Tess and Claudia don’t have to walk down the stairs so they are allowed to arrive unaccompanied and unsupported. 

The judges do a final terrible dance on. I am enormously irritated by Iveta and Natalie having to demean themselves by flirting all over Len. Ditto Trent and Tristan with Darcy, if I’m honest. 


We learn Take That will be performing. I learn, via this learning, that Take That still exists, though I will further learn later on that there are only three of them and they now dance like The Four Tops. Except there are only three of them. The Three Tops. 


Frankie and Kevin are first up with their samba. Bit disappointed to get this again rather than the Halloween week Tango, but I suppose if the idea here is room for improvement (AHEM SIMON) then I’m fine with it. Though I am not fine with a reminder of Kevin’s abominable red trousers and Christmas In Brazil jumper. There is much crapping on in the VT about pressure, the terrible pressure of three dances. Important, I think, to remind everyone at this point that the finalists performed four dances in each of series 5, 7, 8, and 9.  But yes. The pressure. Anyway, Samba Redux is much better than Samba Original Flavour. I don’t much like the samba rolls, but Frankie’s posture is great, her legs are sharp with good extensions, and it is all very confident and exuberant. I do not like Kevin’s hat. I have also written in my notes that Kevin’s new haircut is better because it is only a semi-Jordan, but that takes us to a bad place, so let’s move on. 

(Hannah has already reported on Mark and Karen so I shall limit myself solely to this comment at this stage: WHAT THE HELL IS MARK WRIGHT DOING IN THE FINAL?)

(Tess’s hair this week is a terrible mistake, incidentally. I’m not even 100% sure she can see the autocue. The Stockport Joke Murderer ad libbing is not something we want to encourage.)

(I was disappointed, by the way, that all the judges’ choices were Latin, or rather non-Ballroom, as were the Couples’ choices. I suspect this reflects the general boringness and not particularly well-danced nature of this year’s Ballroom offerings, but I can’t help thinking it’s a shame.)

On to Simon and Kristina. Unlike every other couple, Simon is not given a dance in which he needs to improve, he is given the Charleston, which even the judges can’t stop banging on about as having been his breakthrough dance. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about that lack of consistency of approach. Hang on a sec, this is Strictly, WHAT THE HELL AM I TALKING ABOUT? Anyway, I think this is much the same as the first time around – fast and furious, too much gurning for my taste, slightly sloppy lifts, runs out of steam a bit around 70% of the way through, Simon loses his timing a touch, generally fun but not sure I needed to see it again. JOURNEY THOUGH. This scores “a Len from ten.” Careful with that, Len, or one day you might accidentally walnut your pickles.

(Gregg Wallace is at this point chewing gum up on Claudia’s balcony. Somebody get that man a pudding.)


Back to Frankie and Kevin, who belatedly indulge my need for a bit of Ballroom with Get Happy, Quickstep-style. This is glorious and beautiful. Kevin has sensible hair, Frankie looks gorgeous. They glide around, Frankie’s posture is wonderful (a theme for me this week), she finishes all her lines perfectly and the whole thing is wonderfully elegant and stylish. And then they get up on some benches and galumph around pointlessly which ruins everything for a while (OH KEVIN), but while they are on the ground it’s amazing and they are perfectly in sync. Nearly perfect. Craig agrees with me about the benches. QUITE RIGHT CRAIG.

(At one point during this judging stint, Len busts out a pun which Tim Wonnacott and Anton applaud from the balcony. Seems about right.)

Simon and Kristina throw everything but the kitchen sink at their Elvis showdance, and I cannot fault them for effort. The lifts are great, the salsa arms are great, I like the concept of the whole thing, but their Quickstep section is terrible, and the whole thing was a bit busy and messy for my taste – a little less fuss would have made the whole thing cleaner, but since when did anyone decide to put just a bit less in a showdance? At least they didn’t run up to the balcony and clap (OH KAREN). The judges overpraise and overscore, so anxious are they to keep Simon over Mark, which I am not going to argue with. JOURNEY THOUGH.

At this point, we take a little break, following which Mark and Karen are gently euthanased, and we move on to some more repeats. 

Frankie and Kevin give us their paso again, and I will admit to being delighted to see this one more time. Frankie’s posture (THERE GOES THAT POSTURE KLAXON AGAIN) is wonderful, with really dramatic back arches that shape the whole dance in a way she could not manage the first time they did it. It is full of character, and sharp, clean movement. Plus, NOW WITH 75% MORE ATTITUDE AND SKIRT-SWISHING!!! Anyway, I loved it, and Craig did not give it a 10 and I thought that was mean.

Simon and Kristina are, thank the Lord, dancing their magnificent Argentine Tango again. I loved it the first time and I loved it even more here – it’s sharper, more intense and way more character-driven this time around. I am not sure I needed Simon’s primal roar while holding Kristina upside down at the end, but this was tremendous, and it might have been my favourite dance of the night. Good to see someone get 40 other than Caroline. Also JOURNEY. 

And so, we reach the end of OUR journey. Caroline and Pasha are the winners, which I am in favour of, and I expect Pasha to get a very old lady partner next year because frankly it’s about time, but I love him and I am glad he won. 

Here are a few end of series bonuses for you. 

