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?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Your Pixie-Positive Preview for Week 10

I know I was going to produce my exciting Magic Partners post for you midweek, you guys, but as soon as I started it I realised it was complicated stuff, and I need to do more work on it, so it will probably end up being next week instead. Sorry. But as a consolation, here: HAVE A PREVIEW.

(Round the World Week. What brain trust came up with this duffer of a concept?)

Caroline & Pasha – Charleston, to Istanbul by They Might be Giants (Turkey)
Because the song is called Istanbul, Caroline and Pasha are apparently Turkey in this turkey of a concept. I lived through bloody Jordan and DVO’s Egyptian-themed Charleston about eight million times, so I guess I can live with this too, though I cannot help assuming there will be some belly-dancing in it, which is upsetting me even four days ahead of time. DEAR CAROLINE PLEASE TRY AND HAVE FUN BECAUSE FUN IS WHAT YOU ARE MISSING.  I really hope they deliver, because there’s a vacant spot in the bottom two this week, and Caroline is absolutely a candidate for it.

Frankie & Kevin – Jive, to “Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys (USA)
Jesus, this theme is literal. I anticipate rock ‘n’ roll theming AGAIN because apparently that is Kevin’s default setting. Frankie has an Alesha-like lazy foot, which will probably make this look a bit messier than it ought to be. Having said that, Alesha’s jive is one of my favourite Alesha dances, and favourite jives ever, so I don’t imagine this will hold them back. Kevin will probably be wearing red trousers. 

Jake & Janette – Argentine Tango, to Zorba the Greek (Greece)
Oh God.

Mark & Karen – Salsa, to Viva Las Vegas by Elvis (USA)
So, not so much Round the World Week as Round the World Wait Did Anyone Notice We Had USA Twice Can Anyone Think of a Seventh Country No OK Let's Just Go With It I'm Sure It Will Be Fine Week. Got it.  Karen will throw in some crazy stuff to make us think this is more exciting than it really is, Mark will dance it perfectly well and smile his little socks off throughout, and the dance will finish with me as profoundly unmoved as I have been by 95% of Mark’s dances so far. Oh Karen.

Pixie & Trent – Viennese Waltz, to Tulips from Amsterdam by Max Bygraves
Let’s just pretend the whole Max Bygraves thing isn’t happening because WHAT? I actually prefer Pixie’s ballroom to her Latin, on the whole, because there is less obvious opportunity for stage school PERFORMANCE bollocks, and it’s hard to make a VW really showy (easy to be cheesy, of course), so this might be a week in which I enjoy The Pixies. I KNOW! 

Simon & Kristina – Waltz, to Edelweiss from The Sound of Music
Speaking of cheese….  I did not like Simon’s Viennese Waltz all, which I am sure you remember from your encyclopaedic knowledge of this blog. He was under-rehearsed, unsure of himself and very skippy at all times. Simon is now so much better than he was that week that I have high hopes for this. What I would like is for Kristina to stage a lovely, quiet restrained Waltz in which Simon can be smooth and strong and elegant, like in his Argentine Tango. Whether this will happen, of course, is another matter.

Sunetra & Brendan – Rumba, to Girl from Ipanema by Michael Bolton (whut?)
Poor Sunetra. Bye Sunetra.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in the USA so, as I will be eating and drinking heavily for four days, just as the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers would have wanted, Miss Jones is on solo duty this weekend. Be kind to her. I’ll see you next week.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Week 9: All the Ringer Ladies, All the Ringer Ladies. (And Sunetra.)

It’s Week 9, you guys. Is it normal for there to be eight couples left at this stage? I’m sure we should have expected an injury, illness or dignified withdrawal by this point. But eight couples there are, and there is a nice, neat four chaps/four ladies divide. Miss Jones and I discussed, and concluded that I should report on the ladies, because I seem to have some issues to work through with regard to the Pixies, and this is the only way it’s going to get sorted. Basically, it’s like how you cure arachnophobia by putting a tarantula on your face.

(I don’t think this is off to the best start.)

Let’s talk about these issues, though. Is it that I have a problem with ringers? Here’s the thing: NO IT ISN’T. There have been years where I have been emphatically on Team Ringer (Alesha and Kara, most notably), so it’s not as though I reject the breed as a whole. It is just that I am looking for something else too. Chemistry, maybe? Personality? To try to pin this down, I’ve decided to do a Scientific Examination of my favourite couples over the years, wherein I will discuss the concept of the Magic Partner, so look for that midweek. Unless you couldn’t give a flying one about my thoughts and feelings, which is distinctly possible. I don’t know your life. 

In this week’s credits report, I can’t help noticing how normal Janette looks. It’s all a façade. 

