Sunday, 26 October 2014

Week 5: In which I both agree and disagree with Len, throwing the world off its axis and then back on again. Sorry about the earthquakes, world.

OK, you guys. Week 5, 12 couples, a lot of tears, and the first Shock Boot of the series to report, and Miss Jones is absent with leave, so you get all KateTF this time out. Buckle up, we’re just getting started.

In this week’s credits report, I don’t think it was good for Alison’s show narrative to have Aljaz literally hiding behind her. I mean, let’s at least TRY to rise above the stereotype, shall we, Show?

In dress news, Tess looks tremendous. Somehow, Bruce leaving the show has done wonders for Tess’s wardrobe. Higher budget? Lower levels of depression amongst the Show’s wardrobe department? As for Claudia's outfit... When I was seven years old, I was in a show in which I played a bat called Bismuth. My first line went like this: "Hello, my name's Bismuth and I've got a cold in my nose." Claudia's dress looks like my Bismuth costume. 

Oh, a Murray Boy! The less famous one! (But still a Wimbledon champion, the Murray family will have you know.)

Darcy still isn’t trying in the dance-on. Craig does four spins to make up for it. 

ALERT ALERT Pasha has his chest out, which can only mean a) paso and b) hooray! Unfortunately for Miss Jones, Kevin from Grimsby has graduated from red trousers to a full red suit this week. It is an outrage. 


Jake & Janette
Last week, Jake jived and it was pretty good, but I personally was not on board because he pretended to play Janette as a guitar, and we all know how I feel about that sort of thing by now. I forgave him, though, because he bounced around like Tigger and Janette’s dress was amazing. As to this week... Sure, let’s do a quickstep to I’m Still Standing. It’s not as though I’m Still Standing on this show will forever be associated with the best jive ever jived, beside which even the best quickstep is likely to pale in comparison. And this is not the best quickstep. (For the record, this might be the best quickstep. Or this. And this one was fun too.) It is, however, a pretty good quickstep – tons of movement, lots of fancy footwork, very confidently delivered. I think maybe it just lacked a bit of imagination to distinguish it from the one million other quicksteps we’ve seen on the Show by now, so my reaction was THIS IS FINE. The judges all use the word “efficient” and that seems about right to me, and has seemed about right to me about Jake for most of the series so far. 

Sunetra & Brendan
Is it me, or is Brendan SUPER-SERIOUS this year? He had a very sober reaction to being declared safe, and even when forced into a comedy playground VT, he uses it to soberly make very sensible training points about spotting your turns. I’m kind of into this Brendan, and I was already kind of into the old Brendan (not like that, guys, IN A DANCE WAY) so these two are definitely high up my list. A Viennese waltz to Anyone Who Had A Heart has been done before, but they attempt to distinguish it by telling us it’s the Cilla version rather than Dionne Warwick, which is probably some kind of shameless attempt to further court the Liverpool vote. I thought this was gorgeous. Her footwork was a bit ungainly a couple of times, but it’s elegant and dramatic, and at the end Brendan gives it the full Artem in presenting Sunetra for the audience’s applause. Brendan has some form for dramatic Viennese waltzes, but this one was all sad and wistful too. I loved it, and I thought it was underscored. 

Scott & Joanne
Scott gives us quite a sad little VT before his dance and, to be honest, I think that went further at getting him votes than his actual dance. This was not in any way a Charleston. Not in any way. It was as easy a dance as Joanne could actually make it without actually drawing diagrams on the floor, with the exception of the tricks, which Scott duly buggers up. It was pretty fun, though, during those moments when I wasn’t actually afraid for Joanne’s life. At the end, Darcy enjoyably tells Scott to strengthen his core. Yeah, Darcy, that’s the problem with Scott’s dancing. His core.

tHom & Iveta
Well, I had a whole bunch of notes about this dance. There were fun notes about Iveta training in leopard print (because of course she does), the boyband moves with Max (even though you would think he would try to disassociate himself entirely from even the idea of boybands given this fiasco), the terrible singing that sullies the first performance. And then there were the dance notes about how this all seemed a bit pre-breakthrough Gethin to me – bit stiff, arm placement not great (incidentally, Len agreed with me about the arms, which made me have to step away and have a quiet cry about what I have become), the imminence of an acting coach and so on. But all the pleasure in this has been stripped away by their Shock Boot. I wasn’t all that surprised to see them in the bottom two – this was a bit anonymous, and I don’t think he has done quite enough over the past few weeks to build a big fan base – but I thought they were much better then Simon and Kristina in the dance-off, and I reassuringly once again found myself thinking Len was wrong, which cheered me right up, but didn’t really help tHom. Too early for him to go, I think, as there were probably good things to come, but as the Show (and my friend Alice) pointed out, if you don’t phone (and I don’t phone) you can’t moan. (This whole blog basically gives the lie to that statement, I would argue).

Frankie & Kevin from Grimsby
Frankie goes for the double whammy this week of a) cute baby and b) footballer husband. The husband is neither here nor there, to be honest, but her baby is so adorable that basically nobody ever again in the future of Strictly should ever attempt to use their baby to get votes, because this is the Gold Standard. This foxtrot is extremely twee, possibly even more twee than tHom’s last week, but it is very good. I don’t like her top line much, especially out of hold – it all goes a bit Pop Star given half a chance – but it’s a lovely dance nonetheless. I found myself wishing halfway through that it was an American Smooth though – I much preferred the bits that were out of hold and more freeform, and a couple of lifts would have fitted this choreography perfectly. A missed opportunity, Kevin from Grimsby. 

Alison & Aljaz
Oh no, Lisa Riley in the VT. Sigh. I already get the parallels, Show, I don’t need those parallels made visible, thanks so much. Things don’t improve much from there – I love Alison, but it felt this week as though she was dancing with very little confidence and no drama, and those have been her stock-in-trade to date. I wasn’t in any way worried that she’d be in the dance-off – she’s too popular at the moment – but I do think she’s going to have to bring the pizzazz next week.

At this point, I counted back through the couples and realised I was only halfway through. Internally I started screaming I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE, but then I realised that in New York, no-one can hear me scream (this week I am the Ripley of Strictly blogging) so I fought it down – I’m better than this, I’m stronger than this, LET’S PRESS ON. 

(Before we do, here are two brief asides:

In the next section of VT, we see Judy rehearse. Judy tells Anton, “You’re already looking at me despairingly and it’s only half-twelve.” I love Judy so much.

It’s 80s and 90s week in the results show, apparently, what with the appearance of Boy George and his No Voice, and Cotton Eye Joe by whoever those people are. There is lassoing by Jimmy Johnston, who the show describes as Amazing Lasso Artist, whilst neglecting to mention that he was also a tremendous Will Parker in Oklahoma! in the National Theatre production that first introduced London to the marvel that is Hugh Jackman. Here, take a look (at about 1:09).)

Mark & Karen
Their VT this week takes them clubbing. Mark tells us he even pulled the worm out. I remember that Mark began life on TOWIE and panic briefly, before realising he is describing a dance move. Their dance turns into a samba about halfway through with a few samba rolls, but this is basically enthusiastically-danced disco. Pretty good footwork, and it’s generally fine, but this is Mark’s Bottom Two Bounce week, so the judges praise it wildly. It is seriously overscored, obviously – there is no planet on which this is better than Sunetra’s Viennese Waltz, never mind Frankie’s foxtrot. UGH JUDGES.

Simon & Kristina
We go full Blue in the VT, and the one who isn’t Lee or Duncan does a Bruno impression, which does not endear him to me. Going full Blue does not save Simon from the dance-off for the second time, however – I don’t think this warranted being in the bottom two, but I did not like it. He gallops the whole thing, and while he partially rescues it with good posture, it’s much too fast and frenetic for my taste and not all that elegant. Not reminiscent so much of Bruno’s description of “riding the crest of a wave” as it was of me attempting bodyboarding in choppy Atlantic waves this summer, which goes more like OH SHIT A WAVE OH DAMN I MISSED IT HERE’S ANOTHER ONE WAIT WHY AM I UNDERWATER. It screams Middle of the Leaderboard Danger Zone, and so we can’t be in any way surprised that that’s where it ended up. I would NOT have saved these two, I would have kicked them into touch, and unless Simon does something serious next week he might well be in trouble again. Unless he’s up against Scott or Judy in the dance-off, of course.

(Claudia at this point delivers a speech entirely made up of Queen songs and it is charming. Tess then responds in kind and it really annoys me. I’m a very complicated person.)