Firstly, Trent’s face when Caroline’s Charleston got 40 (with bonus Weird Brendan):

Secondly, a Spot the Difference competition between Caroline’s cha-cha dress and Dougal from the Magic Roundabout:


And finally, a KateTF Independently-Designed Unofficial Strictly Final Pie-Chart of Cliché Usage:

Merry Christmas, you guys!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Bloody Final: Mark and Caroline

So, here we are, as Gloria Estefan once said. The final. THE FINAL. Tonight the Forces Of Earnest (Mark and Simon) will battle the Might Of The Ringers (Caroline and Frankie) for ultimate victory. But who will emerge triumphant? How many times will Tess say, 'They're on their feet in the studio!'? And what atrocities will this year's show dances rain down upon us?

Here's how it's going to work. Kate and I are taking responsibility for one ringer and one non-ringer each, chaperoning them through the final like hyper-critical, undermining nannies. Mark and Karen and Caroline and Pasha, tonight you are mine, all mine.

The first round is the 'judges' choice' - a routine from earlier in the series that Len, Craig, Darcy and Ringo feel could be improved upon. 'But how will this be revealed?' you ask, even though you almost certainly already know and are just playing along because I am typing the words into your mouth.

I will tell you. Each couple is summoned to a dark dungeon with bare hanging lightbulbs, where the judges wait for them. This is actually Bruno's house. The Laughing Italian is only an act for Saturday nights.

This poor lighting must account for the alarming amount of foundation Craig is wearing. Always find a good mirror and some natural light, Craig, and blend, blend, blend. Any tension surrounding the big reveal of the judges' choice is totally diffused by the fact the couples have already paraded into the studio costumed up and ready to go, so unless Simon's taken to wearing a full Pearly King costume as a matter of routine (and I don't judge), I think we all know what's on the cards. Bruno's dungeon VT is ten minutes of your life you're not going to get back, is what I'm saying.

First up for me are Mark and Karen and the judges have chosen his cha cha from week one. Remember those heady, golden autumn days when Mark did the caterpillar? This time Len wants the caterpillar out! But Craig wants the caterpillar in! OH MY GOD, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE CATERPILLAR? Nanny Pat undoubtedly loves her grandson to the moon and back, but surely even she could not give a stuff whether or not Mark Wright does the stupid caterpillar.

He does.

This cha-cha do-over shows us nothing except that 14 weeks+ of intensive dance training have resulted in Mark being a better dancer. Pass the Pulitzer, this is groundbreaking stuff. But honestly, couldn't they have chosen something a tiny bit more interesting for this revelation? At its best - and I guess this is its best - this all feels a bit week 4, and Mark comes across like a stripper who's just taken his jacket off. Zzz.

Caroline and Pasha are also doing their cha cha from week one, in the same way as Mark and Karen. This is a right bloody swizz so far. Theirs is less reliant on caterpillars and flashing road signs, and more reliant on really good dancing that makes you want to whoop and join in, and it's rewarded with four 10s. Caroline cries a little bit. Stop trying to be Mark, Caroline.

Anyway, look, we all know why we're here. Enough of the blah blah and on to THE SHOWDANCES.

Following Frankie and Kevin's good-taste Hollywood homage (which nevertheless puts me in mind of French & Saunders doing Sixteen Going On Seventeen), Mark and Karen are dancing to Don't Stop Me Now by Queen. Yes, as show-danced to by Kara and Artem a few years ago, when Artem was so in love with Kara he practically broke her arm. Is that really a comparison you're willingly entering into, you two? Well, OK then, good luck. Karen is dressed as a Quality Street green triangle, and Mark as a Palm Springs tennis coach. There's lots of jive content, and some lifts and tricks, but then they fall into one of my most loathed show-dance traps (they actually should set traps for them all around the dance floor - let's make it all a little more Hunger Games) and that's running around and clapping. I have not sat here over all these weeks for the culmination of your dancing achievement to feature running around and clapping. I don't care if you use the stairs. No one ever won Strictly Come Dancing with running around and clapping. Also, it wouldn't be a Mark and Karen dance without a lapse in taste, and that happens right near the start when Mark lip-syncs to the camera. Oh Mark. OH KAREN.

Now then. Pasha and Caroline have decided to turn away from the razzle-dazzle to deliver us a slow sensuous show dance, also known as the Brendan Cole Delusion. Furthermore, it involves the rumba. Hold me, readers, and help me wipe the blood from my eyes. Caroline does a good build-up by crying in her VT, and then follows it up by apparently weeping throughout. It has become clear that this pair are fuelling their march to victory with Caroline's salty tears and Pasha's glistening chest flesh (which is making its second appearance of the night). Caroline's performing it barefoot which, as we all know, means she REALLY MEANS IT. It's all quite earnest and intense, and regular readers will know how uncomfortable that makes me – would it kill you to throw in a little quickstep? – but it's fluid and expressive and makes a lot more sense than the usual sodding rumba. I think that's known as 'storytelling'. And the lifts are great. As overwrought, manipulative emota-dances go, it's hard to fault. Gregg Wallace, up on the balcony, says 'Incredible' afterwards. Back off, Gregg, she's a bit old for you.

