Friday, 30 September 2016

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Daisy is the first contestant to get a 9 for her first dance for seven years. (For those screaming "fix!", the last person to get a 9 for their first dance was Austin Healey in series six, and we all saw how that ended.)
- Brendan thinks Craig's score of 8 for Anastacia's cha cha cha may have been alcohol-fuelled.
- Brendan's reaction to being reminded of that time he partnered Lulu is "don't mention the war".
- Anastacia is having a bromance with Brendan, however that works.
- Hot Greg is still working on the main show this year to our immense relief, and was also working on Monday's ITT. (We've already seen him in the same shot as The Other Hot Greg and we're struggling to cope.)
- Danny has a Dismaland t-shirt. He seems the sort, to be fair.
- AJ has tried doing a backflip walkover in flats and it didn't go well, so he's got a while to go before he can attempt it in heels.
- Claudia, by her own admission, does not know how to add.
- Zoe's six-year-old daughter is in love with AJ, but we think she might be slightly too old for him.
- Ed still talks like a politician.
- Katya wants us to know that Ed is a great leader. Insert your own Labour Party joke here.
- Melvin felt like "a human highlighter" during his cha cha cha.
- Richard Osman's favourite is Melvin.
- Doing this show and a breakfast show has driven Melvin screaming into the arms of coffee.
- Lady Gaga told Melvin that he needs to be like a ninja.
- Janette does not like Melvin turning up to training in shorts.
- Louise forgot her jive at the start of Saturday's show and she was practising it while her VT was playing.
- Louise thinks Craig was very generous with his 8.
- Kevin looked through all of Louise's old pop videos for something he could use, choreography-wise. He didn't find anything.
- The introduction to Karen's Khoreography Korner is now longer than a Marvel movie.
- Karen H is scared of Anastacia.
- Will wants to be "hot lips", but will settle for "hot socks".
- Will's impression of Greg sounds a bit like Brucie.
- Karen C is still talking to Hairy Dave and Jeremy. No mention of whether she's still talking to Mark Wright, but we imagine not.
- Will likes to take a lot of breaks during rehearsals, presumably to add another layer of ugly clothes on top.
- Will sweats a lot and is worried it may lead to him dropping Karen.
- Pink is Lesley's favourite colour.
- Zoe has seen Anton's chest and can confirm it is formidable.
- Lesley has managed to get Anton training in tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt, and she's got pictures to prove it.
- There is a 27cm height difference between Lesley and Anton, which is the equivalent height of an adolescent penguin.
- As a DJ, Melvin is confused by anything that doesn't start on the first beat.
- Judge Rinder was unaware what his face was doing in the cha cha cha until he watched it back.
- Judge Rinder has started referring to Oksana as his "dance lawyer".
- Oksana wants Judge Rinder to turn up to rehearsals dressed like Anton. Each to their own, I suppose.
- Ian's mum calls him "the leg end".
- It was all part of Gorka's plan to have Tameka play the controlling, dominating role in the paso doble. Well, that's what he reckons, anyway.
- As a dancer, Gorka would describe himself as "elegant, masculine and sexy".
- Greg missed his cue for the start of his routine because he was so high up that he couldn't hear the band, and was convinced he'd messed it up before he'd even started.
- Natalie had to tell Greg to slow down during the routine.
- Natalie thinks Greg is the perfect mix of fun and hard-working in training...but she seems less convinced that she's going to win than she did a week ago.
- We really like the way Gorka says "charleston".
- Daisy thinks her limbs were being controlled by her dead grandfather during the waltz.
- Zoe still has the highest ever week one score but she doesn't like to talk about it.
- Aljaž hurt his back a bit this week.
- Will's rehearsal outfits have been a little more sedate, thank goodness.
- Vicky Gill and her team start work on the costumes in June. June!
- Gorka will be wearing a oneside in this week's charleston.
- Joanne promises she has taken Len's criticisms of her choreography on board.
- Ore sticking his tongue out in the tango was not choreographed, nor was it intentional: he was actually trying to pout.
- Ore's cha cha cha involves a pole, which may have collided with his nads during training.
- Gethin Jones is still beautiful, and that’s always nice to know. (Remember when Gleb eyefucked Gethin backstage last year? Fun times.)
- Oti isn’t interested in things being simple and clean.
- If you ask a pro to make the routine easier, they make it harder.
- Zoe’s Iveta impression is quite good. Also, Iveta has had a baby.
- Jason Gilkinson is following through on that group Argentine tango he was considering last year, and it involves Gorka and Oksana playing those famous Argentinians Romeo and Juliet.
- Sara Pascoe finds the slow dances boring sometimes.
- Alison Hammond thinks Aljaž is repurposing all of her moves for Daisy.
- Daniel O’Donnell doesn’t know the difference between a cha cha cha and a charleston.
- Ore has clearly been taking a leaf out of Will’s look book as he’s wearing braces and shorts to training.
- There were nights last year when Daniel O’Donnell thought he was fantastic. Then he watched it back and realised he was not fantastic.
- Naga is clearly not keen on the idea of being a princess.
- Pasha is no longer attempting to explain things to Naga in golf terminology.
- Giovanni is still struggling with regional accents.
- Natalie thinks Greg is a fantastic piece of arse. Or “art”, she started laughing midway through so it was hard to tell.
- Daniel O’Donnell thinks that if there were an All-Stars series, he and Alison would not make the cut. But Zoe might.
- Alison thinks Lesley might go, Daniel thinks Ed might go, Sara thinks that if Ed doesn’t go home democracy isn’t working.
- That dance the judges do at the top of the show each week? Made up on the spot. I know, SHOCKER.
- Oksana has picked up a nasty bruise during training.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ringer? I barely know 'er

Week 1: Nine Couples Perform - 24 September 2016

Last night: six couples dazzled, delighted and delivered lots of ties on the leaderboard. Tonight! It's the turn of the other nine as they try to beat last night's high score of 27, which shouldn't be too difficult when you've got three pop stars and a West End Wendy on the books.

After the titles, we go into a group dance to 'What The World Needs Now Is Love' led by AJ and Chlo--wait, sorry, those are just two random actual children. They're then joined by a couple in their twilight years, then by Aljaž and Natalie, who are quickly followed by the real AJ and Chloe and the rest of the dancers for a waltz around the floor. As the judges arrive, Natalie dances with Len, Darcey dances with Aljaž, Joanne dances with Bruno, and Oti dances with Craig, and as confetti cannons erupt over the entire floor, Tess and Claudia are escorted out by Giovanni and Anton respectively, and you can see both of them desperately trying to dance as little as they can while still retaining plausible deniability. The dancefloor then floods with more minipops and older couples and the whole thing's generally lovely if you're into conspicuous heteronormativity, which lord knows I am.

Everyone exits, the stage is reset, runners are sent in to sweep the floor as quickly as possible and then we are Live From The BBC once more as Tess and Claudia enter. Tess is wearing a white/off-white dress with a lot of lumps and bumps in it which I think may secretly be the hieroglyphic key revealing which questions to pick in order to win Only Connect. I mean, it's the perfect place that you'd never think to look, isn't it? Claudia has gone for black and strapless, with a split up the side once again and some fringing at the bottom that I'm not entirely convinced works. Still, I'm giving them both a solid 7 for their weekend's work, respecting early promise but leaving room for improvement.

There's a little skit where Claudia attempts to thank each of the dancers from the opening number individually and Tess interrupts to tell her that they've only got an hour and a half to do the entire show, and it's one of the more successful punchlines I've seen Tess try to land. Tess reminds us that Judge Rinder's cha cha cha was the talk of the chambers last night, and the judges enter from behind the stairs; Darcey grabs Craig's hand and walks him in as if to say "look, have a night off from the bloody chaîné turns, darling". After that, it's time to meet our Strictly stars, who are the exact same ones as last night but just in case you've forgotten: TV presenter and singer Louise Redknapp and her partner Kevin Clifton, star of Judge Rinder Robert Rinder and his partner Oksana Platero, actress Lesley Joseph and her partner Anton Du Beke, TV presenter and radio DJ Melvin Odoom and his partner Janette Manrara, Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane and her partner AJ Pritchard, BBC sports presenter Ore Oduba and his partner Joanne Clifton, model Daisy Lowe and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec, actor and pop star Will Young and his partner Karen Clifton (not doing any funny business on the stairs tonight, thank goodness, but I fear the damage is already done), from BBC Breakfast Naga Munchetty and her partner Pasha Kovalev, world champion long jumper Greg Rutherford and his partner Natalie Lowe, EastEnders star Tameka Empson and her partner Gorka Marquez, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and his partner Katya Jones, TV host Laura Whitmore and her partner Giovanni Pernice, actor Danny Mac and his partner Oti Mabuse, and finally singer Anastacia and her partner Brendan Cole. Phew! I can feel my carpel tunnel returning.

Tess points out that one of these people will have a glitterball trophy in three months (and if this series is anything like last year's, we'll know who that person is in about three weeks). Claudia reminds us that there is no public vote this weekend, and nobody is going home, but Killjoy Tess adds that the judges will still be scoring each dance out of 10 and these will be added up to next week's to create an overall leaderboard which we then get to ruin with our blinkered, biased votes. Hooray!