Judy & Anton
The Rowing Boat makes another appearance! I knew we hadn’t seen the last of that dumb prop. Anyway, it’s classic Judy in that she keeps going out of time, the lifts are clunky and ludicrous, and I love every single second of it. She graciously deals with all the judges’ laughter, then strides off to Claudia, throwing a headmistressy THANK YOU back at Tess as she heads for the stairs. We get a lot of shots of Jamie. Getting our Murray’s worth. (Sorry.) Judy makes me love her even more (if that were even possible) on the results show by telling us all that she channels Sharon Stone while she dances. Imagining the looks on the Murray Boys’ faces at hearing that kept me laughing for a good 20 minutes.

Caroline & Pasha
I watch the whole VT because Polo Neck Wearing Pasha is my favourite flavour of Pasha. We’ve pasoed to Live and Let Die before, of course, but not for seven years, so I will allow it. It’s really good too – her legs are great, and the speed of the dance is amazing. I thought her arms were a bit loose occasionally, but I am being super-picky at this point. This scores only one point more than Mark’s samba, which: NO. Pasha’s choreography was fantastic again, and they really ought to be my favourite couple by this point, but for some reason they are not. Is it a personality thing? A couple chemistry thing? I certainly don’t like them as a pair as much as I liked Pasha/Kimberley, or Pasha/Chelsee, but I am judging myself pretty hard right now for becoming a Personality Voter (the rot started with Chris & Ola, I won’t lie), so I’ll try to get on top of this for next week. 

Steve & Ola
God bless Ola Jordan, who never met a 90s rock ballad she didn’t want to dance to. This is the fourth time this song has been waltzed to on Strictly – yes, the FOURTH – but that utter lack of originality aside, this was pretty good. There was gapping all the way through, but it had lovely glide, and obviously the Pivots of Joy. I am always very charmed by Steve, incidentally – he just seems so nice. (See above re my issues with personality voting. I need help.) This is perhaps a mite overscored, but I’ll allow it. Bonus points to the Show for giving us a glimpse of Olympic champion Helen Glover at this point. No idea why she was there – are she and Steve friends? Might she be a future contestant I HOPE SO. She’s very tall, so they could bring back Matthew or Ian especially for her! Someone make this happen.

Pixie & The Other Pixie
For this week’s VT, Pixie takes The Other Pixie to an “open mic night”. This is memorable only for the tremendous side-eye she gets from audience members when she is dancing next to them. What follows is a top speed, high camp samba and look: she can dance, ok? Nobody is denying that. But MY GOD this felt overdone – it was so over-enthusiastic I hardly knew where to look. A stage school samba if I ever saw one. Technically this was miles better, but I preferred Mark’s samba, and I didn’t even really like Mark’s samba. And so obviously the Pixies go top of the leaderboard and I go and drown my face in a glass of wine.

So there you have it.  The Pixie-Frankie-Caroline-Jake top of the leaderboard hegemony is disrupted by Mark, of all people, because of Bottom Two Bounce scripting, we have our first Shock Boot of the series - bye tHom and Iveta, you were robbed by Len, I think – Scott and Judy survive, and Simon’s days are probably numbered. Next week, I expect Simon will get Latin, Scott will get whatever is likely to finish him off (rumba?), and maybe we might see Andy Murray. Most importantly, it will be Halloween week. Gird your loins, you guys – monsters and vampires and ghosts, OH MY.  

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Week 4: All the Ballroom and None of the Fun

Oh you guys, I am so late this week. And I had so many fewer dances on which to report than Miss Jones did! I must confess that the delay is partly due to me being all philanthropic on Sunday, but more due to a late lunch that escalated into a four and a half hour karaoke session on Saturday. Anyway, I am here now, and I have some mild and not particularly interesting comments to make on a mild and not particularly interesting week for ballroom dance. 

In this week’s credits report, I finally noticed that Scott actually mimes the “HO”. This makes me like him more.

Tess and Claudia continue their excellent run of quality outfits. They are walked in by Anton and Pasha. I continue to think this is stupid, but I seriously approve of the way Pasha milks his moment in the sun for all it is worth. He’s no fool, our Pasha. 

The judges’ dancing on is dumb. There, I said it.


Mark & Karen
I did not notice that Mark brought his nan last week. And this week he goes uber-Nan with Nanny Pat. Is she as good as Alesha’s nans, the Gold Standard for Strictly Nan Visits? She is not, but this was a very good effort. As for their actual dancing… I mean, basically there is nothing wrong with it, other than a couple of top line issues from Mark and some gapping. But it’s all so GENERIC. Run around, do some steps, run around, do some steps. It has almost no distinguishing features. I felt a bit as though I was at a wedding and the bride and groom had decided to jazz up the first dance a bit, so they’d gone for a quickstep lesson or three, and so the whole wedding stood around clapping in time while they did their thing, then they finished, we all applauded and then the DJ finally started playing the Kenny Loggins we had all been waiting for. It wasn’t bad enough for the bottom two, but it was so uninteresting I think people just forgot Mark even existed.

Judy & Anton
It’s the Murray Boys! On Skype! But still, it’s the Murray Boys, being all embarrassed and sarcastic to their mum! And then Judy shamelessly plays the “one more week and they’ll come and watch me in person” card. BRAVO JUDY, that’s how it’s done. As for the dance itself, we pretty much get a flash of her undercrackers during the first slide, she clings on to Anton for dear life, and then she tremendously just HURLS herself at him at the end and I JUST LOVE HER OK? Even Anton’s Banter (Banton) doesn’t bother me while Judy’s in town. Please don’t let next week be a rumba, though, I can’t deal with that.

Scott & Joanne
Scott tries to get into the Cute Kids War game with an adorable niece. Nice try, Uncle Scott (if that’s even your real name), but I ain’t buying what you’re selling. Joanne from Grimsby is supremely brave, I will give her that. I would not let this fella do any kind of lift for ANY MONEY, and she just goes for it. He does not drop her, which is obviously a plus both for Joanne from Grimsby and the show’s liability insurance, but here is another thing he does not do: dance. His feet are all over the place, his arm placements are a bizarre afterthought, usually just after he has glanced over at Joanne and remembered he should have flung an arm out. It’s actually painful to watch. Also, Joanne does not choreograph him to turn around every time the songs says turn around, which I think we can all agree is a missed opportunity. Len gives this a 4. I didn’t even know Len had a 4 paddle! Next week might be curtains for Scott, to be honest, amazing though it is that any remaining contestant is worse than Judy.

tHom & Iveta
They’re really going for it with the relatives this week, what with sons, nieces, nans, plus Kevin from Grimsby’s parents, so now we get tHom’s brother. Weirdly, the show in no way points out that tHom’s brother is actual talented rugby player Max Evans, who has played 44 times for Scotland. We got more background on Scott’s niece and Mark’s nanna. Unfortunately, we have to suffer through a “dancer does rugby” VT for the eighty-seventh time in show history, but somehow because it is Iveta I am actually amused by it. I love Iveta. Following on from this, we get an excellent florist pun, followed by a dance which is not at all bad. tHom has great posture, and while I wish he could find a personality, Iveta choreographs with enough personality for both of them, because she is amazing. Somehow, this also manages to be camper than last week’s Charleston in which he was dressed as a sailor. That is the power of Iveta. And just in case all that wasn’t enough, tHom busts out another Humble Thank You when he’s with Claudia – this lad has been reading the Strictly Playbook BIG TIME and he is going to bust out every single move. Well played, lad. Well played.

Caroline & Pasha
I will confess to being a little underwhelmed by this, and not being entirely sure why. Was it just that the music was a bit uninspiring? Was I irritated by all the window dressing? (Yes, yes I was.) However, underwhelmed as I was, this was still head and shoulders above Mark and Karen. It was danced better, obviously, but it’s not just that – just like Iveta, Pasha CHOREOGRAPHS with character. The dance speeds up, slows down, changes feel, hits the accents in the music – the changes in dynamic keep me interested, and make the dance memorable. Compared to this, Mark and Karen’s looks like Quickstep 101. She needs help. 

So, farewell Tim Wonnacott (about whom my niece sent me this joke: Tim Wonnacott, we wonnacott you to leave), good effort Natalie and we hope you get a ringer next year, bravo Judy for turning a Murray Boys visit into your own personal Blackpool, and well done Miss Jones for toughing out the lion’s share of the show this week. I’ll see you all at the weekend for more fun and games, and hopefully a last hurrah for Scott Mills and his celebrity pals. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Week 4: The Latin Selection

Here at And Dave Arch Played On…, we are constantly striving to innovate and grow the reading experience for you, our Strictly-loving comrades and valued clients. This week, Kate and I have dispensed with notions of gender and split the dancers down the ballroom/Latin divide. So hold on to your hip action (hmm, needs work), here I am with the Latin report (also the Charleston).