After a break for wine, cheese and voting, it's time to boot one couple out, and that couple is unsurprisingly Mark and Karen. If you were expecting tears and lengthy speeches, it's a relatively low-key departure from Mark. Relatively. Mark could have announced he and Karen had put together an extra farewell dance to Goodbye by the Spice Girls, and I would not have been at all surprised.

And then it's on with the show - specifically the remaining couples' favourite dances. And hard luck, Kate, because without Mark, that means only one couple for me, so I don't get to remark on Kevin wearing his red trousers for the second time in one evening, and Craig making Kristina cry with his kind words, or the special smart blazer Simon is wearing in his VT, with a special crest on the pocket, which I suspect the Blue boys had designed and made to wear whenever they see each other.

Caroline and Pasha reprise the Charleston, which she dances with even more confidence and flare than before. Still, it's hard not to feel short-changed by the lack of original dances tonight. Even an -athon would have been better than nothing. A swingathon? Fusion dancing? Competitive cancan? When we've seen so much of it before, it just feels like a teeny bit of an anticlimax to what's been one of the most open, exciting series yet. Oh OK then, maybe exciting is pushing it.

Still, I'm full of love for the group dance with all this year's contestants, and happy with Caroline's victory. Simon can take comfort in being the True Non-Ringer Champion and the role in Chicago that is surely coming his way. Frankie still has the best hair in the history of the show. We're all winners really, aren't we? God bless us, every one, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Semi-finals: Rumba Therapy

'It's semi-final week,' KateF says to me. 'How will we play it? Shall we split it by Latin and ballroom, then we both get to cover each couple?'

'Sure,' I say, as KateF is full of this kind of good sense.

'So which do you want?' she says. 'Because the Latin has two rumbas and therefore is basically DEATH.' [That last bit is a direct quote. I admit I paraphrased the rest.]

My aversion to the rumba is no secret, but remembering how Kate courageously confronted her difficult feelings around Pixie and Trent earlier in the series, something changed inside me. In my head, stirring music started to play – it might have been Hero by Mariah Carey, it might not – and my choice was made.

'I'll do it,' I said to Kate. Actually, I typed it. She lives in New York, and I'm on a budget. 'I'll do the Latin. I will look those rumbas in the eye and I will not flinch and I will not say 'Urgh, gross.'

Let's see how that goes.

But first, we have a cha-cha from Jeanette and Jake. Last week, Jake proudly announced that he had been given the week off by EastEnders so he could concentrate on learning tonight's double-dance throw-down. 'God,' thought Mark Wright, 'that guy! What I wouldn't give for that kind of down time. If only I wasn't so INCREDIBLY BUSY.' Well, let's hope Take Me Out: The Gossip survives the week, Mark, because on Jake's evidence tonight, more down time = more frown time in front of the judges.

Jake's glitzy cha cha is set in a classic British boozer but misses the chance to incorporate a quiz and some live darts (maybe that was the plan for their show dance). They're using the solid-gold soundtrack of Boogie Shoes and this whole thing should be a home run for Jake and his bloody hips, but it turns out he's using the wrong sort of hips, and it's all rather underwhelming. Jake has been all about the overwhelming this series – if not always in a good way. He doesn't have this dance in his usual slightly over-aggressive stranglehold, and in keeping with the pub theming, it's a little untidy and haphazard, as if he's dancing it at a lock-in after a generous drinks promotion.

Next up, it's Rumba No 1, which is not the same as the great lost Lou Bega album of the same name. And it's Frankie and Kevin and a whole Rimmel counter of dinky dolly blusher. Regular viewers – and Kevin watchers in particular – will be surprised to learn that he reinvents the rumba as nihilistic performance art where the relationship between sex and death is twisted and tightened into utter blackness.

OK. Not that. It's cute, romantic and probably the least erotic rumba ever. Which, of course, means that a) it's not really a true representation of the genre and b) I actually quite like it, in the same way that I like meringues or Winnie The Pooh. It's inventive and unusual, although I can't bear Kevin's innocent simpleton face or the way he drags Frankie towards the Christmas tree by the ankle. She, however, plays it perfectly, especially the part when her ickle dolly legs fail her, and she drops to the ground.

OK, let's not plan the party yet, but it's possible I'm quite liking a rumba. There can be miracles! If you believe!

Despite mixed reviews for the dancing, Frankie's pink princess dress is enough to have little girls all over the land begging their parents for use of the phone. Well done, Kevin. You are a conniving genius who has had us all fooled.

Now it's time for Simon and Kristina and the samba, which is Notoriously Hard, as any celebrity who has attempted the Notoriously Hard Samba will know. And sure enough, there's trouble for Simon from the start, as he has been forced into the most disgusting pair of trousers the world has ever seen (I include Kevin's beloved red trousers in this, of course), and I am wholly attributing all the mistakes he makes to his revulsion at having to wear the Brown Samba Slacks Of Despair. Trousers aside, the whole routine is all kinds of demented, as the pair jiggle in front of a lot of plastic foliage and a Fisher Price Jungle Lullaby frieze of moving animals (animals that move, not animals that make you sad, although sometimes animals do make me really sad, especially donkeys). At one point, they are just swinging their arms wildly, in a way that reminds me of the Rainbow Rhythms dance class scene in Peep Show. I suspect the whole debacle secures Simon a solid sympathy vote before crowning himself the comeback kid with his foxtrot in round 2. He is also boosted by the presence of Duncan and Lee From Blue, both in the studio and in the training VT (if you were worried about Antony, don't be. He's having a totally brilliant time doing panto in Southsea, where I once travelled to see Blake from Home & Away in Aladdin. Blake from Home & Away was quite a big deal in 1992).