At last, we get to the first couple out on the floor tonight: Louise and Kevin. Tess informs us that they will be doing a jive wherein Louise will play a woman waiting for her man to return from sea, so it will be "nautical but nice". I groan inwardly at the prospect of another twee Clifton timewarp (and I like Kevin), but here we go. Roll VT! Tess's voiceover tells us that Louise has gone "from megastar to megamum" (ugh ugh ugh), and Louise admits that she's worried she won't be able to keep up, because she's not as fit as she was 20 years ago. Well, neither is Anton, and he's still clinging on in there somehow. Kevin opines that Louise thinks she's danced in the past, but he's seen some of her videos and she hasn't. Now, this seems to have split opinion as to whether he meant a) "I'm going to show that Louise Redknapp what real dancing looks like, none of yer pop nonsense" or b) "I definitely haven't just landed my fourth consecutive ringer, honest". Based on delivery alone I lean more toward the former, and Kevin's comments on It Takes Two the following Tuesday would seem to support that, but both interpretations seem perfectly valid so just go with your heart. Anyway, speaking of megaringers, Louise is feeling the pressure of Kevin having made the final three years in a row. Remember last year when Tess pointed out to Kellie that Kevin had never been in the bottom two before, and how well that worked out? Yeah, I can't help feeling this is heading the same way.

Their training begins, and Louise is clearly Quite Good At This to the extent that I don't think they could have wrung much drama out of training alone, so instead Kevin decides that Louise needs to understand more of the 1940s theme he's created, so he takes her to a ship in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. You may question the point of this little day trip, but personally I'm always ready to admire Kevin's poop deck. The captain explains to Kevin and Louise that sailors might go away for up to three years, and Louise is all "and then you get back and you just want to jive? Weirdo." Fun fact: my dad was a sailor and used to go all over the world for months at a time and then he married my mum and they had me and she was all "lol you're not going anywhere now matey, I need you here" and then he got a job driving for Mr Kipling instead and eventually became a coastguard. Some tips for Louise there, and they also could have been potential song/theming tips for Kevin in future weeks if Oti hadn't already nabbed 'Cake By The Ocean' for use later in this episode. Anyway, they jive on the ship, and Louise hopes she can capture a small bit of the excitement the sailors felt when they came home after a long spell away.

Their music is 'Jump, Jive And Wail' and their jive is a fantastic start to the show: it's lively, it's technically challenging, and more to the point Louise is very, very good at it. I think her main challenge based on this is going to be conveying the same energy in her face that she's channeling in the rest of her body because her expression is a little fixed throughout, but I imagine first night nerves are playing a considerable part in that. It really is a very strong opening effort, both for the show and Louise herself, and I think it's a pretty decent rejoinder to the argument that the jive isn't a week one dance because the contestants aren't skilful enough to pull it off yet. You just need someone with, you know, a fair bit of dance experience. BRING ON THE RINGERS, that's what I say. Also, I know it's a 1940s theme, but why god why do they keep putting Louise in dowdy, shapeless sacks? Is it to make her seem somehow less threatening given her status as a former FHM Sexiest Woman of the Decade? I'm desperate for her to get something at least vaguely flattering to wear next week before I start to go completely mad with conspiracy theories.

Len says that there was definitely enough content in it for him, and it "floated his boat". It was high energy, high performance level, and he has high expectations for her. Bruno tells her that "true to family tradition, you score big time first time out". Bruno, please: what happens between a woman and her husband on date night is no business of ours. He loved the accuracy of the period detail within the dance itself, and Louise's dainty footwork, but there was one minor slip. Craig says it was very clean, precise and crisp, but she needs to retract her kicks a bit more and there was a messy turn near the end - but overall it was outstanding for a first dance. Darcey was very impressed, and thinks Kevin's got a great student to work with yet again. I'm sure James Jordan agreed with that on Twitter. Heartily. (Don't tell me what he actually said, I have blocked the humourless trashbag for a reason.)

They head up to the Clauditorium and I think Louise reaches out to steady herself against Claudia in a kind of "oof, I'm so tired" way but Claudia's "do not hug me ever" instincts kick in and she retreats ever so slightly. Claudia reveals that Louise really didn't want to go on first, but Louise says she's just going to dine out on Craig's comments for the rest of her life. We see Jamie in the audience, looking like he's caught the sun - like, literally caught it USING HIS FACE - and he squirms a little bit with the camera on him and the entire Clauditorium laughs at him, so that's Jamie never coming back then. Claudia gives us a quick refresher of last night's leaderboard, and asks Kevin if he would score them 40, and Kevin is all "um, yes?" and then Claudia asks him if he would like to top that, meaning the leaderboard, and Kevin is all "would I like to top 40?" and everything gets very muddled. Shall we just go to the scores? Craig 8, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Kevin loses his shit at each and every eight, and Louise barely reacts to any of it. I think reacting to scores for the pros is much the same as dancing itself: you should try to pitch yourself at the approximate level of your partner, otherwise it just looks weird.

The couple with the unenviable task of following that are Melvin and Janette. Melvin says that the whole experience so far has been brilliant, and that when he was partnered with Janette she jumped on him and said "I wanted you, I wanted you!" This seems nice, but remember back in 2013 Janette was going round telling anyone who would listen that she'd been desperate to get Julien Macdonald as a partner because he was the most famous one. I'm just saying Janette's instincts have been known to steer her wrongly, occasionally. Janette, for her part, says Melvin is the cutest and the funnest and they're going to go crazy on the dancefloor. And how, as we're about to see. They've got the cha cha cha first, and because their music is 'Loco In Acapulco' by the Four Tops, Janette has gone for some very literal theming involving her and Melvin going crazy in Mexico. This somehow leads to Melvin taking her to meet his family (in week one!) where Janette is promptly welcomed into the clan, and his mum tells her that the best way to get Melvin to do stuff is just to push him really hard, which I hope she does not mean literally. The Odooms look like a fun bunch of people to have a barbecue with, I will say that much, and Janette's clearly having a whale of a time, but...

...I really think that time would have been more profitably spent in the training room because this routine is a hot mess. Melvin is wearing a loud floral-print shirt and horrible bright pink trousers, staring at a map while Janette stands beneath a "Tour Starts Here" (don't count on it) sign across the room. The music kicks in and it appears that Janette hasn't actually bothered to choreograph much of a routine for Melvin, who is standing around an awful lot of the time, and even when he's moving, his hips don't. It's a dull routine, danced poorly and overburdened with props - as much as I hate to be so negative without offering at least some small counterpoint of optimism, there really isn't much I can say to recommend it. I actually found myself wondering what on earth what Melvin was doing on this show: since he's not exactly a household name, and I'm not sure there's that much of a crossover between the Kiss FM and heartland Strictly Come Dancing audiences, I assumed he'd been cast because he was a secret ringer, but looking at this...I suspect I was mistaken.

Bruno tells Melvin that he "captured the festive mood of the dance", but he forgot the hips - they can't be stiff in the cha cha cha. Speaking of which, Tess asks Craig if Melvin's dance put him in a holiday mood and Craig replies "it's put me in a wooden mood, darling". I don't know about you, but I'm really thankful he's sitting behind a desk right now. Craig clarifies that it was very square, and this wasn't Melvin's dance. Darcey calls Melvin "a natural cheeky chappy" and tells him that his hips worked when he was standing still, seemingly not realising that this will not get you far in a dance competition. Len thinks Craig was being too harsh, especially considering how positive he was last night (to be fair, nobody last night was this bad), but Melvin came ahhht and gave it us a cheeky fun dance, and if anything Len thinks it was too loose rather than too stiff. So there.

Melvin seems undaunted as he and Janette holler their way up to the Clauditorium and Claudia tells them that they were loving it up there. Melvin says that they put in a lot of work this week and he's happy with how it went. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 22. Melvin shows us that the hot pink trousers are actually concealing lime-green socks and I find myself wondering if Vicky Gill sustained any serious head injuries this week.

Hopefully bringing an air of calm and serenity after...all that, we have Daisy and Aljaž. In her VT, Daisy is rather charmingly brimming with excitement about getting properly glittered up for Strictly, and says that she's been having lots of fun in the bubble until she realises that she hasn't actually done a live show yet. Things take an unexpectedly sombre turn as we get to the training part of the package and Daisy tells us that she's dancing the waltz to 'Unforgettable' by Nat King Cole, who was one of her grandfather's favourite singers. She had expected her granddad to watch her on Strictly, but he died on her first day of training, and understandably she's been quite upset about it. Daisy and Aljaž go on a picnic and she shares her memories of her grandfather, and Aljaž tells us that they haven't been practising with the music too much because he can see how emotional it makes Daisy. Daisy says she just wants to do her best so she can believe she made her grandfather proud.

Sidebar: I've seen some complaints that this whole VT was a sign of the increasing X Factorisation of Strictly, that having dances dedicated to grandparents is the thin end of the wedge, etc etc. My response to that is: her grandfather literally died on her first day of training. I think we can let this one go.