Claudia is back! Hooray! So is Tess, but you can’t have everything. They are back to being helped on, this time by veterans Anton and Brendan. Maybe they were allowed to walk on alone in Blackpool because there weren’t any stairs. Do women generally have problems with stairs? Is that a thing?


Caroline and Pasha
It becomes clear during her intro that even Tess has a crush on Pasha because OBVIOUSLY. And then he is super-dishy in his VT to boot.  The music fires up, and I am immediately on board – Pasha is doing some whizzo moves on the stage, Caroline is kicking up a storm on the stairs, and she has FINALLY been given a dress that doesn’t make me want to put out my own eyes. But then, just to demonstrate that what Wardrobe gives with one hand they take away with the other, Caroline immediately has a dress mishap and nearly falls on her arse. I tried to screencap it. Here is what I managed.

Anyway, she tries jolly hard to style it out, but there’s no doubt the mishap bothers her throughout the dance – she is careful and tentative in a way she never is during her Latin. I must say that I still loved it though – it’s glamorous and dramatic, and has great lifts, and it is another choreographic triumph from Lovely Pasha. It gets 33, which I think was a bit undercooked – BLACKPOOL WEEK OVERSCORE BACKLASH.

Pixie and Trent
I am going to pretend the VT didn’t happen, because there’s putting a tarantula on your face, and then there’s watching the Robot VTs. I genuinely did enjoy quite a lot of this Charleston – Trent’s choreography is inventive and unusual, and this was a complete (and welcome) departure from most of the Charlestons we have had on the show. I will say, though, that Pixie’s exaggerated kneebends, along with the wide-footed stance of the Charleston, did make her look a little bit like a cowboy trying to dance. My sister more colourfully described her as “unable to stop a pig in a passage” and I can’t say I disagree. I’m still not on Team Pixies, but I might finally be boarding the Good Ship Trent, or I will be once he gets his Magic Partner. Just imagine Trent with Alesha for a moment. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Anyway, it’s 37 for these guys – I wouldn’t have given it a 10, but I’m surprised only one of the judges did. BACKLASH, SEE?

Frankie and Kevin
Prior to this dance, Tess manages to patronize Mary Berry. Mary does not rise to it, because she is better than Tess, you, me and everyone else. MARY FOR STRICTLY! My sister (who was full of REAL TALK observations this week) noted that Kevin styled his hair like the Jordan this week, and while I must chastise her for using the J word in public, she’s not wrong. Inevitably, as this is a Viennese Waltz, we get an OH NO NOT THE SPINNING VT, but unlike in most of these cases, Frankie genuinely looks like she is going to vomit for a good part of this dance. Other than that, this shows off all of Kevin’s cheeseball tendencies, as well as once again showing us (as though we were in doubt) that Frankie is The Best Skirt Swisher in Town, but I really liked it – I thought it was a really beautiful dance, and somehow Frankie’s personality manages to carry off the sentimentality without making want to punch Kevin in the face. Quite a skill. 38 from the judges, a score of which I approve, mainly because it ensured Jake’s insanely overscored samba did not stand alone at the top of the leaderboard. I think this was the best dance of the night (though Caroline’s would have beaten it if she had danced it better).

Sunetra and Brendan
The VT is full of a) cute kids and b) Brendan looking like he couldn’t give a rusty one. This is very pretty ballroom again from these two, but I thought it was a bit Waltz by Numbers – nothing we haven’t seen eight million times before, with a half-arsed bit of storylining to open and close it, so it looked like Brendan had made an effort. Sunetra makes mistakes again, and her confidence looks a bit shot at this point. Deservedly in the bottom two, but we knew that was coming this week. She’s for the chop next week, there ain’t no doubt. As for Brendan – is this his last series? Surely a possibility at this point. 

A quick word about the results show before I pop off – what on earth was that cops and robbers dance all about? I was utterly baffled. Good to see Darling Bobby back – I assume that means he will be back next year to nurture a Lady With A Confidence Problem through six or seven weeks, which will probably come as a blow to Tristan who was surely eyeing that role up for himself. There is also a lady pro who I don’t recognise – Ola’s replacement, perhaps? Claudia goes into the audience for interviews, talks about the starry front row, then interviews Mary Berry (again) and Dave Myers, while completely ignoring The Other One From Blue who is sitting on her other side, desperate for air time. Then Barry Manilow’s Spitting Image puppet does two songs, and Steve is inevitably shuffled off to the Great Wildlife Show in the Sky, never to receive a Christmas card from the Jordans. On the upside, if you would ever rather put a tarantula on your face than watch a dance by Pixie Lott, Steve is probably your man. 

Next week: Round The World Week. The mind boggles. And before we go, here is a bonus screencap which indicates in one picture everything I hated about Jake's samba. 