And now I face down the rumba again, this time with Mark and Karen. And despite my positive start, it's not ideal to find yourself saying out loud  'Oh god, oh god, oh god' before the dancing has actually started.

So the post-coital cornfield opening takes me off-guard, but I don't totally hate it after this point. Of course, the reason for that is a lack of rumba content, for which Karen is castigated, causing Kevin to shake his head angrily at the judges, AKA the least menacing thing ever. Mark doesn't actually do a huge amount, this is true, but it certainly has the gropey-snog-in-the-corner-of-a-nightclub-executed-with-the-intensity-of-the-utterly-shitfaced feel of what I have come to understand as a true rumba. And it has lots of the familiar non-sequitous dance moves, specifically: uncomfortably wide-legged balance (Mark), sitting down on the floor for no apparent reason (Karen), sleazy rubbing of limbs (Mark on Karen), being dragged around in the semi-splits (Karen, by Mark). Props to Mr Earnest, though, for carrying it off better than I could ever have thought. My involuntary physical reaction was definitely wince, rather than, say, shudder or gag. Still, maybe cancel my 'Well Done You Now Like The Rumba' cake.

Which brings us to Caroline and Pasha's all-conquering salsa, which I'm not quite as mad for as the rest of the world. There seems to be some nebulous concept of perfectly imperfect that the judges are embracing that I do not totally understand. It doesn't seem entirely joined up, and I don't really like the look of Pasha when he's dancing a salsa. YES, I SAID IT. I DISSED PRINCE PASH-PASH. SUE ME, ALL OF YOU. Still, I just believe Caroline when she's dancing, in a way I didn't with, say, Pixie.

In the results show, Kevin does an even more undignified shout of triumph than last week and starts crying when Karen is saved in the dance-off. Or maybe he just realises he's forgotten to put his red trousers on. Jake and his angry dance faces are dispatched, and it's now Caroline's to throw away, isn't it? Well, maybe not if you've seen their show-dance music.

Join us for the final, which is actually less than 48 hours away because I am so incredibly late posting this. Forgive me, I'm sorry. A bientot!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Semi-final: Ballroom Blizzard

Oof. Two dances for each couple this week, you guys, and HOLY MOLY the pressure showed. Miss Jones and I decided to to revert to form from earlier this series and split the show down the Ballroom/Latin divide, and because Miss Jones is a good person she agreed to take on the Latin, AKA ALL THE RUMBAS, leaving me with the slightly more staid (for which read: mainly extremely dull) Ballroom half of the draw. Two Viennese Waltzes, two Foxtrots and an Argentine Tango. Not a Quickstep in sight. Sigh.

We begin with a black and white VT, in which everyone has been given Sinister Eyes, and Mark is in a very silly hat. The close-ups and staring into the camera are very intense and I keep expecting the camera to pull back to reveal that all these people are now in prison for drunk driving. It doesn't. We just go into the credits.

In this week's credits report, I am delighted that Caroline in real life no longer sports her hair extensions. Also, I really miss Alison. Alison was fun.

It's Aljaz again for the walk-ons, but this week he is joined by Trent! TRENT! I think he might be the first blond walker-onner of the series, which is momentarily disconcerting. Claudia is wearing some serious lippy. I approve.

We switch up the dance-on this week, with Bruno first. Craig's moves are a shambles and he has ant trails on his face. Len has a sparkly broom. 24 hours on from watching it, and I am still not sure why.

Ground rules for this week's blog: I am not talking about the VTs. This is because they are all the same:

  • So close to the final, would be gutting to go out now, everyone's so good, Pixie leaving last week means anything could happen.
  • Two dances is really taking it out of the celeb, pro "decides" to cheer them up with videos of the general public.
  • Videos from the general public.
  • Visit from some sort of relative (Mark cries again).
  • The end.
On with the show!

Mark and Karen
It starts on a goddamned swing. I HATE THAT. Anyway, this is twee, boring, stop-start, and marginally off-balance throughout. Craig compliments his hands which: HOW? They are like planks throughout. I genuinely do not know how it is possible to have a dance this pedestrian in the semi-finals. What a waste of time.

Caroline and Pasha
Hmmm. I thought this Foxtrot was rather reminiscent of their Waltz, and if you remember their Waltz, you will know that this is not a good thing. Caroline is obviously completely overwhelmed by nerves, which everyone keeps pretending is the emotion and intensity of her character work, and it looks clunky and clumsy throughout. They hit some nice positions, and I suppose it's good to see a different sort of Foxtrot because God knows that's pretty rare, but honestly I just didn't get it. 