So they start sitting on the floor and they're both dressed in white (and regular readers will know I have always been an admirer of Aljaž in white trousers, particularly certain parts of him) playing a loved-up couple having a waltz together (presumably after the picnic they were having in the VT?) and it's soft and sweet and lyrical and it just all feels very easy, not in the sense that Aljaž hasn't given her anything complicated to do but just in the sense that everything feels right and fitting. They have lovely chemistry together too. Really my only concern is that it feels slightly too much of a carbon copy of Abbey's first dance, but I already find Daisy far more agreeable than I ever found Abbey, so that's only a minor gripe.

At the end, Daisy's clearly a bit emotional and Aljaž gives her a big hug before leading her over to Tess who tells her that her grandfather would have been very proud of her. Aljaž adds that he's very proud of her for doing a terrific job of a difficult routine. Craig says he found it a bit saccharine, sickly and mawkish (none of which is untrue, to be fair), but she danced it beautifully. Darcey says that Daisy instantly set a romantic atmosphere, and she'd like to see her making the most of those long limbs in her extensions. Len calls her "an English rose" and says that he doesn't think he can remember a better dance in week one, ever. I suppose that's the joy of being in your final series - you can say "best opening dance ever" and not have to worry about leaving yourself nowhere to go next year. Bruno tells Daisy that she is dazzling and her dance combined old-school glamour with high fashion. He says that the slower a waltz is, the harder it is to maintain, and he's surprised and delighted with her performance. A still-slightly-tearful Daisy says she's just lucky to have such a wonderful partner, and Tess ushers her off upstairs.

Daisy's not much more coherent when she gets to the Clauditorium: she's just pleased to have finished, and we see her mum Pearl Lowe in the audience next to Daisy's stepfather Danny from Supergrass. Aljaž tells us a second time what a hard waltz this was to do because of the slow tempo, and that Daisy controlled it perfectly. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 32, sending Daisy to the top of the leaderboard. Daisy still has no words. Claudia enlists Tameka to join her in a hackneyed joke which is totally made worth it by the very end where Tameka mimes holding in an earpiece and she and Claudia both throw to Tess in perfect synchronisation.

No doubt thrilled to be following Len's Favourite Week One Dance In The History Of Forever are Danny and Oti. Claudia's introductory VT tells us that Danny will be stepping out of his comfort zone on the show, which I understand to mean "he will be wearing clothes". Oh no wait, Danny's one of those "I'm an actor, I play characters, I've never had to be meeeee on the telly" types. This sort of thing always sounds less convincing when coming from someone whose main claim to fame is as nipples for hire on Hollyoaks. We relive the moment where Danny and Oti were united on the launch show, where Oti looked as though she'd won the lottery in five different countries at once, all of which had extremely lenient tax laws. Seriously, Oti's glee at having her patience with the...difficult hand she was dealt last year being rewarded with Hunky McRinger is such a thing to behold. They're starting with the cha cha cha, and Danny's finding that his brain registers the choreography perfectly well, but is unwilling to pass the message on to his legs. Oti's all "let me remind you that my partner from last year couldn't go to the bathroom without needing me to help refasten his trousers, this is nothing" and sure enough Danny starts to believe in himself.

They're dancing to DNCE's 'Cake By The Ocean', which was the music choice for a week one cha cha cha from the eventual winner on Dancing With The Stars recently, so no pressure or anything. The theme appears to be "Danny is a man who dresses a bit like Michael Jackson and walks into Oti's bar and then they dance", and keeping it simple is a very good idea because Danny's dancing is all the statement that they need: he's really good, folks. Everything is neat and clean and precise and he keeps up with Oti pretty much all the time. Also, Oti deserves credit for turning out a week one cha cha cha that's genuinely fun to watch with interesting choreography - I know she had the advantage of Danny being such a good dancer, but even the simple steps are done in such a way that really grabs your attention. I'm so excited to see what she can do with a real contender this year. And judging from the squeal of delight she gives at the end: so is she.

Danny tells Tess that this is the most incredible feeling he's ever had, and it's all thanks to Oti. Darcey opens by delivering possibly the best thing she has ever said during her entire tenure as a judge (a low bar to clear, but just go with me here): "Oti, do you think he actually nailed it, possibly?" Dry, sarky Darcey is my new lowkey fave. Darcey's in awe, and very impressed with Danny's hips. Len tells Danny that he is definitely a contender, but after whacking out his nine for Daisy has to justify why he's only going to give this an eight, and that reason is: "there was too much stagey dancing". I can't wait for his thoughts on Magnolia ("too much filmy watching") and the summit of Kilimanjaro ("too much mountainy climbing"). He then tells everyone not to boo that, even though nobody did. Bruno calls it an "arena spectacular" (Bruno, do not give Louise Rainbow any funny ideas about going back to Wembley because I swear if you do we are going to fall out) and he thought all the Michael Jackson moves were woven into the cha cha cha well. Craig is not called upon to speak, because I guess we're running a little over at this point.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia expresses her condolences for Danny's obvious lack of dance talent. Danny tells us that Oti has been "the boss of me" for three weeks, and Oti is all "yes I have" and gives him a big hug for working so hard. Claudia asks Danny if he's going to be this good at the Viennese waltz next week and Oti's like "Claudia, we haven't even had our scores yet, one thing at a time please". Scores, then: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Danny is over the moon. Oti is somewhere over Saturn.

Next up we have Tameka and Gorka who will be doing our first ever week one paso doble. No, I don't know why the paso is suddenly a week one dance either, but I'm not necessarily opposed to it. In her VT Tameka tells us that she's always wanted to be on Strictly (but leaves out the part where she was already cast once but had to pull out because she was pregnant), and that all she remembers of the launch show is being borne aloft by Gorka. Gorka tells us that he is 25, from Spain, doing Strictly for the first time and very excited to be partnering Tameka. Crucial information thus imparted, Gorka will not be speaking again for the rest of the series because his accent is quite strong. Tameka says that she's feeling the pressure of the long and mostly accomplished history of EastEnders stars on Strictly, please do not mention Phil Daniels, Gillian Taylforth or Jessie Wallace thank you please. Gorka conveys that they will be doing the paso doble by wearing a matador's cape. I can't wait to see what he'll wear to tell her they'll be doing the rumba - just a condom, probably. Tameka spends quite a lot of her rehearsal time cackling despite Gorka's protests that this is a serious, dramatic dance. We'll see.

They're dancing to 'Y Viva España', which is probably a bit too light-hearted to be proper dramatic paso music, but the good news is that it's obvious very early on in the routine that Gorka has a healthy sense of camp that will no doubt serve him well in partnering Tameka. (It's also obvious very early in the routine that Gorka's trousers are eye-wateringly tight and his arse is RIDICULOUS. I'm sorry, but it's right there and I can't not comment on it.) Tameka, for her part, really commits to the routine and gives it more drama than I expected her too, but is still slightly too flamboyant for me to take her entirely seriously. There's a bit where she's required to go plank-like as Gorka drops her to the floor which is rather inelegantly-handled, but otherwise she acquits herself well for a first dance. She's not the strongest dancer here by a long shot, but I think we can expect her to get quite far on personality and show(wo)manship at the very least.

When it's over, she leaps onto Gorka in triumph (get it girl) and they head over to Tess, by which point Tameka is gasping for breath. Hmm. That doesn't bode well. If she's that knackered after a week one paso, I think the quickstep might actually kill her. Len pays tribute to the series' most overused running gag (already) by calling it a "corka" and tells Tameka that she attacked it, but also made it fun. Bruno says she was chewing the scenery (not untrue) and tells Tameka that she needs to extend her shaping a bit more to get the correct lines, but he loved it. Craig tells her she owned the stage, but he felt she was a bit more the matador than the cape. Darcey thinks she was the most dramatic and moody señorita she has ever seen, which I can only assume means she doesn't hang out with Tess at the wrap party. She asks Tameka to really exaggerate those moves (yes, Darcey told Tameka to exaggerate more, what have we unleashed) and fill the space.

Tameka cackles her way up the stairs to the Clauditorium (I suspect I may be writing that sentence quite a lot) and asks Claudia to fan her. Gorka is permitted to say that he is happy to be here. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Claudia tells us that Tameka will be doing a charleston next week and Tameka clarifies that she is definitely doing a charleston next week, not tonight. Heh. Tameka steals Claudia's cue cards and continues to fan herself. Maybe this could be Laura's job as this year's designated superfan?

After a quick preview of the sort of things we can expect from Anastacia, Ed, Claudia and Will, Claudia dons an elf costume and joins Tess down on the dancefloor for a hilarious misunderstanding about Ed dancing to an "elfish" song later. I genuinely can't tell why this bit works, because everyone involved - scriptwriters, performers, audience - is completely aware that this is a terrible joke, but it lands. 98% of it is Claudia's delivery as ever, but surely even that has its limits? Sooner or later they're just going to start stealing things from those "jokes by children" Twitter accounts and seeing if it still works. Actually I kind of want them to do exactly that.