Kevin and Frankie
It's easy to think of Kevin and Frankie as adorable little pocket people, with their little pixie haircuts and little pixie faces. I don't buy it. They coldly execute a major psyche-out this week by ditching a whole day's training to go to bloody well Grimsby. Like, 'What? Oh yeah, we're just taking a day off. We might do some training tomorrow. We might go to Whitby instead.' On their seaside special VT, Kevin is wearing red trousers AGAIN. It's almost like he doesn't read this blog. The pair are dancing the cha-cha to Call Me Maybe. High marks from me, but the judges have a bitch about Frankie's bent legs. Picky, picky, picky. During the dance Frankie strokes Kevin's face a lot. I think there are many, many people who want to stroke Kevin's face, and that is why Kevin and Frankie will win [possibly. Also they are good at dancing].

[As an aside, Claudia is on brilliant form this week, with the highpoint her laughing-assassin takedown of Donny Osmond.]

Simon and Kristina
One particular newspaper has done some pioneering investigative journalism this week into Kristina's extraordinary powers of sexiness, and how they were directly responsible for her and Simon landing in the dance-off last week. This is in contrast to well-established proof that the middle of the board is always a notoriously dangerous and vulnerable place to be ('Gabby Logan's Theorem', for scholars). We will return to this startling new research in more detail another time, if I get round to writing it, for here and now, we must deal with the here and now. Kristina's Superpowers Of Sexy have rendered her a Kinky Pearly Queen this week. I'm not sure if anyone's made that particular p**n film yet - The Lambeth Pork, anyone? And actually what is Down At The Old Bull And Bush even about? Anyway, it's the Charleston for Simon and Kristina and, man alive, they are working those Charleston faces hard. I think they may have heard the backstage rumour that if you gurn hard enough during your Charleston, you can be transported back to the 1920s, and Simon is eager to meet pioneering feminist playwright Sophie Treadwell to discuss his theories on her masterpiece of expressionist theatre, Machinal. It's safe to say Simon is back to delivering on the promise we saw during his week one jive, although this is all a bit grating for me.

Alison and Aljaz
Forgive me for I am not feeling very well and may be delirious but here is the point I actually laugh at a Strictly VT, possibly for the first time since 2006. It is heartening to think that all I might need to make me happy in this terrible world is Alison Hammond from This Morning carrying a cardboard cut-out of Jay-Z and Aljaz doing sad faces. But what sad faces. I would buy a DVD of Aljaz making sad faces. But let's talk about the samba. No one can make a sad face during the samba. That is the samba law. Other tenets of samba law are that participants must find it incredibly hard (Alison gives it more than most, but yep, tick) and the judges must enforce just how incredibly hard it is (not in those words, but again, yep). Also compulsory: more fringing than a Claudia lookalike convention that is coincidentally happening in the same hotel as a Slade fans' weekender. Tick tick ticktickticktick. Surely Alison will have to do some ballroom dancing soon. Ah yes, she is doing the tango next week. It's ballroom, but kinda latiny.

Steve and Ola
If James Jordan is to be believed - and you'd be forgiven for not reading any further - Ola has been vomiting all day. When you see the way Steve is twirling her around like a majorette with a baton, it is understandable. This week, Steve has discovered he can do a chest shimmy and, give praise and thanks, he wants to share that gift with the world. Come and shake your chest with Steve! It feels amazing! Global cults have started on less than this. The problem lies with the rest of his body. His steps are a little clunky and placed and his hips are not really happening, but he does go the full Logan (K, not G) lift-wise. Ola must be hoping the rumba is many, many weeks away. I think the answer may be to turn the pursuit of strong, flexible hips into some kind of extreme physical challenge – possibly involving wildlife – that Steve would enjoy. Hoisting a crate of shire horses into the sky using only a pulley system attached to Steve's belt? Shire horses have a famously placid temperament, perfectly qualifying them for this potentially stressful venture. It's an idea, that's all. I've got diagrams, if anyone wants to see them.

Pixie and Trent
Now, I know I talk a lot about hair and costumes at the expense of any actual dancing insight, but we really do need to talk about Trent's shirt. a) It's so, so nasty – I mean Mark Owen would have turned his nose up at this in 1993, and b) It's all untucked and undone, like he's just thrown it on after  getting out of the sack with someone who, in this case, looks uncannily like a close blood relative. Well done, Pixie and Trent, you have succeeded in making the rumba even more icky. Look, I'll be honest, I have no interest in any rumba ever, except maybe Sophie and Brendan's which apparently wasn't rumba-y (=sleazy) enough, but I can see that Pixie brings all her Italia Conti acting skills to her performance, Real Tears and all. It doesn't wash with the judges, who criticise Pixie's hips and Trent's choreography. No one mentions the shirt. Unbelievable.

Tim and Natalie
Somewhere recently, in a place that I am currently unable to find, Kate referred to the cruel (my word, not hers) Strictly tradition of the old man paso. And the wardrobe department have really embraced tradition here. It's quite a feat to ramp up Tim's eccentricity, but here he is, conjuring the impression of a distracted but happy loner wandering around his back garden flapping a tea towel at next door's dog and asking the neighbours to address him as José. Still, I certainly don't find this the most uncomfortable dance of the evening to watch. Tim doesn't take the aggressive approach – he takes the walking-is-good-for-you approach – but Natalie is sincerely lovely to him afterwards. Please can Natalie get a nice limber sportsman next series? I reckon Andy Turner would be available. (Just a little something for my fellow athletics fans.)

Sunetra and Brendan
First of all, Brendan Cole, take three house points for using actual bongos as bongos during your salsa, and not Sunetra's chest, stomach or buttocks. Whoever thought I'd be this glad to see some bongos on a stage. Life constantly surprises us if we let it. Sunetra looks nervous at the start – with good reason as it turns out, but she covers her mistakes like a pro, and by the end, her Fun Mum Who Also Happens To Be Really Good At Dancing status is firmly restored. Darcy goes on about Sunetra's arms AGAIN. WTF, Darcy? They're just arms. Afterwards, Sunetra is worried that her dress lifted up during the dance. Oh Sunetra, where have you been for the last 11 series?

Jake and Jeanette
This jive starts so brilliantly, I find myself whispering 'Holy Jill Halfpenny!' under my breath. This, I admit, was premature. Still, at the start, Jake's sharpness and commitment and masculinity are quite something. Later, it's all more laboured – I think he almost slips over, and one of his arms is not pulling its weight (hey Jake, why not talk to Sunetra about that, both of hers are bloody brilliant, apparently). Despite that, it might be my dance of the night - slightly underwhelmed as I am by Caroline and Pasha's quickstep. Through it all, Jake remains heroically understated. Bad feedback is treated with a philosophical nod. Good feedback is greeted in the manner of a man being told the clothes dryer he wants in Argos is, indeed, in stock. Jeanette wins best dressed in show.

And that, my friends, was your week in Latin. Feedback below.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Week 4 - Hopes, Dreams, Echoes of the Past, and Painful Inevitabilities

Here is the line-up for week 4, you guys. I honestly don’t know in which series the BBC decided to tell us all in advance what dances/songs were being prepared for our delectation and delight, but I must say it brings me trepidation and excitement in equal measure, so all in all bravo BBC, that’s probably about right.

Alison and Aljaz – Samba - Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child.
It is official. I don’t care about anything else about this weekend from this moment on. Dances to Beyonce/Destiny's Child have included this (BELOVED IAN), this and this. Add to that my love and devotion for this couple, and I am ALL IN.

Caroline and Pasha - Quickstep - We Go Together from Grease.
OK, sure. Go ahead. Don’t let Rav and Aliona being evicted to it in series 7 stop you. Honestly, if it in any way cleanses the palate of an Aliona/Rav dance, I’m probably all for it.

Frankie and Kevin - Cha Cha - Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.
Srsly? I honestly don’t see how it can live up to this, or indeed any other version of the meme, so why bother? Kevin from Grimsby – if you and Frankie do phone hands AT ANY POINT during this routine, you and me are breaking up, for real this time. (Also I am going to be singing this song for, like, four days afterwards I HATE YOU KEVIN FROM GRIMSBY).

Jake and Janette - Jive - All Shook Up by Elvis Presley.
This feels too slow for a jive to me, no? Aside from that point, hopefully Jake can loosen up for this. I know I know, the salsa was tremendous etc. But it was tremendous because it was mental, not because Jake was super-into it. I think we need a PERSONALITY BREAKTHROUGH. 

Judy and Anton - Tango - Jealousy by Billy Fury. 
I am breaking out into a cold sweat just thinking about Judy trying to act intense for the tango. Never will a tango have been more sheepishly danced.

Mark and Karen  - Quickstep - Tiger Feet by Mud.
I like the song. I will almost certainly not like the dance. Oh Karen.