See you next week!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Week 9: After Blackpool – The Boys

It's post-Blackpool week, Strictly watchers. The inevitable comedown. And how are you feeling? Listless? A general lack of purpose? All-encompassing fug of despair and futility?

You are not alone. It's natural to have these feelings. And in keeping with its status as a public-service broadcaster, the BBC has taken a look at its resources and come up with a plan to ease your suffering.


However low things are, let us remember that in this stinking world, there is still Aljaz. Famine and pestilence must all take a good hard look at themselves and resolve to give it a bit of a rest in the presence of his LOVELY DIMPLES.

There he is in the pre-credits VT winking at the camera. There he is in Claudia's area looking dashing in a suit. Being a sexy, strict policeman walking her on at the top of the results show. Dancing to Barry Manilow. Are they crocuses and daffodils I see on the grass outside? Has spring really come again? NO, IT'S JUST ALJAZ. 

Also, Claudia. Everyone is pleased to see Claudia, and she gets her very own standing ovation (which, for once in her life, Tess neglects to remark on). Don't make Claudia cry, audience. Oh, too late. And for me, also. 

I like how Anton looks as though he's giving her an extra-special hand-hold as he walks her down the stairs. Anton has clawed back some big nice-guy points this series.

There are now eight couples remaining, and a conveniently equal male-female split. Kate has some issues she needs to work through with one particular female celebrity, so I'm taking on the men.

And first of those is Steve. Steve is jiving. This was never going to be an easy alliance. The jive is an angry rhino and Steve is a helpless zookeeper and there was only ever going to be one winner and, that my friends, was not Steve. Before they start dancing, you can already hear Len saying, 'It's a difficult dance for a big lad' (what he actually says is 'It's a tough dance for big chaps,' but I'm claiming it). Craig is not happy AT ALL. In fact, this one minute-and-a-half seems to have totally taken the shine off his deliriously camp dance-on. Steve and Ola's jive is – in alphabetical order – awkward; comprised significantly of just running around; flat-footed; laboured; tentative; xylophone; yoyo; zebra. (These last ones among the little-known vocabulary of true dance aficionados.) Ola seems ecstatic at the end. She is either thinking, 'I am still alive! I did not get dropped on my face!' or 'Yes! this will definitely put us out of the competition and now I can be a late entrant into I'm A Celebrity. I have always wanted to meet Michael Buerk!' 

Mark and Karen are dancing the tango. I am apprehensive about how I will sit through Mark's range of faces (let's all have a period of reflection prompted by the word 'Superman'). But first, the show attempts to inject their training VT with a sense of jeopardy because – oh no! – Mark has to work in Tenerife. What on earth will he do? That's at least a two-hour flight away! Karen has to fly out to join him! Will they ever be ready? Somebody put out my eyes as I cannot bear to watch!

These are the challenges you face daily when you are a co-host of Take Me Out - The Gossip

When it gets to the Actual Dancing, the cameras do a good job of concealing Mark and Karen's footwork a lot of the time, which is unfortunate as I am prevented from making a lot of tremendously insightful and knowledgable comments about the technicalities of their dance. The choreography does not inspire me, and Mark has an unnerving habit of looking into the camera near the start. It's not a vintage Mark performance in any sense - emotionally, physically and familially (it's possible I've invented that word). Still, Bruno's Planet Of The Apes comparison more than makes up for it..

Jake is doing the samba. There is much talk of his 'legendary' hips. Pfffft. Let's book those hips in for three month at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, alongside Celine Dion and see who sells more tickets. Right, Celine? Still, were Celine Dion on Strictly Come Dancing, it's unlikely she could pull Danny Dyer AND Natalie Cassidy into a single training VT, so maybe I've been hasty there. What is fair to say is that Jake's samba is totally demented. Some of the choreography is brilliant; some is deeply weird. Jake is all chest shimmies and buttock wiggles and bump and grind. It is tight, and accurate, and muscular but.... where is the joy? Isn't the samba one of the party dances? If so, the party here is a country fayre in Somerset circa 1972 and Jake has entered the gurning competition. I've heard it said that if you spend long enough working on EastEnders, you lose the capacity to feel happiness and elation on any level, and I think Jake may just have hit that point. Still, 9s and 10s for the samba? Watch it and weep, Pixie and Frankie. And everyone else who's been on Strictly ever.

(As an aside, I have two favourite non-dancing parts of the show tonight. The first comes here, where Jeanette tries to high-five Jake, he leaves her hanging, and she has to nonchalantly turn it into a fond chest slap.)