Anastacia and Brendan are next, both giving us duckface straight down the lens. Sometimes a pairing just works, doesn't it? Anastacia tells us in her VT that she feels like she's been having an out-of-body experience (which is, coincidentally, what Anton's been having since about midway through series seven). Apparently the first thing Anastacia said to Brendan was "we're winning this thing" and Brendan's all "well if Aliona can win twice anyone can". Brendan describes Anastacia as "ridiculously famous throughout the world". To paraphrase Tony Hancock: "not in her own country, but throughout the world". They begin training for their cha cha cha, and Anastacia's birthday happens, so Brendan takes her on a sightseeing tour of London. Anastacia declares Downing Street "so cute" and Brendan provides some London "facts" that he learned off a bit of paper he picked up off the floor of the bus, last seen in the possession of Liz Locke, Stella English and Stuart Baggs (RIP). They get off again and Anastacia harasses a Beefeater to show her the crown jewels, and then Brendan takes her for tea at the Ritz. Not shown: afterwards they steal all the stale scones from the kitchen bins and spend all night throwing them at Bloody Lulu's windows and a marvellous time was had by all.

They're dancing to 'Lady Marmalade' (the Moulin Rouge version) and it starts out well enough as Anastacia shows good timing and chemistry with Brendan, and even manages to work in the splits, but it all goes a bit wrong about 30 seconds into the routine when she stumbles during a spin, almost falls right over (until Brendan pulls her back) and from that point onwards it loses something. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good recovery from Anastacia but the fall clearly affects her confidence and focus so the rest of the dance is a bit subdued, which is not ideal when you're supposed to be slinking about to a song about a sex worker.

Afterwards Anastacia makes her way over to Tess with a whole series of "welp" faces at the ready. Tess tells Anastacia that she looks like she's in her element and immediately wishes she hadn't as Anastacia tells her at length that being in her element would be singing with Andrea and the band, and she's really humbled by the dancers. Everyone applauds this sentiment very Britishly, which is to say: awkwardly. Bruno calls Anastacia "a hot and sexy mama" and tells her that he thinks she cracked Len's Lens doing that. He thinks it was good, but she went wrong a few times because of the nerves. However, he thinks she's good and he's expecting a fantastic dance next week. Craig declares it "absolute filth, bordering on indecency", which he loved, "mistakes and all". Darcey was impressed by the box split, and says that even with the mistakes, it was a clean performance. Not according to Craig. Anyway, given how sexually-charged the cha cha cha was, Darcey's very excited to see Anastacia do an Argentine tango. Len, missing the point of the song entirely, says that it was like marmalade: "tangy and slightly fruity" and makes an allusion to seeing Anastacia's genitals. Then again, Tess finishes the section by telling Anastacia to "go see Lady Winkleman", which I think might mean much the same thing.

Lady Winkleman herself tells Anastacia that she loved the way she screamed during Craig's comments, and Anastacia reveals that she was expecting Craig to say "horrible things" so it was a very pleasant surprise. She reiterates that this whole thing is "so not my wheelhouse", but she's very excited to be a part of it. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 28. Claudia points out that they're used to seeing those numbers the other way around. Anastacia vows to improve on her shortcomings in time for next week, and one of those shortcomings at this point seems to be "knowing which camera to look into".

Ed Balls.

Sorry, that should have read "The next couple is Ed and Katya." (That's the last "Ed Balls" joke I will make, I promise.) Ed tells us that he's walked up many red carpets before, but being on the Strictly launch show was the first time the press wanted to take pictures of him. You should've tried awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich, Ed, they'd have been all over you. Katya introduces herself as the four-time undefeated British National Champion (...at what?) and the World Latin Showdance Champion. She's also going to shake up Strictly, apparently. Ed looks over his shoulder into the camera and tells Katya that she's got her work cut out, and I realise at this point that Ed and Will have the exact same face, ten years apart, and I don't really know what to do with that information. Training begins, and Katya barks at Ed to hold his frame up, lift his elbows, get on the right foot etc, but as an ex-politician Ed probably finds shouty people quite motivating. Indeed, he says as much and invites Katya to come and visit the House of Commons chamber. I hope visits to a contestant's former place of work become a thing in this year's VT, because I can't wait for Laura to take Giovanni to hang out with Joe Swash in the Australian outback. Or Louise to take Kevin to meet Easther and Vernie. Ed and Katya do a rehearsed bit of banter over the dispatch boxes, and it probably won't come as a surprise to you that the one who seems the least comfortable is not the one for whom English is a second language. Then they waltz a bit on Westminster Bridge, the end.

The theme of their waltz (to 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?') is that it takes place on a windy day where Ed's brolly has blown inside out and Katya's hat has been swept off into the sky, so...they waltz. I'm quite pleasantly surprised because it's not the disaster many predicted - yes, he's a little bit stiff, he's clearly concentrating very hard and the whole thing is very pedestrian, but he moves around the floor well enough and it looks reasonably smooth. However: as much as I don't want to be Captain Pessimism, the waltz is a gentle, week one dance for a reason and everything he's asked to do beyond this point will be significantly more challenging, and I'm not seeing a lot here to convince me he'll be up to the task. Basically, his best hope is to be comedically shit at everything hereafter rather than just shit-shit, because that's probably his clearest route to longevity.

Katya is very proud of him when they're finished, and Ed tells Tess he's relieved to have it over with, though it was better in rehearsal. Craig calls it "a little ex-council" which is, I think, needlessly snobbish above and beyond Craig's usual standards. (Full disclosure: my flat is ex-council.) Less socially divisive comments include that Ed needs to get up onto the (Ed) balls of his feet to create more rise-and-fall and he needs to work on his hand shaping. Darcey says that she knows how nerve-wracking it can be to dance here, but there were glimmers of an elegant gentleman there and he was really finding himself by the end (jesus, Ed, wait until you're off-camera). Len tells him that he didn't think Ed was going to be any good, but he's what Strictly is all about because he's someone who doesn't dance who's finding his way bit by bit and surprising us all. Bruno calls the performance "surprisingly conservative" - he tells Ed not to let Katya do all the work at the end, which I imagine is Katya's call to make rather than Ed's, but overall he thought it was very "politically correct". I thought so. Bloody pinko BBC, paying for its liberal whitewashing with my taxes etc etc bring back hanging.

On the way up the stairs to the Clauditorium Ed's still harping on about how it was better in rehearsals and Katy's all "no it wasn't!" and I know she means that reassuringly but I like the implication that no, it was still kind of lumpen in rehearsals as well. Claudia points out that it's the Labour party conference this weekend and Ed's here in a sparkly shirt rather than in Liverpool being called a BLAIRITE SECRET TORY or whatever the latest Labour infighting is. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 21. Katya says that Ed was really trying to impress Len, and he was pleasantly surprised so that's good. Ed describes it as a "place to build from", much as I imagine the Liberal Democrats were doing on 8 May last year. Claudia tries to get Ed involved in her next joke before she hands back to Tess, and it does not go well. Oh, Ed.

Our penultimate couple for the evening is Claudia and AJ. First of all, a bit of housekeeping: obviously it's going to be a bit confusing having Claudia Winkleman and Claudia Frangapane on the same show, so whenever contestant Claudia is in the Clauditorium I will refer to them as "Claudia W" and "Claudia F" respectively, which is not especially original but should at least keep confusion to a minimum.

Right, onward: Tess tells us that Claudia is this year's youngest contestant, and she's so young that Tess has got older things in her fridge. I did think Tristan had gone awfully quiet since leaving the show; I guess that's why. In her VT, Claudia announces that she's very excited to put on a pair of heels and get dancing, and she thinks she will need to work on being graceful and ladylike because apparently you don't do that so much in artistic gymnastics. AJ introduces himself and tells us that he's British Open and British Youth National Champion, he's very excited to be on Strictly this year, and when he grows up he wants to be a teacher like his dad, or maybe an earwig, he hasn't decided yet. Claudia turns up for training and says she feels "like Cinderella" as she gets a proper set of heels on. And then in the next sequence we see, she's wearing flat clompy trainers. Clearly the continuity fairy's on the gin again. Claudia tells AJ that now that they've been training for a week, he has to meet her family and impress her dad. Do they have a bet on with Laura and Giovanni over who can have the fastest showmance or something? AJ goes to Claudia's house, meets her dad, helps her mum toss a salad, looks at Claudia's trophy room (not a euphemism) and gives the family a sneak preview of their cha cha cha routine, which is apparently enough to win her father's approval. Not exactly Robert De Niro in Meet The Parents, was he?

They're dancing to 'What Makes You Beautiful' by One Direction, and AJ plays the role of a superfan of Claudia's who grabs her for a dance as she's leaving a gymnastics tournament or something. It's very much a dance of two halves, this: the cha cha cha content seems good, particularly for a first dance, but AJ has unfortunately gone for the "remember she's a GYMNAST!" approach by including as many of Claudia's tricks (one-armed cartwheel, butterfly kick, running jump into the splits, back handspring) as possible and the routine feels like it comes to a crashing halt every time she does. I think you can incorporate gymnastics into party Latin and have it feel organic, but I think less is more here: don't show us everything in week one, it looks desperate. Speaking of showing us everything: I can't be the only person with a working theory that AJ is Gleb's lovechild, can I? Especially since he ends the routine by doing a Gleb Special Flying Teabag at Claudia, meaning that she ends the routine bent over and hanging from his crotch, so I feel the spirit of Gleb is very much here in the room with us even if the flesh is sadly departed.