Pixie and Trent - Rumba - Stay With Me by Sam Smith.
For several horrific seconds, I thought this was Shakespeare’s Sister. But it’s not, it’s this. Which is fine. 

Scott and Joanne - American Smooth - Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler.
AN AMERICAN SMOOTH TO BONNIE TYLER. Joanne might be creeping into Artem levels of American Smooth here (in terms of bonkersness rather than partner talent, obvs), and that is some shit I can get behind.

Simon and Kristina - Charleston - My Old Man (Said Follow The Van).
Sigh. I would have preferred just about any dance for Simon for his scripted Bottom Two Bounce week. A lovely American Smooth, say, or a nice gliding waltz. Instead, we’re going PERSONALITY, presumably to take us all back to that bouncy jive in week 1, so we’ll all vote for him again. I can’t fault the tactics, it’s just soooo YOU’RE BACK IN THE COMPETITION, MY SON.

Steve and Ola - Salsa - Jump in the Line by Harry Belafonte.
Sure. I mean, we’ve been there before for a slightly weak effort from Anita and Robin (OH GOD WHERE ARE ALL THE ORIGINAL MUSIC CHOICES), but sure. I predict enthusiastic but feeble hip work and ONE MILLION LIFTS.

Sunetra and Brendan - Salsa - Turn the Beat Around by Vicki Sue Robinson.
I am literally looking forward to this. I know! Her footwork’s good, her arms are nifty, she spins well – should be fun. I mean, will it be enough for her to get in amongst the Frankie-Pixie-Caroline-Jake quadrumvirate? Maybe not, though it might not be Jake’s best week. But I’m excited for it nonetheless.

tHom and Iveta - Foxtrot - Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations.
Sigh. I guess at least this time it’s a Foxtrot, not a Cha Cha.

Tim and Natalie - Paso Doble - The Best by Tina Turner.
I know what’s going to happen. You know what’s going to happen. And we all know it’s going to happen with a backdrop of flame cannons. Let’s just make our peace with it now.

To summarise
  • excited about Alison/Aljaz, Sunetra/Brendan;
  • bored by tHom/Iveta, Mark/Karen, Jake/Janette;
  • stoically prepared for Tim/Natalie;
  • expecting the end for Judy/Anton.

See you guys on Saturday.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Strictly Come Dancing Week 3: Movie Week: The Lost Boys (which was totally on telly on Saturday night, and I watched it all, and it was amazing)

M’talented colleague Miss Jones was on lady duty this week, so I’ve got the chaps. 
And it’s Movie Week, you guys. Was there a time when I enjoyed a theme week? Maybe there was. Maybe it was even as recently as last year. But the thing is, if you theme every single dance every single week, theming a whole week becomes a little redundant. What I will say, though, is that there were absolutely no half-measures with this theme. Whether I think that’s a good thing… To be honest, I’m still a bit shell-shocked (SCOTT MILLS LOBSTER PUN ALERT), so we’ll see how I feel by the end of this post.

Of course we open with There’s No Business Like Show Business. I am reliably informed (by my memory) that we have not opened Movie Week with this song before, but it does sort of feel as though we have opened Movie Week with this song EVERY SINGLE YEAR FOREVER. Craig shores up his panto credentials, Len shores up his getting-punched-in-the-face-by-me credentials, Donny Osmond’s Joker Grin makes its first appearance (AT LEAST IT’S THEMATICALLY RELEVANT), Judy practically pukes with nerves just walking on to the stage, Pixie makes a face that briefly makes me think she is Denise Van Outen, there is a fun pro dance, then our two lady hosts are escorted onto the stage by chaps AS IS ONLY RIGHT AND PROPER.  

Oh my God, DVO is actually in the audience! Was that really her in the pro dance? Are she and Pixie secretly related? Also, Joanne seems to be wearing one of Ola’s outfits, so I can only make the assumption that she read last week’s blog and understands her only option when faced with existential despair is to go the Full Ola.

Five judges WTF? We’re here all bloody night as it is. Donny Osmond introduces himself with a joke which nobody gets and that makes him angry. You can see the psycho showing behind the smile. Stow your bloody jokes, Osmond, and your psychopathic prank planning, we haven’t got time for it. ("Did you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?" hisses Osmond, forebodingly.)

The singers don’t get names this week. I don’t know who you upset to have yourselves rendered anonymous once again, HayleyLanceAndreaChris, but I’m willing to bet it was your version of Mambo No. 5 what done it.


Steve and Ola
I get a sinking feeling as soon as I see their outfits. ANIMAL PRINT BECAUSE HE’S A WILDLIFE EXPERT DO YOU SEE??? At this point I wrote down “Jungle Book” and sure enough, that’s what they’re dancing to. Oh show. There is a rope swing, then some monkey moves, then a perfectly serviceable, slightly clumsy quickstep. And then Steve eats a banana. And that is all I have to say about that.

(They cut to DVO. She looks like she couldn’t give a monkey’s. HA! COULDN’T GIVE A MONKEY’S! LOOK AT ME GETTING INTO THE SWING OF THINGS OH LOOK I DID IT AGAIN!)

Simon and Kristina
Duncan in the VT! Shameless!

Unfortunately, this rumba is not good. Walk, walk, wait should have swayed a hip, wiggle wiggle swing (the wiggle wiggle swing was Kristina), walk walk walk. He looks like he did two hours of rehearsal and wishes he hadn’t bothered with those. I am still surprised he ended up in the dance off, because some of these people ARE SO BAD, but it wouldn’t be Strictly without an early bottom two shocker, so they can scare us into voting for the good ones. Wouldn’t vote for Simon on the basis of this week, though. Even money on an overscored waltz next week, anyone? (No I still haven’t forgiven that 40 for di Angelo, and I never will.)

(Darcy should not talk about dances being sexy. Darcy talking about dances being sexy is like a maths teacher telling you algebra is sexy and meaning it – deeply disconcerting.)

(I am not dealing with the ladies, but I have to just point out this amazing bit of chat after Judy’s quickstep (bless you Judy):

Tess: Donny, you got great scores for the quickstep, so you know all about it.

Donny: I hated the quickstep, got my worst scores for the quickstep.

Oh Donny. Oh Tess. Oh SHOW.)

Tim and Natalie
A VERY early acting coach call from Natalie, but if I was lumbered with a) Tim and b) the Charleston and I in any way wanted to stay in the show and hadn’t lost the will to live, I’d probably  have sent up this particular bat signal too. It doesn’t help, sadly. Tim musters two expressions throughout – the first is a sort of cut-price exhausted Fagin, forced to tap dance for pennies because his pickpocketing boys have all abandoned him, and the second is a delighted smile when it’s all over. It is terrible. No part of the dance was any good. In fact, no part of the dance was a dance. The audience don’t even bother booing Bruno for being mean, and only manage half a boo for Craig. Halfway through the song, I wrote down “bet it’s the paso next week” and Len confirms that we are in fact going full Sergeant with Tim, which I suppose was inevitable. Natalie and Tim ignore the popcorn lady. Can’t say I blame them.

Scott and Joanne
Scott is dressed as a lobster. A clown lobster. Joanne is Ariel, but she has legs instead of a tail even though she is still under the sea, so I am officially not interested in this routine because of their lack of adherence to narrative accuracy.

(In the run-up to the dance, Tess nearly lands a joke, but lets it off the hook at the last minute. LANDS! HOOKS! Tess can’t pun but I AM KILLING IT AMIRITE?)

Jake and Janette
This was perfectly good, but a bit dull maybe? I wrote down “more of a tango than a waltz feel” and then Bruno ruined it by saying the same thing, the bastard. Anyway, Janette is wearing a lovely little hat, but they failed to pad out Jake’s face with cotton wool and they didn’t waltz around a bloody horse’s head, so as far as I am concerned several points should be deducted for lack of commitment I MEAN DID THEY SEE SCOTT MILLS PRETENDING LIKE HE HAD PINCERS COME ON JAKE MAKE AN EFFORT.

(You’re just going to have to take my word for the fact that my contemporaneous notes are so uncannily accurate, until I can actually tweet along live again DAMN YOU, THE DREADED BUFFERING.)

tHom and Iveta
Christ he’s dull on the VT. This week he tries a pun. Fails. Leave that stuff to the bloggers, tHom.

So the VT costume says Richard Gere. The actual on-the-night costume says Gay Strip Club During Fleet Week. His timing is off occasionally, but I am basically into it. This is the most comfortable Thom has looked so far. Dressed as a camp sailor stripper. I’m just going to leave that there. 

Mark and Karen
Oh dear. I really do think Karen can make even the most batshit premise utterly unwatchable. It’s quite a gift. Mark pouts and walks into a phone box. Mark pouts and walks out of a phone box. Mark pouts and nearly falls over a couple of times. Karen pouts while Mark gets into a harness. Mark pouts and is hoisted. The end. Mark is game for a laugh, which I like. But so was Russell Grant, Mark. So was Russell Grant. 