You want joyful? Here's Simon and Kristina dancing the salsa. Man alive, I love this. I love the song, and let me talk about how much I love the sequence it soundtracks in Footloose, which is almost certainly what I referenced the last time someone danced to this on Strictly. Hey, show, you repeat yourself, I repeat myself. At least one of my friends has said to me in the last week that she is now Team Simon and who am I to argue? He's experiencing the kind of transformation we miss when a series is stuffed with Pixies and Frankies. Sorry if this makes me sound like a wanker but he seems to be inhabiting his dances now, rather than just going through the steps. Those steps are too big for a salsa, but Simon makes it look effortless and innate, where Jake made his samba look angry and inflamed.

(My second-favourite non-dance related part of the show is Kristina welcoming Claudia back and Claudia almost losing it completely. I can't deny I would LOVE it if Kristina won.)

And there go the boys. It's another fair elimination this week. Caroline (or more specifically Pasha's choreography) is back in the game for me, and she and Simon were my favourites. Neither will win. That's just showbiz, I guess.

Next week it's 'Round The World' week, which is absolutely nothing like every week on Strictly. Bring on the Welsh samba and the St Kitts And Nevis Smooth! See you then!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Hopes and Dreams for Week 9, you guys, in which the show is back in London so nobody feels special. It's sad.

I was meant to be in Atlanta this week, you guys, but in a moment of reckless abandon I cancelled the trip, which means two things: a) I am still in New York and it is BLOODY FREEZING and b) IT’S PREVIEW TIME.

We’re down to the final eight (yes, still eight) this weekend, and we are surely into the Likely Finalists, Outside Chances, and Only A Matter of Times.  We all have our own views of who fits into each, but for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:

Likely Finalists: Caroline, Frankie, Jake and Pixie.
Outside Chances: Mark and Simon (though all it takes is the wrong bottom two and either one of them could swap in with Caroline, who is the riskiest of the above bets).
Only A Matter of Time: Steve and Sunetra (obviously).

So, hopes and fears for this week:

Caroline and Pasha – American Smooth to Mack the Knife (the website says “Robbie Williams’ version of Mack the Knife, but if you want me calm and not homicidal, we’ll just ignore that).
We’ve only really seen two shades of Caroline so far – concentrated attack (paso, jive, samba, tango, cha cha, quickstep) and dreamy emotional totes in love with Pasha (waltz, rumba) (we’ve all been there). I really, really hope that they do well this week - I continue to have faith in Pasha’s choreography, but it’s all going to depend on whether Caroline looks like she’s having fun, or looks like she’s marking out the dance with every step. The only week where she seemed to be dancing freely was Paso week – perhaps not a coincidence that that was the dance I have liked the most so far.

Frankie and Kevin – Viennese Waltz to What’s New, Pussycat?
Hmmmm. Not sure about this. I worry about Kevin’s tendency towards the twee, which we’ve already seen in their Foxtrot, and to some extent their Cha cha and even the beloved Wicked Tango. If Kevin reigns in the cheese, and Frankie keeps her frame, I will probably love it. They will do a fleckerl. Len will talk about this and heel leads, and probably score them lower than everyone else will, because that’s just how he rolls.

Jake and Janette – Samba to the Macarena
I am pretty sure you should do the Macarena to the Macarena, but what the hell do I know? Everyone was very excited on the results show that Jake is doing wiggly Latin again, but I do not particularly share this excitement, partly because his hip movement was the least exciting thing about their mental Salsa, and partly because even if you get the hips right in the Samba, there are still ONE MILLION more things you need to figure out, and you can’t rescue it with lifts like you can in the Salsa. I have been pretty tough on Jake recently, and this is largely down to Janette’s choreography, which I think is all show and little substance. I would love it if he had a good week this week, but I would be surprised.

Mark and Karen – Tango to Love Runs Out
Mark has had a very good run recently, even though Karen’s choreography continues to be a little pedestrian. I don’t think the Tango is going to suit him though – I imagine we will revisit his terrible Paso face, he will be commended for his attack and for how much progress he has made and OH MARK YOU WERE REALLY LEADING KAREN AROUND THE FLOOR, and I will have been terribly bored by the whole thing.

Pixie and Trent – Charleston to Sparkling Diamonds (whatever the hell that is)
OK, you guys, this is the week when I try to get on board with the Pixies. Trent has shown some willingness to be inventive with his choreography and his music choices, and my boredom at the blandness of their blondness is starting to depress even me. So, I predict great swivel, mad lifts, and JUST SO MUCH FUN. 

Simon and Kristina – Salsa to Let’s Hear it For the Boy
I don’t really like Kristina’s Salsas. Remember this egregious mess?  These two are terrifically good at lifts, though, so provided they keep it tight and don’t overdo it (what am I talking about, this is Simon in the Latin) it might even be good.  Boring choice of song, though – I wouldn’t dance to anything Natalie Lowe had already danced to, just on principle.