Mr Frangapane gives a thumbs-up from the audience, and Claudia tells Tess that she enjoyed every second of it - she can't even walk in heels and now she's doing backflips in them. Darcey tells them that they're adorable to watch (*infantilising language klaxon*), but she needs Claudia to put the same dynamics into the dance moves as she does into the gymnastics. Len pretends he's still upset about Zayn leaving One Direction and then gets all Len about the unnecessary intrusion of gymnastics in the ballroom, though he stresses that Claudia is a "nice little girl" (*infantilising language klaxon*) and she has great co-ordination and will go on to great things. Bruno says that she's so cute he just wants to take her home (*infantilising language klaxon*) before adding "and you" to AJ (*hopefully not infantilising language klaxon*). He thinks Claudia has great natural rhythm, but in gymnastics you prepare, and then you go, whereas in dancing every movement has to flow into the next one. Craig says he thought it was a bit square and stompy, but he loved all the acrobatics, and he was very impressed that she did them all in heels.

They run up to the Clauditorium, AJ screaming "YOU WERE SO GOOD!" en route, and I'm quite amused by how Greg has to hunch right over in order to greet her as she passes. Claudia W obviously wants to talk about Claudia F's dad, whose name is Paolo, apparently, and in terms of the judges' feedback, Claudia F says confidently that she takes criticism really well. Heh. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. I think slightly undermarked? But not massively, so I can live with it. Claudia W tells AJ that she wanted to give him a present to say well done, and hands him one of those Fisher Price-style ring-stacking toys. Poor AJ. I bet he thought "I'm going to be on Strictly Come Dancing, I am going to get so laiiiiiiiiiiid" and now here he is getting well and truly Dani Harmer-ed by absolutely everyone. Er, including me. Sorry AJ.

That just leaves Will and Karen, and then we're done. Will tells us that he's very excited to be here, and particularly excited to be partnered with Karen. He thinks that, comparative fitness level-wise, he's a clapped out Mini and she's a 1990s Ferrari. I know nothing about cars so I'm going to assume that he means she's old, powerful, and mostly lusted after by men who aren't old enough to handle her yet. Will turns up to training dressed like a garden gnome and then later like a go-go boy from a late 90s gay indie movie, and is thrilled to learn that they've got the tango first because he's always wanted to dance that. They then do a little bit about Will having to leave early for band practice and Karen saying that she wants to come with him and be the drummer, and then that leads into a second bit where Karen pretends not to recognise any of Will's songs, and I'm sorry, these two are just too schticky for me by quite some distance. It's nice that they find each other amusing, but it's just coming across as really glib at the moment and I don't like it.

They're dancing to 'Let's Dance' by David Bowie and the theme of the dance casts them as angry rival chess players (although Karen seems to think she's playing draughts, god love her) and it's a good start for them, I think. The chemistry between them is much more agreeable on the dancefloor than it is in their VTs, and I think we can say reasonably safely that Will's the most talented dance partner Karen's had on the show to date (by which I mean "he's better than Mark Wright"), though it does get quite skippy in a few places. Also, the high-waisted trousers they've put him in are very unflattering. Just putting that out there.

Will heads over to Tess and can't (or won't, who knows?) speak to her, but musters a thumbs up. Len tells him that the hold was a bit wide, but it was an excellent performance. Bruno liked the passion of the mood, but he warns Will to watch his frame. Craig thought the feet were turned out in places, but it was full of sharp, staccato moves that he loved. Darcey loved the attack and the power, but "the boys are right" (and we were doing so well!) because Will needs to fix his top line, but he has a lot of potential.

Up in the Clauditorium, there's not much time to chat other than to establish that Will is broadly happy with how it went, and then the scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 30. Will and Karen are happy with that result.

So let's have a look at the overall leaderboard so far:

1. Daisy & Aljaž - 32
2=. Louise & Kevin - 31
2=. Danny & Oti - 31
4. Will & Karen - 30
5. Anastacia & Brendan - 28
6=. Ore & Joanne - 27
6=. Greg & Natalie - 27
8=. Tameka & Gorka - 26
8=. Claudia & AJ - 26
10=. Laura & Giovanni - 25
10=. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 25
12=. Naga & Pasha - 23
12=. Lesley & Anton - 23
14. Melvin & Janette - 22
15. Ed & Katya - 21

Holy lots of ties, Batman! Still, a fairly successful opening week I would say. Unless I'm very much mistaken, this is the first opening weekend where everyone has scored higher than 20. I think the leaderboard is broadly as I expected it, with Daisy and Anastacia (and Greg, to be honest) higher than I expected and Laura, Naga and Melvin lower. Hopefully the second round of dances will break a load of those ties up, anyway.

There's a recap of all the dances we've seen over the course of the weekend, and there we have it - finally! Next weekend, all 15 couples will dance again and one of them will be going home, and Rad will be your guide while I go and soak my hands in some relaxing oils after this week's marathon. And thank you for bearing with me during the delay in getting this week's recaps posted. Keeeeep reading! (Please.)

Monday, 26 September 2016

Tie me up, tie me down

Week 1: Six Couples Perform - 23 September 2016

Once upon a time, in a TV studio in Elstree, 15 celebrities were partnered with 17 professional dancers (look, just don't question the maths, all right) and the Strictly Come Dancing cast of 2016 was born. They were given just a few weeks to train for opening night, and it appears to have severely impacted on their mental health because now they're all hearing voices. Kim Fox-Hubbard off EastEnders sits at the breakfast table in her déshabille listening to her voice saying "you can do this! This is what you've been waiting for!". Dodger Savage from Hollyoaks goes to wash his face in his hunk vest and hears himself saying that he can't believe they're dancing live this weekend. Louise from Eternal gets ignored by her kids as they eat cereal and considers her internal monologue telling her that she has all the support she needs. (Considering the way they dressed her for the launch show, I wouldn't take this as a given.) Claudia Fragapane off the gymnastics on the telly kisses her parents goodbye, telling herself to remember her training. Melvin Odoom from being the one who isn't Rickie lectures himself on all the steps he's gone over while walking through a puddle in his white Converse, the bloody fool. Dorien Green from Birds Of A Feather hops into the back of a car while reminding herself to breathe, which I find to be good advice in most scenarios. Greg Rutherford from that folder of pictures I keep on my computer for personal reasons sits in a car instructing himself to stay cool under pressure. Naga Munchetty from being the best one on Breakfast yes she is don't write in sits on a train with her headphones on but can still hear her own voice instructing her not to panic if she makes a mistake. Somehow, Laura Whitmore of hosting-everything-on-ITV2-that-isn't-already-hosted-by-Caroline-Flack fame also hears Naga's voice in her head and completes that thought, telling herself (and Naga?) that even if you do make a mistake you just need to keep going. Judge Rinder from being Judge Rinder watches Ore Oduba from that other folder of pictures I keep on my computer for personal reasons getting changed (he's a man of fine taste) and rules that he must face his fear head-on. Ed Balls off of tweeting his own name states the importance of believing in oneself (presumably that was the point of that infamous tweet), while Daisy Lowe off of some catwalks and Anastacia off of being Left Outside Alone that time experience a psychic bond wherein they state that they can do amazing things and look fabulous at the same time. Finally, Will Young off of being a pop idol tells himself that this is Strictly Come Dancing. Observant, innee?

Titles! They're a bit more lively than last year, and points of interest include: Lesley Joseph's hand explodes, Ed Balls and Katya are a couple of Pointer Sisters, Daisy pushes Aljaž out of frame, Tameka keeps trying to hide Gorka's face, Louise and Kevin do a dorky fist-bump, and Neil and Chloe get the Jo Clifton Memorial You've Not Got A Partner This Year But You Can Be In The Credits Right At The End slot, so that's nice.

Tess (fitted white V-neck dress, a good start) and Claudia (black off-the-shoulder dress split above the knee, with a little flash of orange around the neck just this once because it's the start of the series) appear at the top of the stairs and are escorted down by Brendan and Anton respectively. In the audience: Stacey Solomon, Joe Swash and Linda Robson, all sitting together. Like the Algonquin Round Table, but in a straight line. Tess runs through the basics for us: six couples tonight, the other nine tomorrow, and then the judges make their way in. Craig does his usual series of spins, while Len appears to have already decided he won't be faffing about like that now he's working out his notice. I have a feeling that Len's final series might be one of those Best Of compilations that only gets released as a contractual obligation, with a front cover put together in five minutes on MS Paint using a press shot from six years ago.