And that’s the end of that. The Lobster lives to pince another day. Judy has another chance to round up a son or two. Tim gets to resurrect the shade of Sergeant. And I’m already in a cold sweat about Halloween Week.  Bye bye Lady Irish, we hardly knew you. And bye bye Chap Irish, you are hot so you will be back next year, and some time over the next couple of weeks I’ll be doing a STATISTICAL ANALYSIS of whether you might get a decent partner or if you are already MARKED FOR FAILURE.  I bet you all can’t wait.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Strictly Come Dancing Week 3: Movie Week: The Girls

You say Movie Week. I say I Must Be Delirious With Ebolic Fever Because Scott Mills Has Appeared On My Television In The Form Of A Giant Lobster Week. This might just be the most bizarre episode of Strictly Come Dancing since The Puppet Final with Colin and Erin. And all evidence of that seems to have been completely expunged from YouTube, because it is so harrowing.

Luckily for me, most of the madness lies with the male celebrities, and it's up to Kate to decipher it in order that we can try to explain this senselessness to future generations. Best of luck, colleague.

What with it being Movie Week, there's a subtle and understated group number, in which Anton gets to act and the judges get to sing, most likely because Top Hollywood Producers may turn on BBC America and think, 'Hey, Movie Week! I do movies. Let's check this thing out.' Then, 90 minutes later, 'Get me that Du Beke guy's agent. If High School Musical: Exchange Programme gets the green light, I'm gonna need a dancing butler.'

They've really pulled the A-list into the studio audience too - Van Outen! D'Angelo! James! (Duncan, not Clive), Grimshaw! (Nick, not Aiden).

And there's a guest judge. It's Donny Osmond! The Donny Osmond! Who we're unfathomably supposed to be excited about! I can't work out if his input is more or less redundant and unhelpful than Jennifer Grey's! Anyway, Donny will be watching the celebrities cut some rug, then weaving some words of wisdom afterwards, and quite possibly, and for the purposes of what I'm clumsily driving at, wigging out at his favourites. Yes?

So. First tonight, Alison and Aljaz jiving to Footloose. There is no part of that sentence that doesn't make me excited. And at this point, let me say what I always say when I hear this record - only this time it's on my sofa in front of the TV and not on a half-empty dance floor at 1.30am - 'I LOVE THIS SONG SO MUCH. WHO DOESN'T LOVE THIS SONG? I LOVE THIS SONG. IF YOU DON'T LOVE THIS SONG, I HATE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR.'

Here is the place in the show where you may apply your dobber to the square of your Strictly bingo card that reads 'not the dance for you, my love/darling/your choice of patronising nomenclature'. Still, despite Alison's obvious jivey shortcomings, it's very lovable, with a homage to Footloose's iconic (yeah, you heard me) title scene, and a cute opening sequence that Alison and Aljaz sell so hard they should be on The Apprentice.

Please, Aljaz, promise you will never leave us, taking with you your brilliant routines and your face that is more adorable than a kitten in a bobble hat holding a basket.

Next up, it's the dance-off-destined Jennifer, who is giving us her foxtrot to Mamma Mia. In keeping with the theme tonight, it is totally nuts. Jennifer is lip synching like her whole life depends on it, or at the least an audition for a part in the West End show. They are doing a crazy dance-acting fusion, which may be an attempt to cover Jennifer's lack of skill, but you can't pull the wool over our eyes even if you can pull it over Donny's head. But the real headline here is the appearance of a Brand New Prop. Tonight, the Strictly rowing boat makes its maiden voyage. I'm already looking forward to, oh I don't know, Ben Ainslie and Ola rumba-ing to I Am Sailing in a future series, and Ben Ainslie having a tantrum because it's not the right kind of boat. Or Brendan and Emily Maitlis quickstepping to 'This is the captain of your ship' from the Muller advert.

OK, now we must have a serious talk with Dave Arch about his beard, which makes an appearance here. Dave, it's good to experiment. But it doesn't make you look like Dave Grohl. It doesn't even make you look like Paul Hollywood. Just come back next week with your whole squeezable face clean shaven, and we'll say no more about it.

Judi and Anton. Here's a confession. I didn't watch Judi and Anton's dance last week because I have a very low cringe threshold so I went and hid in the kitchen and turned over the sausages. To provide you with the level of service you've come to expect from us here at And Dave Arch Played On... I must do better this week, but their opening VT tests me sorely. Still, they are quickstepping to Don't Rain On My Parade, aka an Anton Du Beke safe haven, and Judi does some good cheeky faces. Without having seen half of the others, I'm going to say it's her best dance so far, even if Anton is still dragging her around like a set of golf clubs. Tess and Darcy patronise her.

Caroline and Pasha are dancing the rumba to I Don't Want To Miss A Thing. It's excellent, but the fact is, they could be performing a traditional morris dance with handkerchiefs at this point and it would still be sexy because PASHA IS WEARING TIGHT SILVER TROUSERS AND HAS A BARE CHEST AND LITTLE ELSE MATTERS IN THIS WORLD. Caroline is wearing ANOTHER babydoll-style dress with fringing. Is it possible that Caroline's wardrobe notes have got mixed up with Claudia's hair and make-up notes? It would explain a lot.

Kevin and Frankie do the paso doble to America from West Side Story and go straight to the top of the shop. As far as I can see, Frankie mostly does angry walking around in heels and skirt-swishing, but you can't fault her. For me, the heat and sexuality and raw passion are slightly undermined by the fact that Kevin is dressed as a newly qualified primary school teacher. I would contend that it is hard for any man to look sexy in red trousers. As a control study, let's think of the world's sexiest men and then imagine them in red trousers. Clooney? Not sexy. Pitt? Not sexy. Cumberbatch? Hmm... hang on... still sexy. Sorry Kevin.

Len won the raffle to say 'Frankie goes to Hollywood'. Well done, Len.

Donny gives them a 10, but we all stopped listening to him roughly 6 minutes into this 2 hour+ show.

Pixie is dancing a quickstep to Be Our Guest from Beauty And The Beast. Pixie is brilliant. The routine is brilliant. Why do I not like her as much as Frankie? It can't just be that she doesn't have such good hair.

And now, Sunetra and Brendan, and the strangest part of this whole crazy night. The pair dance a  classic American Smooth to a classic song, wearing classic costumes – and it's wonderful. But where is the elaborate five-act narrative? Where are the shellfish? Where are the sea-going vessels? There may be a chaise longue and an occasional table, but in today's Strictly, they barely count as furniture. I'm not quite on board with Sunetra's much-praised arms, but she's the nearest thing we have to normality. Let's hold on tight to her and not let her go.

What's next for Strictly this series? Cheese Week? Racquet Sports Week? Tudor History Week? Whatever, we'll be here. From me and the girls, over and out. x

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Week 2: The Boys Are Back In Town/Here Come The Boys/Boys, Boys, Boys/The Boys Of Summer Autumn/Bad Boys (Although Some Are Actually Quite Good)/HELP ME I CAN'T STOP

Male celeb dancers: come unto me with your stiff hips, your bad posture and your timing issues, and I will not make you feel better about any of those things.

Kate's writing the girls this week, I'm writing the boys, and I am going to be sort of nice about Gregg Wallace. This is your 500-word warning.

But first! It's Tom and Iveta. Last week I didn't get to write about Tom. But my verdict was this:

Tom is the blandly handsome Disney prince who is totally wrong for the sparky, modern-day heroine, and doesn't get why she likes reading books and hanging out with the birds and animals. He's well-meaning, he's sweet, but he's just not as fun or sexy as The Beast (/Mark Benton. I loved Mark Benton). 

This week, Prince Handsome gets the salsa and says in a flat, emotionless voice 'Now I can really let loose... Now I can let my hips do the talking.' Iveta proves she is still a Strictly rookie by choreographing to the same music Mark Ramprakash and Karen Hardy used for the salsa that went so wrong, then so very right, aka one of the Golden Strictly Moments Of All Time. Tom and Iveta can only suffer by comparison. Clearly, all the old lags (Brendan, Anton, er, that's it) neglected to mention it, and were all like 'Hot, Hot, Hot. Hmm, let's think... Nope... No, I really don't think anyone's ever used that song to dance a totally brilliant salsa to that will be a million times better than yours. You should totally go for that.' 

Tom throws himself into it and is only slightly undone by some tricksy armography. That, and the fact his 'Being Fiercely Sexy' face is more 'Trying To Manouevre A 4-Seater Corner Sofa Around A Narrow Stairwell.' He also confuses me by dressing as a male gymnast. When I first saw his outfit, I was hoping his salsa with Iveta would be a sexy Latin dramatisation of Louis Smith's intense tussle with Krisztian Berki for the pommel horse title at the London 2012 Olympics. MISSED OPPORTUNITY, IVETA.