(I know it seems like I am well moody this week. I promise you I am not. But yeah ok, by this point of the show, I kind of was. The judges were really bringing me down as much as the dancing was - why suddenly start focusing on technique and giving intense, rude critiques in semi-final week, FFS? And no, you cannot justify it with IT'S SEMI-FINAL WEEK THINGS ARE SERIOUS NOW I'M SUPPOSED TO BE PICKY because if you had just been bloody picky when you should have been, maybe there would have been better couples in the bloody semi-final, AMIRITE?)

(Mind you, I say that, but there was really only one better couple and that was the Pixies and I didn't even like them. They still should have been there this week though.)

Jake and Janette
With no Ola around to mispronounce any longer, Tess has turned the full glory of her lack of multiculturalism toward Janette MAN-RARR-RARR. Tess is absurd. This VW scored two points less (at 31) than Mark's VW did, which I simply did not agree with. Jake's posture isn't great, there's no doubt about that, and I think he feels a bit awkward, so he disappears a bit in this dance, but this is the first time in weeks that Janette has choreographed an actual dance with no stupid tricks and no bloody back-up dancers, and I thought it was pretty smart and stylish. Underscored a touch. That might be the first time I have said that about Jake. It will also be the last. 

Frankie and Kevin
Len announces in the VT (I know I said I wasn't going to mention them, sorry), that he's "never given Frankie less than an 8, so she's consistent." Len, that doesn't mean she's consistent, it means you are consistent in your wild overscoring, you UTTER MUPPET. Anyway, this Argentine Tango is very stylish - it's a big, glorious overdone production number, which Frankie really sells. Her legs are a bit lazy, and it lacks the precision of Caroline's last week (I think because she lacks some of Caroline's strength), but it's drama drama drama from start to finish, and I really enjoyed it. Frankie's so likeable in her interviews too. Shame about Kevin. I've gone right off Kevin.

Simon and Kristina
A very charming Foxtrot from these two, from whom I will for some reason accept a level of tweeness for which I would punish the HELL out of anyone else. This is far better than Caroline's - steady, gliding movement around the floor, lots of sway, great frame, great style. The topping and tailing was horribly naff, but I suppose you can't have everything. If it hadn't been for that Salsa, this would have been my favourite dance of the night. Craig says to Simon, "You're back." I instantly point at Simon's back. But nobody laughs, because I am watching alone. 

And so, into the final we go, minus both Pixie and Jake, which I would have thought an impossibility just three weeks ago. Jake's not a good enough dancer to be in the final, but then again, neither is Mark. Mark and Karen. In the final. FFS. 

Other things I have learned this week:
  • I want Caroline and Pasha to win. 
  • I find it very hard to think of favourite dances this series, which suggests to me that it hasn't been a vintage year, but if you really made me choose it would be Caroline and Pasha's Charleston, even though it was from the Round the World Abomination Week.
  • There is absolutely zero dignity left in the Clifton-Hauer household. Tears from Karen at the EMOSHUN OF TEH RUMBA, followed by more tears from Karen at LETTING MARK DOW-HOW-HOWN, followed by Kevin's ill-mannered yell of joy at reaching the final, followed by tears from bloody KEVIN when Karen reached the final. People - even Mark Wright, platinum card-carrying member of the Frequent Cryer Club, stayed dry-eyed through this shit. Take it down a notch. Two notches. OK TEN NOTCHES.
Unbelievably, even though I will be back in the UK, I will not be able to watch Saturday's final live, but to be honest, I think I can live with that. See you next week. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Week 11: The Ladies, and the WaltzaWHAT?

Let me start by saying thank the Lord that I have the ladies this week, you guys, because I loathed Jake's Charleston with the power of at least one thousand fiery suns in a way that makes me almost nostalgic for my Pixiephobia and my reserves of indignation might have been replenished by my Thanksgiving break but there's indignation and then there's INDIGNATION, you know?


We start with a black and white VT in which the producers urge our celebs on to ever sadder, more worried faces. Frankie looks as though she's about to edge it by throwing in a nail bite, but nobody will ever look more sad and worried than Mark, so he is the VT Victor.

Brendan and Aljaz are this week's arm holders. Where is Anton? Has he done a hip or something?

The judges dance on. Craig would like you to know what swivel really looks like (that seems dirtier now I've typed it), Darcy poses again, Len whatevers, and then Bruno dances on his own for an unnaturally long period of time which freaks both him and me out.

(Other things that have freaked me out this week - how much modern day Rolf Harris looks like Colonel Sanders. I walked past a KFC on Monday and it quite upset me.)

On with the show!

Caroline and Pasha
Ugh Olly Murs in the VT. This whole segment would have been eight million times more entertaining if they had somehow got Harry Styles to do it. What year do you think Olly Murs will do Strictly, out of interest? 2017? I mean, I know he's got an actual pop career (somehow) but so did Harry McFly. Caroline is in stupid fringing again, which makes me think Wardrobe legit hates her, or she actually requested to dress in all this stuff, in which case she's an idiot. This Argentine Tango is another choreographic triumph from Pasha, and I can only imagine it was tremendously challenging to dance. The changes in pace are extreme, and the slow sections need so much balance and core strength that I am amazed she manages them as well as she does. It's Caroline, so there is a mistake, but it's in the footwork at a time that the producer has cut to a shot that doesn't show her feet (not that this is a show about dancing or anything) so it gets covered pretty well except for Pasha bellowing, "DON'T WORRY NOBODY NOTICED" right into the microphone at the end. This didn't quite explode for me in the way it seemed to for the audience, but the lifts were fab, and I really enjoyed it. Pasha gets quite carried away at their 39 and lifts Caroline up for a spin, but she is too preoccupied trying not to flash her undercrackers at the nation to really get into  it. Poor Caroline.