We've not got long tonight, so there's no time to chat to the judges. Instead we go straight to our Strictly stars: TV presenter and singer Louise Redknapp and her partner Kevin Clifton, star of Judge Rinder Robert Rinder and his partner Oksana Platero, actress Lesley Joseph and her partner Anton Du Beke, TV presenter and radio DJ Melvin Odoom and his partner Janette Manrara, Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane and her partner AJ Pritchard, BBC Sport presenter Ore Oduba and his partner Joanne Clifton, model Daisy Lowe and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec, actor and pop star Will Young and his partner Karen Clifton (already doing 'a bit' where Will pretends to be looking in the wrong direction and Karen shows him where the audience is and then he waves exaggeratedly, and I think I might hate this couple before they've even danced a single step), from BBC Breakfast Naga Munchetty and her partner Pasha Kovalev, world champion long jumper Greg Rutherford and his partner Natalie Lowe, EastEnders star Tameka Empson and her partner Gorka Marquez, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and his partner Katya Jones, TV host Laura Whitmore and her partner Giovanni Pernice, actor Danny Mac and his partner Oti Mabuse, and finally singer Anastacia and her partner Brendan Cole. Gosh, there are a lot of them at this time of year, aren't there? And I wonder how long it will be before I can spell "Empson", "Platero" or "Anastacia" without having to go and check I've got all the consonants right. (And yet I'm already completely confident I know how to spell "Munchetty" without looking it up.)

Claudia reminds us that there is no public vote this weekend, but there will still be paddle-waving aplenty from the judges, and then it's over to Laura and Giovanni to open the series. Laura, we are told, has interviewed some of the biggest names in showbiz (like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon), but how will she cope with the Strictly ballroom? Mostly by telling us how SEXXXY and Italian Giovanni is, good lord but they are getting this showmance off the ground right from the word go. Training-wise Giovanni thinks Laura is good, but needs to increase her confidence, as the "week one cha cha cha for an attractive young woman" script dictates. Laura mentions to Giovanni that the only dancing she has experience of is Irish dancing (RINGER!) so she teaches him a few Irish dancing moves, and then he laughs and tells her he's not doing that any more, the end. Sexxxy!

They are doing a cha cha cha to 'Venus' by Bananarama Shocking Blue, in which they play statues of Venus and Adonis made flesh. Her former life as a statue might explain why Laura's legs are a bit inflexible during this number, which is the most distracting part of it for me. She's clearly got natural skill as a dancer and a good sense of rhythm, but she's not really finishing any of her leg movements properly so all of the action is happening above the waist. It's a bit stuttery and stilted, though that's not to say it's a failure - it's perfectly acceptable for a first dance, I just expected a little bit more from her out of the gate. Also the choreography's kind of boring, sorry Giovanni.

When it's all over Laura has a little flap with Tess about how she accidentally looked Craig in the eye mid-routine and almost smiled before thinking better of it, and then Len opens for the judges by saying it was a lovely way to start the show - it was fun, with a lot of cha cha content and a lot of rhythm, but she lost time near the end. He tells her to work on straightening her legs, but otherwise well done. Bruno starts clambering all over the desk and calling Laura a "little tease" for playing with Giovanni (not like that) in her role as the goddess of love/a pink disposable razor, and declares her "a keeper". Can we get Joe Hart for next year? Or Hugo Lloris, either's good. Bruno finishes by asking Laura to finish her arm extensions to make them even more gorgeous. Craig says it was all danced on flexed knees and her shoulders kept creeping up, but he thought her turns were clean and efficient and she looked good. Darcey closes by saying she lost character towards the end, but she liked the upper body even if the legs weren't as accomplished, and it was a good effort for a first dance.

Up they go to the Clauditorium, at which point I realise Giovanni's shirt is actually buttoned (or pinned) to the waistband of his trousers so that it can be open at the chest without the shirt tails flying everywhere. They've probably been doing this for years, I'm sure, but that's quite a neat little trick. Laura tells Claudia that she isn't really sure what her legs were doing because she couldn't feel them anyway, and Claudia tells her that the hard bit is over and now she can spend two episodes just "sitting and pointing". Just like Denise Van Outen in Chicago! Giovanni says that Laura did very well. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 25. I had that in my head as a solid "27-scoring week one cha cha cha", so this is exactly why I shouldn't be a gambling man. Laura is happy anyway because she got a "SEV-UN!" from Len, and that's what she wanted.

Next we have Naga and Pasha. Tess points out that Naga was in Salford presenting Breakfast 15 hours ago, and it does seem like she got a little bit of a rum draw here considering that this is that one random episode of the series that plays post-watershed and makes everyone perform unusually late in the day. No wonder her posture's shot to pieces (spoiler). Naga recalls the general weirdness of the giant glittery spaceship in the launch show, but says that the minute Pasha's name was called out and he ran over to her, she knew they'd work as a partnership. Pasha says that he likes that Naga is really focused and wants to do well, and all she needs to do is listen to him. Naga is this year's designated tomboy who prefers to be in jeans and "a sloppy top" (nope, not going to make any jobs about Pasha and that turn of phrase, sorry) but has nonetheless embraced the full Strictly glam experience. Naga has the waltz for her first dance, which she tells Pasha she was dreading because she doesn't do "elegant". Pasha, at his most Pasha-like, assures her that she has nothing to worry about as long as she trusts him and they get to work. Over the course of the VT, Naga starts to feel more ladylike and less tomboy, but will it come together on the night?

Well, sort of. Pasha has choreographed a very nice, elegant waltz to 'Run To You' by Whitney Houston', and Naga has lovely sway and is very light on her feet, but the posture starts to slip quite quickly and the performance as a whole is just quite hesitant. Whatever chemistry there is between them in training - and they do seem to get on fairly well - just isn't turning up at Elstree yet. But there's time for that to develop, and she definitely shows promise. Let's see what she can do when she isn't fatigued from having been up for the last 17 hours.

Naga tells Tess that she's relieved but she loved it. Bruno describes her as "ethereal" and "lyrical", and he likes her natural ballroom poise, but she went on the wrong foot somewhere in the middle of the routine. He also warns her to be careful during the drag - "if you drag, drag well. Ask Craig, he knows about that" - and finishes by calling her a "beautiful, elegant lady", which sounds a bit Emily Howard. Craig says her rise and fall was a bit bumpy, and the "incident" didn't help things, but she has wonderful potential in the competition. Darcey says that the quality was serene, but she has such a beautiful neck, and that's one of the best attributes she has in her top line. There's a brilliant cut to Naga's face shortly after this where you can see her trying to figure out if this was a backhanded insult or a strangely-worded compliment. Don't worry Naga, I'm right there with you. Anyway, Darcey thinks Naga's beautiful neck will be a real asset to her in ballroom, and also if she'd just like to stop by Darcey's dressing room for a quick drink any time outside of daylight hours and avoid having any garlic with her dinner, that would be just lovely. Len says that the waltz requires great control and mistakes are more obvious than they are in the cha cha cha where nobody cares because it's Latin, but he loves Naga's elegance and her potential.

Naga and Pasha scoot up to the Clauditorium and she seems to have shrunk by about five inches by the time she gets there, either through relief or exhaustion, I can't quite tell. We cut to Naga's proud parents in the audience, and then we go straight to the judges for the scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. Everyone's all "good scores, room for growth, that's fine".

The third couple dancing tonight is Judge Rinder and Oksana, so I guess that is officially what we're calling him for this series. I was really hoping he'd go by "Robbie", like he does on Twitter. Tess fumbles a joke about "illegal lifts" and then we go into the VT where Judge Rinder says he's going to give 150 per cent, before realising that's "utterly absurd" and going back to a nice, mathematically sound 100 per cent. He says he feels "quietly confident" because Oksana is beautiful and brilliant, and she's going to be a proper taskmaster and he can't wait. His willingness to explicitly label his relationship with his partner as some sort of BDSM effort is already endearing him to me hugely. More kink on teatime BBC1, say I. (Although perhaps this is why they put him on the post-9pm episode.) They appear to be training in what looks like a courthouse, and Oksana is speaking in Russian again (and I wish I knew why they keep insisting on this when she's Ukrainian, because it seems a bit politically insensitive right now). Oksana tricks him by asking him how he talks to people in the courtroom and then using his own rapid-shushing move against him. She tells us that he has good hip action but he's overthinking it all so far, so he needs to learn to trust his body and obey Oksana's every command. I feel like somewhere in the last paragraph this turned into the dark side of Tumblr and I'm not sure how.

They're doing a cha cha cha to 'Mercy' by Duffy that starts with Rinder rhythmically banging his gavel while glitter erupts from the the sound block, after which Rinder springs out from behind the bench and twirls rapidly across the floor, so enthusiastically that he almost goes right over at one point. "Enthusiasm" is very much the watchword here - the technique's a bit ropey, he's doing more acting with his face than Bérénice Bejo in The Artist and everything's quite flaily, but Rinder is just going for it with such utter commitment that it's really hard not to get swept up in the whole thing. I absolutely wasn't ready for the bit where he ripped off his judge's robe to reveal an open shirt with his nips very much out, but that's probably my fault anyway. Credit to Oksana though for choreographing a truly memorable week one cha cha cha, which is quite hard to do these days.