Steve and Ola – Jive to Little Bitty Pretty One
I am fairly sure that this is going to be a disaster. I read a lengthy interview with Steve in which there was much talk about his having had bones fused together in his ankle or something (I read it, I didn’t memorise it, yeah?) which I suspect can only be bad news for anything that requires top speed flicking and kicking. Poor Steve – luck of the draw, or are the production team just super-done with him and Ola?

Sunetra and Brendan - Waltz to Last Request
ARMS ARMS ARMS. I like Sunetra in the ballroom, and I loved her Viennese Waltz, so I bet this will be good, provided Brendan engages his brain.

So it really ought to be down to Steve or Sunetra for the boot this week, and with Steve in the Latin and Sunetra in the Ballroom, it is almost certainly going to be Steve. The Pixies will probably be top of the pops, and I am really hoping for Caroline and Pasha to shine. And that, you guys, is that. See you at the weekend. I might even go for a live watch if I can find the energy – I’ll be on Twitter (@katetf) if so…

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Hello, and a warm welcome to the second part of Oh OK Then Maybe Blackpool Is Kind Of As Amazing As They Always Go On About Week. Like Adam Gemini to her Richard Kilty, I have taken the baton from Kate and am sprinting towards the finish at high speed with quite a lot of strain showing in my face (niche athletics reference).

It's been a crackerjack first half for KateTF. Amazing pre-pro-dance VT! Amazing pro-dance apart from the small child singing! Amazing Jake and Jeanette! Amazing Simon and Kristina! Really pretty good Frankie and Kevin!

My half starts with Anton and Judy. OK then. And um-diddle-diddle-diddle um-diddle-aye, they are channelling Mary Poppins. This isn't a big leap for me. Judy seems to be cut from just the same twinkly-eyed, firm-but-fair-but-mostly-firm cloth as La Poppins. It's not hard to imagine her pouring a dose of magic potion for the young Andy and Jamie in their stripey PJs ('People who hit tennis balls through greenhouse windows must learn to take their medicine!') before pouring some for herself ('RUM PUNCH!').

The first thing we learn from J&A's Viennese waltz is that kites are a lot easier to control than dalmatians, which is worth remembering if you have a medium-sized windfall and are wondering what to spend it on.

Relatively speaking, this a triumph. Judy manages something that can unequivocally be called dancing. There is a moderately successful period of twirling, even if the overall impression is that Anton has grabbed someone else's relative to dance with at a wedding and that relative is trying to pretend she is totally cool with it, despite her every physical inclination to the contrary.

I laugh out loud at Bruno's reference to 'Mary Sloppins'. I do. Sorry. The judges perform their tried-and-tested method of finally eliminating the weak but popular contestant by moderating their criticism, laying on the 'your best dance yet' sucky-up, and ludicrously overmarking to dissuade people from feeling the need to vote. Oh, judges, truly you have bamboozled the public again with your wily psychological mind-magic. Time to write a popular science book just in time for Christmas (A Tango For Our Time: The Public-Vote Paradox or Why We're All Dancing To The Wrong Rhythm).

It's been a jolly holiday with Judy, that is for sure, but the penguins have served their last beverage (if no one dances with live penguins in the Christmas special, I am going to KICK RIGHT OFF, penguins are so hot right now), and it's the right time for her exit. All future contestants who are rubbish but beloved would to do well to mark her sense of humour and self-knowledge.

Mad props to Mark Wright for producing a cousin who does magic to match the theme of his routine. In the Tower Ballroom, the backdrop is lit up with the words 'Magic Mark's Circus'. Roll up! Roll up! You will believe a man has 428 close family members who are available to pop into rehearsals at literally any time and perform any random physical speciality you can think of!

Now then. Regular readers will know that I am emphatically a Mark Wright sympathiser. However. This Charleston is kind of a bust for me, no matter how well Mark executes it. For starters, the Karen-in-a-box shenanigans go on far too long. Secondly, I do not like the choreography. Third, I hate the music. Fourth, it seems pedestrian. That's about the size of it. None of these have anything to do with Mark. Karen, you can stay right there in the box, as far as I'm concerned. Still, great swivel from Mark (one of Mark's seven grandfathers was a professional swiveller during the war). Mark kisses Craig, aka Strictly cliche #547.

It's almost like the BBC don't know what to do to make us fall in love with Pixie and Trent. (My friend Beth loves them, so I know it's not impossible, but I am really struggling.) This week the show's bosses use their training VT to demonstrate their love of animals. The British public loves animals so it can't fail, right? Pixie loves donkey rides. She loves them sooooo much! Please can she ride on a donkey? It's played out slightly like a John Lewis advert, which the British public also loves, but only proves that donkeys are cute, but not as much as penguins. I remain unmoved. Back in the ballroom, it's Paso Doble: Beyond The Thunderdome. Austin Healey wishes he had a fraction of this focus and aggression. It's utterly flawless to my untrained eye, but all a little prog for me and I watch it in a passive state, having whooped out loud for both Jake and Simon earlier in the evening.