Pixie and Trent
I don't really like a school VT, but this features an adorable boy who talks about "Assem-ber-ly" so I am basically sold. As for the dance... I mean, it's fine, but it's about as bland a cha cha as I've seen on this show, plus it looks like someone vommed Pepto Bismol all over the set and the Pixies. Pixie flicks her hair about and does her angry Charleston face again some more a lot, and that's about it. Look, don't get me wrong, she is obviously a far better dancer than Simon and I'm surprised that she is going home, but I still won't miss her. As my sister texted me afterwards, "Shocker! But then I looked back at all her dances and just went: meh." That about sums it up.

Frankie and Kevin
There is a VT in which Kevin is ill and The Saturdays win an award for being best friends or something. Is it so unusual to find a girl band that doesn't want to tear each other's hair out that we're giving out awards for it now? This tosh is then followed by a rather lacklustre salsa. Kevin has thrown all but the kitchen sink at it (next week: an actual kitchen sink MADE IN GRIMSBY), but it looks a touch under-rehearsed, and Frankie takes advantage of the more freeform salsa to throw in all her bad pop star habits, including her weird tendency to tilt her right knee in at various intervals. Take out the shakily performed lifts and what you're left with reminds me of nothing so much as a dance choreographed by you and your best mate in the front room that you dance with abandon when it's just the two of you and that sort of lulls you into the sense that it's actually good so you make the mistake of showing it to someone else and then halfway through you realise it's actually really terrible so you get a bit sheepish in case they think you're not cool any more and that just makes it all unbearable. I will point out that this does not come from actual experience. Nobody ever thought I was cool in the first place.

Then we move on to the WaltzaWHATTHEHELL, which is incredibly dumb. All six couples waltz at the same time, and it's basically impossible to see anything at all, but here is one observation about each celeb, because it's all I could manage:

Mark - takes up position in the centre of the room and LITERALLY DOESN'T MOVE which is very much not the point.
Pixie - she looks elegant, Trent sweeps her around the room in a manner that almost crosses dance etiquette borders (oooo, let's watch this while we're talking about ballroom etiquette, it's fab).
Frankie - the floppy frame is back.
Simon - sings along
Jake - I have no idea.
Caroline - Pasha looks delicious when he waltzes.

Here is how annoying the WaltzaWHAT is - it lasts 90 seconds, the male pros have a massive advantage over the male celebs, and it has a serious effect on the leaderboard, moving Pixie from second last to second place, and bumping Mark down from being tied with Pixie to being dead last. Here is how pointless the WaltzaWHAT is - this has absolutely zero effect on the outcome of the show, because Pixie hits the bottom two anyway, and the judges save Simon, which... is basically inexplicable. I mean, I guess it's possible that Mark being at the bottom made more people vote for him, but I would be surprised if it had that much of an impact.

Before I go, I'm just going to hit you up with some Strictly maths for a sec. For Pixie to be in the dance-off and Mark to be safe, Mark must have been at least third in the public vote. Third. Mark. At least. Maybe you're cool with that. Maybe you think it just wouldn't be a final without Mark. But right now: Mark. Third. At least. Think on that, and I'll see you at the weekend for the two-dances-each semi-final EXTRAVAGANZA.

Week 11: The Males

There's no point acting all outraged and choking on your salty telly snacks. We all knew it was coming. There's been no Shock! Exit! yet this series (does anyone count Thom Evans? Come on, you remember Thom. The one with the... he was kind of... oh, never mind) and it turns out Strictly was just saving itself for a big one. And that's how we find ourselves at How The Hell Did That Just Happen? Week.

I'm all about the boys for the quarter-finals, so first on my watch are Simon and Kristina, aka My Favourites Who Aren't Caroline And Pasha. Now that the British public have wielded their trusty sword of justice and hacked away the contest's remaining dead wood, we are left with six couples who could all conceivably win (idea for a BBC1 early-evening Saturday show – Total Wipeout-style fun physical format where members of the public dressed as knights wield the inflatable/polystyrene Trusty Sword Of Justice and 'kill' real-life criminals – needs work for a family audience). And I'm worried about Kristina and Simon – rightly as it turns out – dancing first as viewers are notoriously forgetful in these televisual situations. Still, our heroes make a valiant attempt to impress such simple-minded fools by calling on the star of one of their favourite shows – yes, it's My Family's Robert Lindsey.

Citizen Smith/Michael Murray provides Simon with some performance advice for his American Smooth, and the result is super-entertaining and fluid and full of razzle-dazzle, with only occasional lapses in taste, spade hands and fumbly lift anxiety. Simon looks like dancing gives him no trouble at all these days, and also that he's having the best time ever. Yes, even better than the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party 2002.

I'm not saying that Simon has been on a journey, but he doesn't look surprised by getting a 9 any more. 