Afterwards Tess asks him how he feels about being the one getting judged for a change, and Rinder says that he's nervous, but they seem sensible - "most of them". Obviously we're opening with Craig, who says it was certainly frenetic and tells him that the facial expressions made him look like he'd had "extensive cosmetic procedures". The crowd boos, and Tess starts making a loud shushing noise which for a brief moment feels phenomenally un-Tess-like to the extent that it really catches me off-guard, and then I realise she's doing Judge Rinder's shushing thing, just like Oksana did in the video - or trying to, anyway. Bless her. Craig comes back in, crediting Rinder's sense of rhythm and also his recreation of the chaîné turn that Craig does at the start of the show "with reckless abandon". Ha. Darcey declares it "extraordinary" and "the wildest surprise I think I've ever had". Len tells him he puts the "boy" in "flamboyant", and while it was a bit wild in places, it was guilty of being highly entertaining. Bruno makes a "hung jury" joke and says that he loved the gusto. In fact he'd like some delivered to his dressing room later.

Up in the Clauditorium, we discover that Tameka is Rinder's biggest fangirl, and Rinder credits Oksana for putting the whole thing together, saying that "it always helps when there's a moderate degree of threat". I bet she's still not nearly as terrifying as Erin used to be in her heyday. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey "a wild 7", Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 25. Claudia points out this is the highest score Craig has given so far, and Judge Rinder is mollified.

Next up, it's Lesley and Anton. Tess reminds us that Anton was a finalist last year, which is funny because I think a lot of people actually managed to forget that had happened during last year's final. Lesley tells us that the whole experience is a bit surreal, and then tries to convince us that she wanted Anton "because he's a Strictly legend", and Anton says "Lesley Joseph? Merry Christmas to me!" as though reading it from a cue card. Let's just say I'm not exactly getting much chemistry from these two - I think Lesley really wanted someone younger (and shorter) and Anton is very much just turning up to cash his cheques now that he's had his sprint for the trophy and discovered it wasn't really worth the effort. Anton says that all he needs from Lesley is personality and enthusiasm, and they'll create the rest. Lesley points out that she is Of A Certain Age, so there are limitations to what she can do. On the first day of training, Anton reveals they'll be waltzing to 'What'll I Do' - which Claudia's Helpful Voiceover confirms is the theme song from Birds Of A Feather, just in case any of us hadn't quite got that yet. Lesley is pleased that they're blending her two shows together because it will lend her courage and help her to channel her inner Dorien or something. She points out that Anton is much taller than she is, so she has to take big strides to keep up with him, and while she's exhausted, she's gradually getting there and she's loving it.

We start in black-and-white, with a wistful Lesley looking at a photo of her and Anton in happier times, before what I can only assume is The Ghost Of Anton appears behind her and they have one final waltz together, as colour bleeds back into the screen. It's rather nice - not as saccharine as you might think, and Lesley acquits herself well - the height difference remains a problem and plays havoc with her top line throughout, but she's put a lot of work into getting the footwork right and it shows. I still suspect that anything much faster than this is going to be a real struggle for her, but at least she can hold her head up high and say she pulled off the waltz. And there's a lovely shot of Linda Robson crying in the audience, and I look forward to Crying Pauline Quirke at some point soon.

Over with Tess, Lesley says that her mouth has gone all dry. I think that's probably just Anton leeching the life force out of you Lesley, nothing to worry about. Darcey calls the routine "sophisticated, romantic, elegant" and says that there was great control throughout, but warns Lesley not to get lost in Anton's chest. Hey, we've all been there. She points out that the shoulders were very high, but just encourages Lesley to relax when she comes back next week. Len enjoyed the traditional waltz, it was very clean and precise, and he thinks Lesley is a "lovely lady". And a swell gal. Bruno says he found it "very touching and almost moving". He agrees with Len and Darcey that the top line was too tense, and suggests that Lesley could press her pelvis against Anton more to assist with that. Craig adds to the consensus that her posture is her biggest concern, but he thought she danced with ease.

Their mics are still up as they trot up to the Clauditorium so we hear Lesley asking if that was all right and Anton saying "beautiful!" through slightly clenched teeth. Claudia points out how much Linda Robson loved it, and Lesley says it was lovely to do something different with a song that's been part of her life for 25 years. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. "Not too bad," says Lesley. So tonight's two waltzes have both had the same score, and the two cha chas have both had the same score. Either it's too close to call quality-wise or the judges are just quite unimaginative this evening.

Up next? Ore and Joanne with the first tango of the series, and Tess asks Len to remind us what we should be looking for, not that it's going to matter much tonight. Len says it's all about flexed knees, sharp and crisp movements, and a bit of passion, by which definition you could argue that I am also doing a tango when I hobble to the bathroom first thing in the morning. (Yes, I am passionate about urinating, and you will be too when you get to my age.) In his VT, Ore tells us that he's been dreaming of this moment for a very long time, and was very excited to be partnered with Joanne. In turn, Joanne reveals that she knew they were a perfect match when they both started spontaneously doing the robot at each other on the launch show. Ore wants to be the best dancer that he possibly can be, and is looking forward to finding out if that's a good one or a bad one. As far as training footage goes, he looks pretty competent, and Joanne thinks it's going well, though we quickly abandon training in favour of Ore taking Joanne off to meet his wife Portia, who looks...not unlike Joanne. Like, if I hadn't already seen pictures of Portia on Ore's Instagram (shush, I just follow it for the articles) before I saw this segment, I would've thought it was a comedy VT with Joanne playing both roles. Anyway, I don't know whether this is supposed to make us think that Ore is less likely to fall under TEH CURSE OF STRICTLY or more likely, but Portia seems nice? Also she tells us that Ore is scared of birds, if that's useful information to you at all.

Then we're back in the studio, and what follows is almost as confusing as the VT we've just watched. Ore is wearing geek glasses, a plaid shirt, a bow tie and the tightest trousers you will see on this show all weekend, which is no mean feat (just wait until you see Gorka's paso outfit). For a second I thought he was meant to be Urkel until I realised a) no braces and b) braces or not, that's not a visual reference most people in this country are going to recognise anyway. So he's just your standard geek riding a bike from one side of the dance floor to the other because...nope, I've got nothing. Then he sees Joanne sitting on a park bench reading the latest issue of the Outstanding Ore comic, so clearly he's meant to be an incognito superhero. After failing to get Joanne's attention, Ore does a very elegant butterfly kick on the back of the bench, at which point Joanne's all "omg it's him!" and then they do a tango together...for about five seconds, which is all the time they have left at this point. I don't mind the odd bit of faffing here and there, but this was all surface and no depth, and considering that the bits of tango we actually do see from Ore look quite promising, I'm disappointed we didn't get a proper one. I don't know how much of this theming was Joanne's idea and how much of it was forced upon them by the producers, but I hope this isn't the sign of things to come because I like Ore, I think he's got real potential, and I don't want it to all get lost in one of Joanne's Candy Crush Saga fever dreams. Because if this whole thing was her idea, I think she might be happier on Dancing With The Stars.

After joining Tess on the sidelines, Ore apologises to the gentleman in the front row who he thinks might've lost an eye after Ore discarded his glasses during the routine. Well, in those trousers, somebody was bound to lose an eye at some point. Len's grumpy because he thought it would never get started, and also "the tango is thunder and lightning, it's not lollipops and roses". (Coming soon to ASOS: the Lollipops And Roses Handbag Collection by Joanne Clifton.) Once he got going, it was great, and he thinks Ore is too good a dancer to waste time with all the palaver. Bruno thought the "mise-en-scène was original" (that it certainly was) and allowed him to act two different roles. He thinks Ore is a good dancer, and he loves seeing something different. Craig loved all the storytelling at the beginning, and it was strong and dramatic. Finally, Darcey enjoyed the attack and the strength, and she thinks Ore has a lot of potential.

Up in the Clauditorium, Joanne throws herself at Ore (attagirl) and gives him a big hug while Claudia and Ore attempt to convince us that Ore wept at the mere sound of the Strictly theme tune three weeks ago. (I don't know why I find all of this schtick much more bearable coming from Ore rather than Will, but to be fair it might have something to do with Ore being hotter than the sun.) Ore says Joanne is an incredible coach who pushes him really hard and calls her "Choreography Clifton", so I guess we do know who to blame for the...excesses of that routine. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 6, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Joanne says that she's so proud of Ore, and accepts full responsibility for "the bit at the beginning", so I have some hope that she might rein it all in somewhat in future weeks, if only to because this is her last chance to get on Len's good side before he goes to LA to seek his fortune.

