Friday, January 06, 2006

You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'

Okay I admit it. I should have been watching Four Kings or The Office or My Name Is Earl for review purposes but instead I was watching the second season debut of Dancing With The Stars instead. Yes they are, at best, B-List celebrities, and some of them I've never even heard of (in the case of Kenny Mayne it doesn't help that I'm a Canadian and the only time I see ESPN is at my brother's house on Sundays), and yes I did criticize it last summer, but you know what, it is fun and It does make me feel like dancing if only because I know that I'd be better at it than P Miller. And probably Kenny Mayne.

One thing that has to be said about this season of the show is that they seem to have learned from the mistakes they made last year, the big ones and the little ones. Overall the camera work seems much better. They didn't point a camera at one of the footlights which caused the resulting glare to washed out the screen to obscure the dancers, who were after all the focus of the event. That happened a number of times in the first season, and not just in the first episode. In this first episode the only major problem occurred when one of the hand held cameras crossed in front of the field fo view of one of the studio cameras. Moreover the director seems to have gotten the message that dancing isn't something you can adequately show from the waist up. You have to see the whole body and in particular the feet. More of the shots followed Fred Astaire's rule about filming dance, that you have to see the whole body in every dance sequence.

One major problem has been eliminated with the decision to run a half hour results program on Friday rather than having teams which have already been eliminated in the previous week's voting perform again the second week. A bigger problem for me is the decision to open the phone lines for voting at the beginning of the show before any of the performances have taken place. This just seems to invite the sort of voting which happened last summer. In my mind it is probably better to open the phone lines for a specific length of time after the show has aired. Of course, since this is entertainment rather than a "real" competition - no matter what the participants may want to believe - I suppose it's acceptable. On the other hand I think the ten team formula, which led to the show expanding to two hours this week and 90 minutes next week may be more of a problem. The show didn't seem to flow as well at two hours and it did bring them into opposition with CSI. I think the show would probably do better with a smaller number of contestants - say eight - and as a result a shorter premiere episode.

Another improvement was with the hosting. Last season Tom Bergeron was initially a terrible host. He seemed to regard the whole thing as a big joke and made atrocious jokes through most of the first couple of episodes until it became clear that the show was a big hit. In this first episode he hasn't been joking nearly as much about the experience. In fact he was playing it entirely straight while maintaining a jovial manner. Last summer Bergeron's backstage co-host was former Entertainment Tonight co-host Lisa Canning. Canning isn't back this season but has been replaced by Samantha Harris of E! News. I'm not sure that the change is for the better. The backstage host's job is basically to interview celebrities which was after all Lisa Canning's job at ET and Samantha just didn't seem quite as sharp as Lisa had been.

Of course what we all want to know know is "how was the dancing." Let's just say that it ranged from spectacular to worse than Evander Holyfield ... by several orders of magnitude. Admittedly there were reasons. George Hamilton said broke four ribs falling off a yacht. Tia Carerre had a baby three months ago and is struggling with losing the weight. The best excuse of all of course goes to Master P (also listed as P Miller) who replaced his son Romeo in the competition approximately a week ago. That said he gave the single worst performance of the night. He seemed to make very little attempt to work with the music and on the whole danced the Cha Cha like a traffic cone (male celebrities did the Cha Cha - female celebrities did the Waltz). The man made Evander Holyfield from last season look like a brilliant dancer. With two exceptions the rest of the male dancers were inferior to the female celebrities. George Hamilton - he of the magnificent tan - may have been restricted in some movements by his injury (and his age - 66) which but his dancing seemed to be restricted. He was a slightly more animated traffic cone, and the difference between him and Master P - and the reason why I voted for him - was that he at least seemed to be trying. ESPN's Kenny Mayne was the second male dancer to go and he seemed to combine an inherent lack of ability with a great enthusiasm that led him to be, well silly. At one point he literally waved off a move he was supposed to do when he realize he was out of synch with his partner, Andrea Hale. At other time he made somewhat discreet waves to the audience. But again, unlike Master P he tried. The best of the male contestants were Drew Lachey and Jerry Rice. It was certainly expected that Lachey would put in an excellent performance - he was a member of the boy band 98 Degrees (along with his brother Nick of course), is currently appearing on Broadway in Rent and is married to a choreographer. He didn't disappoint as he earned the top judges marks of 24. The big surprise of the men was former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice. Her partner, Russian born Anna Trebunskaya seemed dubious at first. She seemed to have no real understanding of American football and in an interview stated that "real men play hockey, or soccer ... or volleyball." On the dance floor however he had a fluidity of motion as well as a strength and most importantly and enthusiasm that was exciting to see. Lachey has a leg up with his previous experience but Rice certainly has a lot of potential as this competition goes on.

The majority of the female dancers tended to be better than the men. None received a score lower than 19. That went to Soap Talk host Lisa Rinna, who made a number of slight missteps through her performance . For all that, I thought that Tia Carrere turned in a satisfactory performance. Her movements were graceful but not particularly spectacular. Spectacular came from WWE wrestler Stacy Keibler who used her previous dance training and very long legs to considerable advantage. For all that her past training might come back to haunt her if the judges expect more from her because of it. Surprises were KTLA morning news personality Giselle Fernandez whose performance was excellent in terms of fluidity, and Tatum O'Neal. Tatum was giving something of a comic performance backstage, although how much of that was the producer's idea is a good question but when it came to the dancing she was spot on.

Dancing With The Stars was an improbable ratings hit last summer. I don't expect it to draw the sort of ratings this winter that it did in the summer particularly on a Thursday night. I think that ABC made a mistake in approaching the series as anything more than cotton candy in the summer. That said I watched it, and will probably watch it again next week, because it can get addictive. Sort of like cotton candy.

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