Mark must feel he's the man in danger this week (idea for an ITV2 show: Mark Wright: Man In Danger, where Mark enters all the situations Ross Kemp has shredded for being too soft and discusses how far out of his comfort zone he feels in each one of them). As a result, he's pulling in the big guns, VT-wise. Yes, he's FaceTiming Michelle Keegan, six times winner of The British Soap Awards' Sexiest Female trophy. The world's most earnest man is dancing the foxtrot, which becomes a vehicle for Karen's more questionable choreography. It starts off winsome and cutesy, and goes downhill from there, with my lowlight being the balletic 'wax on/wax off' hands at the end. Mark deals manfully with the material he's given, with all the confidence that knowing you look pretty great in your suit brings.

(Now that I've called Mark the world's most earnest man, I'm remembering what a powerful claim to that crown ex-contestant Jason Donovan has, and wondering what would happen were the two to be brought together to talk it out. Unfortunately, we would all have torn off our own ears within the half-hour of them meeting, so y'know, hard to say.)

And then there is Jake's Charleston. It takes a circus theme and uses that circus music – you know, that circus music – which is apparently called Entry Of The Gladiators. I can't help thinking that both the Russell Crowe film and the Fashanu-hosted ITV game show of yesteryear would have gained a boost mood-wise were they to have involved this tune. Jake and Jeanette don't need any help, because they are flicking and tricking all over the shop. It is very impressive, but unfortunately I find both their Charleston faces so incredibly disturbing that I am simply unable to type any more about it this close to bedtime.

Tess is amazed by it. AMAZED. I mean, Tess cannot believe what she just saw.

And now some brief impressions of the Shock! Result! results show:

CLANG! When Pixie and Trent know they are in the dance-off, Tess says to them, 'But you were second on the leaderboard?!' which very clearly translates as 'What's it like to know that no one really likes you?'

ROAR! I am unimpressed by Kevin's undignified and slightly inconsiderate 'YEEEESSSSSSSS!' when he and Frankie go through. I've gone right off Kevin, with his ludicrous dance faces and his red trousers. 

SOB! I love Kristina telling Simon how proud she is of him before their dance-off, thinking it's their last time performing together. I just love Kristina.

HUH? The realisation on Simon's face when Darcy votes to keep him. Like, hang on..... is that..... a lifeline?

CRUMPLE! Once, many years ago, I saw an elderly man faint in a hot restaurant on a snowy evening. Before he fully collapsed, his head hung over the table and his face drooped. It is exactly what Len looks like when the camera cuts to him for his casting vote and he knows what he's about to do.

CLUNK! Simon's attention-seeking collapse to the floor – ostentatious (© friend-of-the-blog A. Wignall) but totally justified under the circumstances.

TEETH! Pixie takes elimination in her stride and smiles on like the showbiz trooper she was raised to be. But this time, the show doesn't go on. NOT FOR PIXIE.

Too much drama for one Sunday-night 40-minute show. Onward to the semi-finals. Two dances each! Can Simon stay in another week? I hope so!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Week 10 - I've Been Around The World And I, I, I… Cannot Imagine Who Thought This Was A Good Idea

In keeping with the international theme of this week, Kate is having a Thanksgiving break from posting because she lives in New York, which is in America. While there is no doubt I would have welcomed her support through this most traumatic of Strictly shows, I am relieved for her blood pressure, and for her increasingly depleted stocks of indignation, that she has been spared the task of having to articulate exactly what goes on this week.

Yes, putting the cause of international understanding back by years in one fleeting 75-minute exercise, it's Strictly Come Dancing's Around The World Week, which is not a whole show celebrating the East 17 song of the same name, where each couple dances to the same tune rendered in a different style by Dave Arch and his incredibly versatile band of musicians. It's something that makes that concept sound engaging and creatively inspired.

It's just possible that the producers have a tiny, tiny shard of self-awareness and realise what they're offering us here is verging on calamitous, as they've thrown in some cheap crowd-pleasers at the top of the show. I'm saying it's no coincidence that it's Aljaz, Pasha and Kevin who are shirtless in the front row of the Bollywood-themed pro-dance. Oh and look, there's Len in a red beret (which, while brilliant, is more reminiscent of Our Rita from Johnny Briggs than the Boulevard Saint-Germain).

Still, Len in amusing headgear can only get you so far, and we cannot ultimately avoid the opening pair, Pixie and Trent Viennese waltzing to Tulips From Amsterdam. My friend Jane is the headteacher of a primary school, and were her youngest class to do a project on the Netherlands, I feel it would be more subtle and nuanced than what happens here.

Yes, clogs. Yes, tulips. Ja, een windmolen.

You know when you invite some friends over to watch the Eurovision Song Contest, and what you are seeing is so bizarre, you wonder if the Continental platter of cold meats you've served has been out of the fridge for too long and has developed some kind of campylobacter-related hallucinogenic properties? That, here. Pixie is some tulip-dispensing angel, Trent is her klutzy suitor in national costume, who has three idiot mates egging him on and occasionally breaking into Fosse/Beyonce Single Ladies dancing in the background. At some point, amid the flowers and the lolz, Pixie and Trent get round to some proper waltzing, which is smooth and effortless, but mostly, everywhere you look = Edam. Ugh. To be fair, I suspect Trent is smarter than he looks and is knowingly trying to outkitsch the kitsch, but this is Saturday night primetime on BBC1, Trent. We have no truck with clever.