There follows an excruciating rehearsed Spartacus gag. Oh Strictly.

Steve and Ola are dancing the American Smooth. Their Token Distracting Backing Dancers are wafting long bands of fabric across in the floor in the manner of a primary school play attempting to portray the sea. Blackpool is, of course, by the sea so this makes perfect sense and is definitely not weird and unnecessary at all. Their dance seems rather old-fashioned next to the narrative of Jake and Jeanette's, but lacks the finesse of Sunetra and Brendan's early old-fashioned glory days. Still it's classy and has MEGA LIFTS. Craig says the dance lacked flair, and I concur. Steve's not a natural dancer and has had some confidence knocks lately, and Ola's heart doesn't seem to be in it these days, and this is what you get. It can only be time for Ola to DEPLOY THE CATSUIT. Or for Steve to get his top off. That or he has to ask the advice of the coterie of woodland animals who live in his garden and are his closest friends and confidantes – specifically a female deer who is shy but kind, a garrulous woodpecker who talks too much but always has Steve's back, and a fox who, in contrast to the popular stereotype, is well-meaning but extremely stupid.

I feel quite strongly that Steve should be practising his dance-off face for next week.

At our Book Club this week, a friend of mine remarked mournfully that Pasha In His Silver Trousers was gifted to us far too early in the series, and we may never witness that kind of majesty again. Still, this week's soldier costume is kind of working for me. He and Caroline are dancing the jive, so please, god, grant us a tiny shred of magic and/or panache. It doesn't start too well with the 90s Geri Halliwell styling, and the 'Dude, where's my bearskin?' lolz. Also, Caroline looks unnervingly like Janine off EastEnders. But still, most boxes are ticked and more of this please, Caroline and Pasha.

Now, barring Shock Return Week (I wouldn't rule it out), we can say that Anton and Judy definitely won't win. But who will? For me, it's between Frankie, Jake and Mark. And Pixie. And Simon. And Caroline. Anything could happen! See you next week!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Blackpool Blackpool Blackpool (Part One)

Blackpool, Blackpool, Blackpool, you guys. In case it had somehow bypassed you in the run-up to this week, it certainly isn’t going to pass you by in the pre-credits sequence. Blackpool, Blackpool, Blackpool. The home of ballroom (but not Latin, AMIRITE ANTON?), Blackpool Blackpool Blackpool. It has come to my attention that I was a bit moody about it being Blackpool week, and I have realised that this was because I had literally confused Blackpool with Wembley. It’s Wembley Week that I hate, the only squabble I have with Blackpool is that people won’t shut up about it. Even me, it turns out. Blackpool Blackpool Blackpool. 

We finally get into the credits. This week’s credits report belongs to tHom and Iveta. He looks bland, she creeps towards the camera over his shoulder all sinister-like. If I was into blanket Eastern European stereotyping I would call it vampiresque. But I’m not, so I won’t. 

The Stockport Joke Murderer (SJM) and Zoe are not escorted on by chaps, so apparently Blackpool is quite the progressive town. Zoe commits fully to a dance-on, which is exactly what I would expect from someone who once did this on this show. 

Now we get a strange creepy little VT full of LIES, in which Small Anton is adorable, Small Brendan is Australian, and Small Joanne is not taking the competition out at the knees. Then a child pretends to be Iveta and then starts singing and OH GOD MAKE IT STOP. Sorry kid, but this is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, and I sat through Ouija the Movie last week. Eventually she stops, everyone dances. It’s nice. Goes on a bit. Iveta hangs from wires. The end. 

The SJM is standing in front of Zoe again. It’s amazing. 

Darcy dances on again! She’s really getting into this. Len gets his moves wrong. Nobody is having more fun than Craig.

This week, I have the first half of the show, Hannah has the second. We did not know which order they were going to dance in, so this was the Strictly blogging form of Russian Roulette, in which if I got the Pixies I would have to choose which one of them I would shoot in the head. 

(I did not get the Pixies.)

Before we start, if you read my reports carefully, you might notice that I LOATHED the use of back-up dancers. That thread of hate is integral to all my feelings tonight.


Frankie and Kevin
We have NO RED TROUSERS.  What we do have is a top speed quickstep to the Clash and, look, if you’re going to do a dance routine to A Town Called Malice, you had better bring it, because this exists. Anyway, they gallop around jolly well, Frankie’s slightly Alesha-like lazy foot aside, but (BLOODY BACK-UP DANCERS) I liked the beginning and the end much more than I liked the middle. Imagine if the whole quickstep had had that rock and roll feel, rather than just topping and tailing it, it could have been insanely brilliant, and Frankie’s good enough to do it. As it was, they did enough to tantalise, but not quite enough to make me love it. If you’re interested, here’s a Blackpool quickstep I once loved (and yes, I have linked to it before, thanks for noticing). 