After their scores, Tom tries to hitch a ride on the Pasha Love Train by thanking him for all his help. Not so dumb after all, Prince Handsome.

Can I say at this stage that it's two for two with Tess and Claudia's dresses? They both look brilliant. Claudia scores extra points for serving her formal evening dress with a side order of 'Pauline Fowler cardigan draped round the shoulders'. And the judges have ramped up their dance-on. Darcy seems a little self-conscious, but the other three look like they're cutting loose at a wedding reception that's had a free bar for the last six hours.

Next man up is Simon. His jive was one of my favourites last week. Now he gets the tango. Slow down there, Simon. You're using up all the good dances. At this rate, he'll be left with the rumba and the Viennese waltz in the semi-finals. I like the routine and its brilliant Tricky Tango Legs section in the middle, but Simon needs more attack, or gertcha as Len/Chas/Dave would say. Also, sorry Simon, but I'm distracted by the site of Dave Arch in the background, headphones on and an electric guitar strapped across him. Aww, look, he's back in his bedroom as a young teenager jamming along to the Brothers In Arms album and dreaming of a future where he accompanies one of the blokes off MasterChef as they dance a kitchen-themed Charleston. 

Which brings us to…

Gregg. Greg, Gregg, Greggg. Here is what my colleague Tweeted during the show.

We know Gregg has milked his 'I love puddings, me' persona on MasterChef, but it's surely reached personal crisis point. Gregg feels better when Claudia presents him with a pudding in Week 1. Gregg takes a pudding into training to apologise to Aliona for messing up. Gregg presents the judges with a cakestand of treats before he dances. Gregg sticks his head in a pudding for slapstick lolz.

Gregg, lie back on this couch and tell me about your childhood. Also, try a Hula Hoop. Savoury things can be nice too, you know.

Gregg's Charleston isn't very good. He knows it. We know it. Aliona knows it and is flicking through the autumn holiday brochures while Gregg practises his double hop. At the end, he carefully removes his glasses pre-cake-face and let me say this: there is no one more naked and vulnerable than a glasses-wearer without their glasses. My heart bleeds a little bit for Gregg and his constant thanking of Aliona for her patience and his bravado that is drooping like a slack cake mix.

Gregg's confidence is a fragile brandy-snap basket and what is there inside? Luckily he's going to have a lot of time over the next ten weeks to figure it out. Good luck, Gregg.

Also, Aliona's outfit tonight verges on self-parody.

Jake is the first person this series to make me do Swears Of Surprise from my sofa. That swearing is 'Shit the bed'. God knows who I've got this expression from, but I hate it and please could you take it back again.

Anyway. Hips! Lifts! Chest shimmies! Neckography! This is PHENOM.

Darcy and Bruno are standing. Ian Beale In The Audience is grinning and applauding and looks like a nodding dog on a parcel shelf. By rights, Jeanette should have sustained about seven neck fractures.

It is so good that I do not even realise they are dancing to Mambo No 5 until I watch it a second time. I can pay it no higher compliment.

Jake is pretty nonchalant about the whole thing afterwards. Jeanette ruins it by doing needy phone hands.

And here's Tim and Natalie! And here's that moment when the older male contestant pulls off a strangely sweet and dignified waltz that makes you feel a little bit teary! Only they've bookended it with an astronomy theme, because if it's not moving, and especially if it is, Strictly will stick a theme all over it. Hey, Len. I've made you a cup of tea. It's Hot Beverage Half-Hour! Wooo! We're really MILKING this! Etc.


*Brrrrring, brrrrring. Brrrrring, brrrrrring.*


'Alright? Is that Harry from McFly?'

'Hang on, just let me turn down George Clarke's Amazing Spaces. Love that guy. Yeah, hello, who's that?'

'It's Mark Wright, mate.'

'Mate! How's it going?'

'Yeah, good, good. I just wanted to ask you about Strictly.'

'Oh sure, how's it going?'

'Well, last week was great. Not going to lie. I totally smashed it. This week, it's the foxtrot.'

'Mate, chicks LOVE the foxtrot.'

'Yeah, yeah, it's OK but... it's just... Karen's done this choreography and it's... really, really lame. Like, totally cheesy and I have to flap my arms and look like a dick.'

'Mate. I feel for you, bro. I've totally been there. Aliona loved that shit. It's all good, though. You've just got to suck it up and get through it and wait for the tango, or some dance when they let you pretend to play the drums. At least they haven't dragged out that crappy pretend archway covered in plastic flowers for you.'


'Shit. I didn't realise. I'm so sorry. Look, don't worry about it. You know what? When you've got the suit and the bow tie and the tails on, it all comes together. It won't seem so weird, I promise.'

'Well, that's the other thing. I've got this knitted jumper that's covered in sequins and a pair of trousers with a label in the back that says 'Byker Grove costume dept. Boys. Aged 14-15.'

'I'm coming straight over.'


After a personal good luck message from Robbie Willams in the first show, who will be Scott Mills' Celebrity Wellwisher this week? Chris Martin? Jennifer Lopez? Ban Ki-moon?

Oh. Nick Grimshaw. Oh.

Words I have to say to Scott about that tango: Posture. Relaxation. Faces.

Words I have to say to Joanne From Grimsby about that tango: for the love of god, stop swinging that ludicrous ponytail into Scott's face all the time you're dancing. Give him a chance! And get a bloody trim. I can practically see the split ends from here.

I like Joanne. She's a good addition.

Last week Steve Backshall danced a motorbike-themed vest-wearing tango that was pure MeatLoaf video - and I say that with love. But all the objects in the rear view mirror that appear closer than they are can't elevate his Indiana Jones-themed cha-cha to the same level. You say Indiana Jones-themed cha-cha, I say Indiana-Jones-themed male stripper at a hen night.

Phew. That was week 2. Next week, it's Movie Week. We'll be here. Hope you will be too. xx

Strictly Come Dancing, Week 2: The Lady Celebs

Week 2, my friends, and I’m on Lady Celeb duty this week. On the upside, this means I don’t have to talk about Scott Mills. On the downside, I get ALL THE RINGERS. Seriously. So many damn Lady Ringers. As usual, a few general observations before we get going. 

Firstly, what is up with the bleached-out VT at the top of the show? It was a bit like someone died. Wait, did someone die? I think in fact it was all meant to set up some sort of Scott Mills-orientated joke, but that didn’t work, so let’s all move on. 

Secondly, here is my credits report this week – Joanne’s face is as mental in the credits as it is while she actually dances. And I think Chap Irish has kind eyes.

Thirdly, I am very not keen on this whole Tess and Claudia being walked down the stairs by male dancers thing. It’s like the producers want us to know that even though they have breached protocol by having two female presenters in their 40s, unsupervised by an older gent, there are still men around to help them if they falter. Mind you, Tess doesn’t help me with this mini-blast of feminist fervour by losing a shoe and actually needing help. THANKS A BUNCH, TESS.

On with the show!

Lady Irish & Chap Irish
Her frame is pretty terrible, I am sorry to say. There are moments where you can see Chap Irish tightening his grip super-hard to remind her to stay upright. I have to say, though, I was surprisingly charmed by it – she might not have been able to keep her arms or feet in the right place, but the whole thing had lovely flow, and I like her, and next week I might even use her real name, after I figure out what the hell Mrs Brown’s Boys is (I LIVE IN AMERICA OK?). She was trying so hard, and working like mad in rehearsals, and that’s not often true of the cannon fodder, so I find myself oddly in favour. 

(Quick aside – I was strangely unsettled by the use of this song – (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, for those of you who can’t recall – so I googled it. Sure enough, bloody JORDAN danced to it a few series ago, and obviously this has cast a long shadow.)

(Another quick aside – I had, like, five blissful minutes early on week 1 where I thought there was a chance that we might not be subjected to a bellow of THEY’RE ON THEIR FEET every eight minutes, but those hopes have been tragically dashed. TESS HOW COULD YOU.)

(And one more – here is my suggestion for a new plan. Let’s get Tess to bellow NOBODY IS STANDING UP whenever there is no standing ovation. It would be rare, but astonishingly cruel. I’m in favour.)

Alison & Aljaz
OK, dance first, rant second. This was another tremendously enjoyable dance from Alison  (no mean feat for a foxtrot, well done Aljaz) – her top line is fab, her movements are lovely and sharp, and I have a shameful soft spot for a hot male dancer playing it geeky. I will say that I totally get why she’s not wearing higher heels, but I wish she would try – I think it would help with the drive of the dance. 