You know things are bad when you're looking to Karen and Mark to bring the good taste. They are salsaing to Viva Las Vegas, so let's keep our expectations at floor level. Yet again, Mark has little time to rehearse. OH GOD, IT IS SO HARD BEING MARK WRIGHT. I see you, Barack Obama, with your power and your responsibility and your commitments and your family, but I ask you, do you ever stop to consider what it's like trying to learn the salsa and film Take Me Out: The Gossip in the same week? Yeah, think on, big dog.

This salsa is not a classic. Mark gives it his best welly, Karen does her best demented writhing, but it's disjointed and static and he's done better. He does A LOT of earnest back-chat to the judges along the lines of 'Oh I'm not a natural dancer'. Blah blah bleurgh.

Oh Sunetra. You have EXIT written all over you this week, and that's before you've danced the rumba. Thanks for coming, then, just hand your pass in at the security desk on the way out. However, I actually find this less excruciating to watch then the average rumba, which probably means it's not a true example of the genre. Sunetra and Brendan seem to be going for dream-sequence holiday flirtation, which is a world away from dry-humping in the corner of Pacha (not Pasha), which seems to be what's demanded. Sunetra's all, 'Look at my sensuous arms,' but the judges are all, 'But what about your sensuous legs?' Use the floor seems to be the message, with Sunetra clearly saying to herself, 'Yeah, to open up and swallow me please.'

Sunetra tries to outdo Mark in the out-of-the-comfort-zone hyperbole. Keep it clean, you two.

A 5 from Craig. Ouch.

At this point, you can prise your fingers from your eyes, because here are Caroline and Pasha with  a Turkish-bazaar-themed Charleston, which is nowhere near as appalling as it sounds. I'll keep it brief:

Caroline dancing a lot on her own: ☑️
Amazing lifts: ☑️
Pasha bare-chested: ☑️
Swivel action: ☑️
Pasha nonchalantly side-footing his dropped fez off the dance area: ☑️
Caroline and Pasha right back in this thing: ☑️

(Found a new toy on my keyboard, not sure if you can tell.) ☑️

Also serving a helping from the cheese platter are Simon and Kristina. Their Sound-Of-Music-referencing waltz is set in Austria, but it is not a Viennese waltz. GOD, WHY IS LIFE SO CONFUSING? In the absence of Kate's technical insight, you are stuck with me, to whom one waltz looks very much like another, unless someone actually bumps into something (dramatic foreshadowing!) or falls over. Still, even I can tell these are smooth moves by Simon, and he's doing the falling-in-love-with-dancing thing that, in my condescending way, I had Mark Wright pegged for. Also, Simon's Cool Daughter is in the audience. Bonus. Something falls from the sky as they embrace at the end. Is it snow? Is it edelweiss? Is it scraps of Sunetra's contract, which she's shoved in the shredder, so sure is she of her imminent departure? Anyway, Simon and Kristina look so endearingly surprised and excited by their clutch of 9s and 10s. I am won over embarrassingly easily by that kind of sentiment, and Pixie and Trent, you could totally learn from this if you don't want to be the first people out as soon as the public have absolute power. If only Simon could lay off the phone hands, he would be my favourite.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Frankie pretty much has the best haircut in the country. So the decision to cover it up with some kind of Tulisa wig gives me the pip right away. Then there's her entrance with Kevin on a flying surfboard. This is one of the leading contenders here, not Week 8 Anne Widdecombe. Put away your gimmicks! If you ask me, Frankie's not happy about it either. She doesn't seem as light on her feet and comfortable as previously, and Kevin's gurning 'WIIIIIPEOUUUUT' faces and the whole dude-rock vibe does not work for me at all. I hate it. The judges love it. Idiots. Also, you can't fool me, Kevin, I know you are still wearing those sodding red trousers. You may have cut them down into board shorts but it STILL COUNTS.

And now, god give me strength, we arrive at Jake's Greek-restaurant-themed Argentinian tango, the apotheosis of tonight's ill-advised experiment in theming. Poor Jake had apparently been looking forward to this dance, and tonight he has learned a difficult lesson about hope and expectation. His taverna tango begins with promise, giving glimpses of how well he and Jeanette could have danced it, had they been spared the burden of an international dining sub-plot, but as the music accelerates, things descend into a queasy mix of glowering intensity and slapstick. Jake hurls himself into the shouting of the 'Opa!' (spelling: no idea). I think he may actually be shouting 'Help me!', but it's unclear. Amid the chaos, one of the backing dancers bumps right into him. Jake gets the blame, but I think it was all her, and she was actually trying to make a run for the exit. Predictably, the pasting Jake gets for this propels his fans into a phone-vote frenzy, relegating Mark to a dance-off with Sunetra – and there was only one way that was going to end. So long, Sunetra, and thanks for all the arms.

Next week it's the quarter-finals - which doesn't really seem a thing you can do with six people, but that is the magic of Strictly right there. Getting things a bit wrong, gleefully.

I still can't call the result this year. Can you?