Jake and Janette
It’s a scripted COMEBACK week for Jake, and surprise surprise, that’s exactly what happens.  This is an American Smooth to Feelin’ Good, which to my amazement has not previously been done (there has been a Foxtrot, but nothing by Joe Calzaghe counts, let's be honest), and I am not that into it. They don’t dance together for much of it at all, because of all the faffing about and the BLOODY BACK-UP DANCERS. I mean, it’s fine if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer to see actual dancing, and not just Janette being thrown about and lots of posing by BLOODY BACK-UP DANCERS. A mere 30 seconds of dancing meant that this was not my cup of tea. The judges like it, though, so good for Jake, I guess. Craig scores it higher than Frankie, which: NO.

Sunetra and Brendan
Oh dear Lord. Let’s start by saying POOR SUNETRA – when you’re a reluctant Latin dancer, Blackpool Week is not the week to get the samba – there is just so much floor to cover, and she hasn’t got the confidence to really do it justice. (For a good Blackpool samba, take a look at this one - actual backflips were needed to make it a decent dance on this big old dancefloor.) The show goes on and on about this dance having a hen party theme, and this does Sunetra no favours, because once she gets going, all you can think is Maths Teacher on a Hen Do, and once you’ve thought it, it’s game over. She is giving it plenty of beans, but she does not know what she’s doing or where she’s going, and Brendan ends up shoving her round the floor like an angry groom whose wife forgot the steps of their cleverly choreographed first dance, and he is HAVING WORDS ABOUT IT LATER I DON’T CARE IF IT IS OUR WEDDING DAY YOU’VE LET ME DOWN HERE DARLING. She gets three 8s. WTF? I love you, Sunetra, and I love Sensible Brendan, but seriously: WTF? Between this and Jake, I am renaming this Overscore Week. Also, I hated the BLOODY BACK-UP DANCERS. But you knew that.

Simon and Kristina
My feelings on realising I had Simon’s Argentine Tango: OH NO I’VE GOT SIMON’S ARGENTINE TANGO.  My feelings about 10 seconds in: OH MY GOD SIMON IS REALLY GOOD AT THE ARGENTINE TANGO. Occasionally it’s a tiny bit careful, but basically I loved it. This is easily Simon’s best dance, there is no gurning, there are no bloody back up dancers, and there is an amazing atmosphere throughout. I could have done without Simon’s post-dance Humble Thank Yous, but I loved it and I have zero rude words to deliver. I know. 

That’s it from me, you guys. Over to Miss Jones for the Judy Report, and Flack dressed as Geri Halliwell (and presumably being kept away from McBusted by actual bodyguards). Oh, and the Pixies. SIGH. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Week 7: Ballroom, ballroom, ballroom (and two more ballrooms)

Good evening everyone. Let's talk about ballroom! Which was the working title of Salt 'n' Pepa's 1991 hit until the record company said, 'Look, girls, you know I love you. But how's about we make this less about ballroom and more about... I don't know... sex, maybe?'

Like Kate, I much prefer Zoe's dress to Tess's. When we're eventually asked to host the show (I'm thinking early December, at the latest), this could potentially result in some awkward wardrobe-related arguments, but for now we are as one.

So… then there were 10.

I know.

There are still 10 (ten) – 10! – couples. No time to waste then... It's Pre-Blackpool Gratuitous Friends And Relations Week But Wait Isn't That Every Week Yes Pretty Much It Is!

Reporting first to the ballroom are Simon and Kristina and they're dancing the quickstep. Simon's look of Total Shock when he was saved from elimination last Sunday night was one of my highlights of the week. When you consider that last week also included Firework Night and the discovery of Hotel Chocolat's Super Milk innovation, this is a Massive Deal. In a bold and early attempt to win the highly competitive category of Best Relative, Simon introduces us to his mum who works in a community centre and is full of lovely mum advice. What is that thing thrown down there on the floor? It is like a glove, but slightly more old-fashioned. Anyway, mostly this week, my half of the programme feels like being rolled around in marshmallows and syrup and other sickly stuff that coincidentally comprises half the ingredients for rice krispie squares. By refreshing contrast, Simon and Kristina's dance is light and fresh and joyful. In addition, Simon gets to use some of the faces he learn for his triumphant Charleston. And some of the steps too. Recycling is such an instinctive part of our lives these days.

Afterwards, Tess immediately remarks on their standing ovation ('They're on their feet') and then calls Simon 'my love'. Did Bruce ever actually leave? I increasingly believe the real Tess is locked in a broom cupboard in the now-disused TV Centre and an animatronic model has been installed in her place, which Bruce is operating via remote control from the lounge of a very high-end golf club.