OK – here comes the rant, and it gets sweary, so if you’re reading this blog aloud to your children, step away now – when Len had the fucking temerity in WEEK BLOODY TWO to say to this woman that she was a Latin specialist, I just about smashed my TV screen. This is EXACTLY what they did to Riley – oh, the party dances are more your thing, my darling, oh it just wasn’t your dance this week my love – and it is utterly uncalled for this early in the show. This was a fantastic, fun foxtrot, and if they Riley Alison into the party dance corner, I will LOSE MY SHIT with this show. IT IS WEEK BLOODY TWO I HATE YOU LEN.

(Quick aside – why is it charming when Claudia says, “Good girl,” and unutterably patronizing when Tess does? KateTF, pondering the imponderables.)

Judy & Anton
Judy, I love you. I get immensely angry on your behalf whenever stupid people or the stupid press talk about pushy mothers because really, have they seen tennis dads? They’re mental! They get banned from tennis tournaments because they are so mental and often horribly abusive of their tennis-playing daughters. You, on the other hand, sit in the stands and criminally actually look like you want your son to win OUTRAGEOUS I AM OUTRAGED HOW DARE YOU.

But much as I love you, this was not good. 20 seconds before there was any dancing, and there really wasn’t much after that. Nerves nerves nerves, and not much natural talent, and well, there we have it. If you survive elimination today, I suggest an immediate visit from a Wimbledon champion son, if you can manage it, and probably Jamie, because he seems a bit more Strictly-audience friendly.

Caroline & Pasha
She’s a ringer, she danced the tango well. So here are my other thoughts:
  1. Bad choice of music – this was totally anonymous and horribly sung. Pasha is usually a bit more savvy than this – be more interesting, please.
  2. Was there any need to mention ex-boyfriends. Do we really want the shade of teenaged Harry One Direction hovering over our tangos?
  3. I am NOT a fan of how they are dressing Caroline. Both dresses so far have had weird overlays or fringing, so you can’t see any of her movement and I have been constantly distracted by swishes of material getting trapped between her and Pasha. As she is one of the few who can actually dance right now, this seems counter-intuitive.
Sunetra & Brendan
Sunetra makes an early play for the “busy and exhausted” storyline – good luck with that, Sunetra. Frankie Saturday and Pixie the Pixie are going for that too, and they are much more in need of a distraction from their ringerness, and fairly obviously pretty steely, so I wouldn’t get in their way. She also made a cha cha pun (cha-cha-charming, for the record) so obviously I am now a fan. This started well, though I found the arms (heavily praised by the judges) rather distracting, but it got a little sloppy as she got tired, so her lines started to go. I like her though – she seems nice, and also normal, and I am just lame enough to be swayed by that at this stage.

(Quick aside – every single time Craig delivers actual praise, Tess says, “And that means a lot coming from him.” I mean, she might as well just add, “unlike the rest of these fools.”)

Pixie the Pixie and The Other Pixie
Such a ringer. Can’t really argue with the fact that this was a pretty waltz, though it had an odd contemporary dance feel, which I didn’t really enjoy. But The Other Pixie was wearing brown, and everything else was sort of muted as well, and I can’t honestly say I was that engaged – I was rather hoping she would get her heel caught in her dress for some Wardrobe Malfunction Dramz, but no such luck. Can’t really argue with the scores, but I will argue that I was bored, and will remain so until these two little pixies kick it up a few notches personality-wise.

(Quick aside – I have a soft spot for Norah Jones. I once spent a blissful summer in northern California trying to write a book, and I listened to Norah Jones incessantly. The book was terrible, but I still can’t listen to Come Away With Me without remembering how nice it was not to have a job for a summer. Now I’ve made myself sad.)

Frankie & Kevin
Fun? Definitely. Well-danced? Sure. A bit joyless? Maybe. A Charleston? Not so much. This felt at least 50% jive to me, so why not just save this for jive week? It’s not as though she’s not going to get there. Of all the Lady Ringers, I think Frankie Saturday might be the best bet for dancing with some personality (Caroline might get there as well, though I sense an acting coach in her future week 7-ish), so why not give her a trad 20s Charleston where she can actually SHOW some personality, rather than burying her under a concept?

I’m being harsh. It’s just that all these ringers sort of exhaust me. They’re so good at the dancing, but where is the verve, where is the joy? I’ll tell you where – it’s with Alison, and it’s with Tim, and it’s with Jake, and it’s with Simon. It’s not here.

So, there we have it. Miss Jones is reporting on the chaps this week. Delighted to see Jake at the top of the leaderboard, because the 2-3-4 of Pixie-Frankie-Caroline that follows gives me a case of the mighty eyerolls. Very worried that Judy is already on her way home – Scott’s in trouble too, but he might have the Radio 1 fan base to survive. We’ll see…. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Strictly Come Dancing, Week 1, Show 2: Bye James Jordan and Please Take Aliona With You

In this brave new world of co-blogging, I got the Saturday show this week, you guys, and IT WAS A SLOG, I won’t lie. I love Strictly, you know I love Strictly, but the early week combo of cannon fodder and VT filler as we are forced to “get to know” these poor doomed clodhoppers makes for some grueling viewing. Here’s another thing – I don’t miss Bruce, I will never miss Bruce, but the tumbleweed blowing through the studio every time Tess murdered a joke with her utter lack of comic timing was almost enough to at least have the question, “Do I miss Bruce?” pop into my mind. I KNOW!

Onto the show.

That pro dance was fun. I didn’t really understand the VT, and I don’t want one Aliona on my telly, never mind three at once, but it was fun. Two main takeaways – Joanne Clifton’s dance faces are AMAZING, and do you think Ola is as relieved that she can dance with Pasha instead of James now as we all are? BYE JAMES JORDAN.

Also – is this the first year they have let the singers have names? Or just the first time I’ve noticed? Either way, Hayley, Lance, Andrea, Chris – I KNOW YOUR NAMES AND I AM COMING FOR YOU.

Mark & Karen
I still don’t really know who Mark is, but he does seem to have charm, I will give him that – and when he’s dancing, at least, it isn’t even smarmy charm – he just looks like he’s having fun. I might be a fan. Incidentally, this routine was danced to Wham’s “I’m Your Man”. Not 24 hours earlier, after considerable amounts of wine, two of my male friends danced together around the kitchen to this exact song. I can honestly say their dance was more memorable than this one. As ever with Karen, two days on from viewing I can’t remember a single thing about the dance. Come on, Karen! This one’s got potential! Don’t stay the pro who didn’t win with Nicky Westlife! Don’t make me do another season of "yawn"s in review of your routines….

Alison & Aljaz
The brief bit of VT I actually managed to sit through suggests Alison has the potential to go full Riley, both in success and downfall. I have a bit more faith in Aljaz than I did in Robin, though – do you hear me, Aljaz? Let’s own the camp, not let the camp own us. I am VERY PRO a disco cha cha, it has to be said, and this was tremendous fun. If I were Bruce, I would say “You’re my favourites,” right now. But I’m not. So I won’t. Moving on.

Steve & Ola
I live in America now, you guys, so here’s a bit of American for you about Steve: THIS DUDE IS JACKED. Seriously, I actually have pre-traumatic stress thinking about him trying for some Spanish shaping during the paso with those shoulders. Anyway, this is a tango from Ola so, motorcycle cartwheel aside, I am 99% sure I have seen this entire routine before. Several thousand times. Pretty well-stomped though, Steve, I’ll give you that.


Lady Irish & Chap Irish
Oh, this poor lady. She has zero clue. Chap Irish has apparently been fairly successfully steering older lady contestants around in Dancing With The Stars here in the US for a few years, and he’s clearly been tapped up for that role in the absence of Sweet Darling Bobby. But they gave poor tall Lady Irish the jive in week one, and it was cruel and miserable. Also, HayleyLanceAndreaChris, this was hands down the most joyless version of Happy that I have ever heard. The song is literally called “Happy”! It is impossible to make it joyless! And somehow you managed it!

Tom & Iveta
Let me start by saying that “You Raise Me Up” is not only an egregious song crime, it is also not a waltz. It is not a waltz. And it sounds really, really dumb as a waltz. Also, I’m pretty sure that Tom doesn’t have a personality. Is that wrong? Did I miss it somewhere along the way? Have any of you seen that episode of Parks & Rec where they’re running a campaign for a handsome congressman who switches off entirely, like a robot, whenever he’s alone? That. Iveta does have a personality, though, so maybe that will be enough for me. The footwork is terrible, and Tom does his swimwear model smile throughout, but Iveta wins this week’s Ola Jordan Memorial Award for Most Obvious Use of Pivots as Cloaking Device.