A 9 from both from Darcy and Len sees more Shocked And Amazed faces from Simon. This is emerging as a key skill for him, which he must be able to utilise post-Strictly. I don't know how. I can't breathe for you, Simon.

Let's move on. After last week's wig atrocity, Pasha restores his image by being all adorable with Caroline's nieces in their VT. This blog has a problem being stirred by Caroline and Pasha's routines, and a waltz to a cheesy old smoocher like Three Times A Lady needs to go some to change that. It doesn't. Although it's beautiful and softly romantic and marshmallows and melted butter and toffees and a lot of YEARNING faces. Oh, the YEARNING. It's a fist of pure emotion, if not two, or, in fact four, but the judges are pissy about the technicalities and the rise and fall is not so much. Oh Pasha, remember the personality of your quickstep with Chelseeeeee Healey? THE WORLD NEEDS IT NOW. What the world also needs now is love, sweet love, which you could have danced your waltz to, although someone has definitely done it before and Kate would be able to tell you who because she is the Strictly Rainman Megabrain. Unfortunately I am here instead.

Sunetra and Brendan are doing the foxtrot, and Sunetra has a lovely new fringe. Some of her friends from Casualty come and visit her in training, including losing series 3 finalist Colin Jackson's sister. You can quite clearly hear her say 'NO PUPPETS' in the background to Brendan at one point.  S&B seem to have been inspired by Caroline and Pasha's romantic, beautiful, technically flawed performance and decide to follow suit. Not even Sunetra's Arms Of Illusion can weave a spell to conceal the blunders. At points, you can actually see Brendan manhandling her into position. Remember what Colin Jackson's sister said, Brendan? NO PUPPETS. It's a missed opportunity to storm the leader board in a week when Caroline and Frankie are off-form. Still, many people are voting for these two. I just don't know any of them.

Mark and Karen also get the waltz, and for the kind of tenuous reasons that are Strictly's speciality, they go and visit Mark's brother who plays football for Leyton Orient. Back in the studio, Mark is wearing a truly hideous pale-grey cropped tail suit abhorration. Seriously, Mark, you are getting the shitty end of the costume stick. Gregg Wallace had better costumes than this. As Mark and Karen schmaltz their way around the floor, autumn leaves fall from the ceiling. I think they're leaves anyway. They might be the rice krispies you need to complete your Strictly Rice Krispie Cakes recipe. Sorry, that seemed like a good idea when I started it. Anyway, technically Mark is really getting it together, and, of course, he emotes all over the shop. A DVD will surely come out of this. Emote With Mark Wright. Mark Wright's Emotacise! Disarm friends and colleagues with your totally natural tears! Make every day feel like a dream!

Now then. The perpetually underwhelming (to me, at least) Pixie and Trent are foxtrotting to When I'm 64. I was thinking about this song earlier in the week, and remembering how various members of my family would play it on the piano when I was small. I make us sound like the Von Trapps - we are very much not, but if we were, I would be Brigitta. It was in a songbook with lots of much older standards, and I was thinking how it has moved beyond pop music, and feels like it's existed forever. It says home and family to me, and I think that's a big part of why I am crazy in love with Pixie and Trent's routine tonight.

I know, I can't believe it either.

Also, in their VT, they visit the Rivoli Ballroom, aka one of the best places ever, and people can carry on being snobby about South London forever if it means they stay away and leave it just for us.

Anyway, Pixie and Trent's domestic, old-fashioned foxtrot is witty and balletic and theatrical (are you watching, Pasha? or are you just trying on ugly wigs backstage?), but not in the freaky way of Jennifer's Mamma Mia! tribute. They nearly ruin it with one of the worst endings ever. One chucking a bucket of fabric and glitter over the other an uncomfortable amount of time after the music has ended is total self-sabotage, as far as I am concerned. What is this, Billy Smart's Strictly Circus? (And if that ever happens, I demand a cut.) Unlike last week, I love Pixie's hair and outfit and the styling and.. look, I loved it, OK?

I also love the bit post-scores when Zoe asks Pixie how old she is, and she has to think quite hard before answering.

Come results time, it's a tragedy for Alison and Aljaz to leave - not just for their contribution to VTs, but also because they staged a dance-off WITHIN THEIR OWN ROUTINE, and did one of the best ever leaving dances, and are also just flat-out adorable with each other. But, with the exception of Judy, and possibly Steve, everyone who's left in is a better dancer than Alison. The fun, though. Oh, the fun.

Meanwhile, Judy marches on to Blackpool. See you there. And by there, I mean at home in front of the TV with a bag of peanut M&Ms and the cringe threshold set to high.