(Also, they do not get a Standing O. I would feel judged SO HARD if I didn’t get a Standing O on this show.)

(Sorry for calling it a Standing O. I’ve gone native.)

Sunetra & Brendan
Sunetra plays a doctor, you say? On a show about doctors? So, maybe we should mention doctors? Involve doctors in some way via props and sets? Anyone know a song about doctors, preferably with Doctor in the title? Twice? Quick, someone write Tess some jokes about heart rates, no need to resuscitate that one etc etc. Do we need a dead on arrival joke? No need, it’s Brendan, he’s always pretty good week one, keep it in the bank for Craig week 7 when it's time to boot her out.

Perfectly serviceable tango.

Gregg & Aliona
Jesus effing Christ. Aliona – for real this time, just quit. In a show that has made an art form out of unconvincing VTs, Aliona’s, “I hope maybe it goes well,” stands alone in its horrificness. This poor fellow has absolutely no clue, and Aliona literally abandons him on the dancefloor -  she looks bored to death, and makes no eye contact with him EVER, and at the end where a pro would usually throw the celeb an ecstatic squeal and squeeze, or maybe a consoling hug, Aliona just pats Gregg nonchalantly on the shoulder and goes back to contemplating what she’ll be doing with her winter while these fools are all on tour.


Kevin & Frankie
This isn’t a bloody waltz either! Just pick a bloody waltz? How hard is it? There are loads of them! HayleyLanceAndreaChris are bad enough as it is, but trying to get them to sing Adele in 3/4 time is tantamount to physical cruelty. This is, however, a pretty dance, and it is rare that more can be said about a waltz than that. Though it’s not unknown. Here is my favourite. I don't have much to add about this dance - very competent, she's a ringer - so can we quickly acknowledge that whatever Kevin is doing over Frankie’s shoulder during the credits is weird and should be stopped?

Simon & Kristina
OH THANK GOD IT’S FINALLY THE END. Seriously, that’s a long bloody weekend. Turns out I am a fan of Simon Blue. I wish I could say I am surprised, but All Rise appears on a surprising number of my playlists. But quite aside from that shameful  confession, Simon turns out to be adorable in the training room and bouncy on his feet. This was super fun, though I hold back from full fandom until I see something he has to dance with more precision (TANGO, BABY), but he sold the hell out of this with charm alone. Kristina did, however, choreograph a move in which he played her like a piano. We’ve talked about this before – automatic deduction as far as I’m concerned, and Kristina’s got serious form for this shit. You heard me, Kristina – I’m watching you.

Faves of the weekend were Simon and Alison, you guys, because there was joy and delight. Judgment reserved on true contenders until week 2...

Friday, 3 October 2014

Strictly Come Dancing, Week 1, Show 1: Let Claudia Be Claudia

So. Here we are. Striking out into series 12 . Brucie has been helped into a motorised golf cart and pointed towards the sunset. His BBC access pass has been deactivated, his dressing-room teasmade appropriated (prime suspect: John Humphreys).

So this points to a slicker, sharper Strictly Come Dancing, doesn't it?


Don't get me wrong, I'm nothing but relieved that Sir Bruce now gets to wear slippers full-time. It's just that I'm a fan of the show's particular old-fashioned charm, as well as its ability to get anything remotely cool ever so slightly wrong. Please don't let it become too... well... competent.


The new series opens with a reassuringly lame VT that spells out very clearly: 'BUSINESS AS USUAL. (OH, EXCEPT FOR JAMES JORDAN.) YOU'RE WELCOME.'

The judges (team sheet unchanged) take their seats by dancing their way across the set, which I enjoy. What would it be like, I wonder, if the X Factor judges similarly sang their way to their shiny desk. I hear Simon Cowell's flat, emotionless vocal style as somewhere between William Shatner and The Flying Lizards. In fact, let's imagine him 'singing', oh I don't know, maybe those Flying Lizards' most well-known hit, just to pluck something totally and utterly at random out of the part of my brain that is thinking really hard about his dead-eyed, imagination-free approach to the music industry.

Tess is wearing a jumpsuit, which I am emphatically pro. My Dress-Up Tess doll (£12.99 from the BBC shop, £10.99 from Argos, £1.99 come January) is always wearing trousers. Claudia has had what some celeb magazine will inevitably refer to as a makeunder. Less tan. Less eyeliner. Less hair over the face. Less Claudia. She looks pretty, but this better be her call, and not the result of some ludicrous BBC ruling that says fringes may not be worn longer than four inches during primetime  (also subsection 4(c)(iii) appendix (7): larky female sparkiness must be soberly contained). Let Claudia be Claudia.

(Having now watched Saturday's show, I see that Claudia has reverted to her more usual look, thus totally undermining the previous paragraph. THANKS CLAUDIA, I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.)

First up are Caroline Flack and Pasha. Caroline is Ringer No 1 in this year's Bananarama of ringers (Pixie Lott no 2, Frankie Saturdays no 3). She serves Pasha's cha-cha choreography well, with just the right amount of subtle messing up to suggest 'Who, me? Ooh no, I'm not a dancer. Yes, I am remarkably good and assured, and, well, yes, since you mention it, I suppose I did study dance for some years, but it was nothing whatsoever like this.' Still, I like her, I like Pasha. He becomes the first pro choreographer to Deploy The Judges' Desk For The Making Of Sexy Shapes. He's gone too early with that, if you ask me. Save it for week 5 at the earliest, or Fern Britton On Borrowed Time, as I like to think of it.

Next up, Tim Wonnacott and Natalie Lowe. Natalie missed the 2013 series through injury. And she thought she was unlucky last year. Tim is sweet and trying hard, but his auction-themed cha-cha (such a natural pair-up, why has no one done it before?) makes me bite my hand. He's having a nice time, though, and enthusiastically trots around the floor led by Natalie in a way that reminds me of Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way. Afterwards, he stands in Claudia's 'area' with an arm clasped around each woman's waist like a man emerging triumphant from the conservatory at a suburban swingers' party. In his comments, Craig says Tim danced as though he was wearing a soiled nappy. I believe there is also a suburban party scene that would serve that situation.

Jake Wood and Jeanette are doing a soap-operatic tango, which begins with some fun intimations of domestic violence. It really is such a family-friendly show. Jake is strong and confident and doesn't make me have to avert my eyes through awkwardness. He was also once in Press Gang and went to college with my friend Speranza, all of which propels him into my 'like' pile.

Do you remember when Alesha Dixon was a judge and used to patronise the older female contestants? Tess does, because after Judi Murray's wobbly waltz, Tess tells her to 'walk those lovely legs upstairs'. WHAT, TESS? WHAT? Anton and Judi have employed some Scottish theming for their routine, but what with the tartan and Mull Of Kintyre and the Scots piper, it's so subtle you'd barely notice. Also, if you want to waltz to something dripping with Scotland, SUNSHINE OF LEITH, FOR GOODNESS' SAKE. During the Actual Dancing, Judi gets herself in a right old pickle, but Anton is as kind and constant to his older partner as ever. In this respect, he really is some sort of superhero emerging from the mist (rolling in from the hills my desire is always to be here oh mull of kintyre), with his cummerbund of power and his shield of Just For Men.

Let me lay my cards on the table and say that Scott Mills is not my kind of DJ. This is well-known among my friends and colleagues, one of whom secured me an on-air dedication from him on my 31st birthday. He quite admirably managed to get my job title and place of work wrong and play a terrible record afterwards. But despite this, I find myself liking him tonight. I like his no-fuss out-ness, with his boyfriend sitting next to his mum in the crowd. Of course, this shouldn't even merit comment, but it's pretty radical for Strictly. I am less keen on his cha-cha, and apparently so is he. His Dance Face is Someone Really Scared Trying To Be Really Brave, and the early-doors appearance-via-video-message of his Good Friend Robbie Williams suggests he's not thinking in terms of bloody well Blackpool. Len's comments are surprisingly hostile initially, but perhaps, like me, he has been forced to listen to too much daytime Radio 1 in the workplace and is wishing it was Marc Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie out there on the dance floor.

Last out this episode are Pixie Lott and Trent Newboy. Trent is the blond Duke Of Hazzard as played by Steve Buscemi. Pixie is the favourite to win, but not my favourite to win, even though she quite manipulatively tried to impress me by doing my favourite, the jive, in week one, and being quite good at it. Show me your rumba, Pixie, and we'll see how this is really going to shake down.

And that's your lot for programme one. It's a truncated first show - almost as though they know how long it takes me to write absolutely anything - and a somewhat underwhelming one. Are they saving the Tweet-grabbing big guns (like, erm, Gregg Wallace and Mark Wright) for the main Saturday-night ratings battle? Or are they just really bad at putting together a line-up? Make your own mind up, I'm exhausted.