Our last couple for the night - and if you thought my behaviour towards Ore was bordering on the obsessive, you're really not going to like what's around the corner - is Greg and Natalie. They've got the jive first, ostensibly because Greg said he was looking forward to it on the launch show, but I suspect it's more because the jive is Hard For Tall People and Greg is like 8ft4 and Natalie thought it would be a good idea to get it out of the way when it wouldn't be the only dance they were being scored on. Claudia's voiceover in Greg's VT says that he has "long-jumped his way around the sandpits of the world", which seems like a slight under-selling of the accomplishments of a world champion athlete, but perhaps I'm just being picky. Greg claims that he was so nervous for the launch show that he "forgot" to invite anyone, and then says that he hasn't had a new coach for a long time, so he's very excited about working with Natalie. Natalie says she's very happy about Greg, although I can't remember a time when Natalie ever wasn't happy about her partner because she's such a relentlessly optimistic person. I think if you partnered her with the decayed corpse of Mao Tse Tung she'd still think this was her year. Greg says that he's not on the show to be a joke, and he wants to do well.

In training, the main obstacle is Greg's feet - he's been long-jumping for 15 years and the foot position you need to hold for a long jump is very different from the foot position you need to hold in a jive. Natalie very patiently trains him over the weeks to remember small steps and pointed toes, and in return Greg invites her to come and watch him jumping into some sand. Natalie clucks that she "feels like a proud mother" watching him, and I love how utterly invested she is in this partnership already. Greg does a long jump, everyone claps, and then they do a bit of jiving on the run-up track, which Greg complains "feels horrible" because he's having to point his feet the 'wrong' way. Still, at least he's managing to do some proper training alongside the day job, so he's already ahead of Iwan Thomas at this stage last year.

They're jiving to 'Get Ready' and Natalie has opted for them to start by running down the stairs, then having Greg jump onto the dancefloor and run around flapping his arms to hype up the crowd. It's a nice idea, but like most gangly people (and I speak from experience here), this just makes it look like the hand driers weren't working when Greg went to the loo before the performance. Once they get into the actual jive, it's...better than I expected. There's a general sloppiness to it around the edges, but all of Natalie's training paid off handsomely as Greg remembers to take small steps and point his feet. His energy level seems to sag about halfway through, but for the most part he keeps up with Natalie well, and the obvious showboating bits where she gets him to jump off things aren't too distracting. If we rank this on the Grand Pantheon Of Natalie Lowe Jives, it's not Scott Maslen level but it's not Michael Vaughan level either, it's a very respectable mid-placer, and a much better jive than I thought Greg would be capable of pulling off given his status as a Tall Person with no prior training.

Tess asks Greg if he feels like a dancer yet, and he replies "more like a prancer, to be honest". Bruno says it looks like Greg could go all the way, and he really went for it - it "wasn't exactly the paragon of precision", but he clearly has talent and Bruno loved watching it. I wonder if Bruno loved watching it for the same reasons I loved watching it? Craig says it was flat-footed and stompy, and Greg's extremely pigeon-toed and he needs to sort out his free arm placement, but nonetheless Craig enjoyed it enormously. Darcey liked it too, and says that Greg is built to jive, "like some blue frog". She thinks Greg's going to go far. Len says it was "as good as we've seen tonight", and says that for a bloke who just "larks about jumping into sandpits", Greg gave it real attack - the kicks at the start were good even if the ones at the end were less so, and as Craig said, Greg needs to sort out his free arm, but he's a really good dancer and Len's looking forward to seeing more.

Greg and Natalie are clearly both thrilled with that feedback and can barely contain themselves as they gambol up to the Clauditorium, to the point where Natalie yelps "fuck yeah!" and then realises where she is and covers her mouth. Luckily the crowd's loud enough that it's barely audible - I only caught it on the third go-round myself - and I guess if it had to happen, the one post-watershed show of the entire series is the best place for it. Claudia confirms that Greg has never danced before, not even at parties, and Greg says that it was "out of this world" - he's got an incredible teacher and he loved doing that routine. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27.

So let's have a look at that opening night leaderboard then:

1=. Ore & Joanne - 27
1=. Greg & Natalie - 27
3=. Laura & Giovanni - 25
3=. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 25
5=. Naga & Pasha - 23
5=. Lesley & Anton - 23

Helpful! Claudia joins tomorrow night's dancers for a quick chat, starting by asking Italia Conti Graduate Louise Redknapp if the quality of Greg's jive has put the fear of God into her ahead of her own jive tomorrow, and Louise says yes it has. Claudia asks Tameka for a flavour of her paso, and Tameka flaps her skirt and says "brrap! brrap!" like, calm down Tameka, she asked for a flavour of it, not the entire thing. Ed Balls continues his quest to talk real pretty one day by saying that tomorrow night is going to be a real challenge, but he's going to give it a go, and delivering the whole speech like he's just been doorstepped by a reporter from Newsnight shoving a camera in his face while he's still finishing his toast.

We then get a quick preview of tomorrow's dances: Louise has never known anyone with as much energy as Kevin, Janette is teaching Melvin how to walk from scratch, Daisy is really panicked that she'll never get it right, Danny is worried Ore's pushing him too hard, Tameka is LOVING THE DRAMA and giggling a lot, Claudia is doing some gymnastics, Ed mangles a joke about having already done a lot of spinning in politics, Anastacia isn't sure she and Brendan speak the same language yet, Will is a perfectionist who gets dressed in the dark.

That's it for opening night. Stay tuned for our recap of Saturday's show, which we'll have ready for you later this week - unfortunately Rad and I have found ourselves with very busy lives for the first couple of weeks of the competition which is why these are going up a little bit later than usual, but we hope to resume normal service by week three or so!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Ringer-ing in the new series

Launch show: Saturday 3 Sep 2016

Welcome back! 

Yes, it’s been a whole year since we last visited the ballroom (well, okay, just under nine months from the Christmas special but you know what I mean). In that time, there has been PRO-AGEDDON with Aliona, Kristina, Ola, Tristan and lovely Gleb all departing the show. Some of those people will be more missed than others, I suspect (Put it this way, it took me ages to think of one of those people, such an impression had they made on me during their two seasons on the show).

Tonight! Let’s see which of the pros announced for the series actually gets a celebrity dancer! Let’s guess how invested Brendan Cole is going to be this year! And in this cast, which looks to be the ringiest of all time (possibly), let’s see if we can spot at this stage who really is a dirty RINGAH! It’s time! To! Troll Simon Cowell by having X Factor runners-up give guest performances! [It'd better not be Ray Quinn or I'm walking. - Steve]

We open with a sci-fi-esque tribute to Star Wars/Trek/etc (and possibly the X Factor’s giant X), with a giant planet glitter ball and a little cutesy rocket. Some Star Wars style text scrolls up, with lots of lame gags until we get to the punch of our planet’s life being in the hands of Tess and Claudia. Let’s just be glad they didn’t get special guest Ollie Mares (Dragon is usually quite good at recognising celebrity’s names, dancers aside, but apparently it doesn’t know who he is and I envy it its blissful ignorance). #justiceforcarolineflack

Somewhere in the bowels of the Tess’n’Claud helmed ship, Bruno “accidentally” finds himself sitting on Len’s lap, Darcey stands around looking vague and Craig turns up in a sub- Darth Vader costume choking on the dry ice – which he calls ‘cosmic dust’ (clearly the substance that the brains behind this sequence were imbibing). Darcey then ‘activates’ some of the pros (Brendan – cuddled up with a kitty, Pasha – wearing a sequined eye mask and both in white vests and boxers which yes I’m sure is how they sleep) [it would be on Hollyoaks, especially if they were lovers - Steve], who have been lying in stasis chambers. As she presses to activate Anton, Craig asks her, anxiously, to THINK IT THROUGH. Heh. Anton is reactivated in a suit. And painted grey. For reasons which I hope are nothing to do with Fifty Shades, but given who his celeb partner will be…

Then we see Aljaz and Janette walking through the corridor carrying bins as… robot… cleaners?  And Kevin exercising with glitterball dumbbells whilst a robot Karen makes the obvious filthy joke about Uranus. [But enough about the VILE TIRADE she had against Ola that time. - Steve] Then Oti turns up in a white frightwig and makes some sort of protein shake –and shakes as well, and looks about as bemused as I feel and she’s also subtitled which… Hmmm.

Then Giovanni gets into a fake tan machine where the settings are ‘orange’, ‘very orange’ and sadly not the correct punchline, ‘Artem’, but the far stupider ‘alien’.  He comes out covered in green paint and I would like to know precisely how much Pasha paid the make-up people for that not to be him yet again. A newly-blonde (or re-blonde given it’s her natural colour) Joanne and Natalie put their hair under driers and come out with dos about half the size of Pixie’s tango hair.

Then they all dance to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’ [though sadly without the "we're higher than a motherfucker" bit, which I for one would've loved to hear at Saturday teatime - Steve], apart from Brendan and Anton who float about in space suits before gazing at each other romantically, then holding hands and dancing together – FOR ALL THOSE WHO WANT SAME-SEX DANCES AMIRITE? We see Natalie and Joanne gushing over this unlikely ship, whilst Craig pulls a ‘hmm, this is skating perilously close to queerbaiting’ face.

Have I mentioned we are three and a half minutes into the show, we’ve only met a handful of pros, no celebrities have arrived yet and I’ve already been recapping for half an hour?  Yikes. Craig pushes a button to send them crashing to the floor and then he leads everyone in a corridor dance which seems to involve elements of Thriller and Riverdance and fucking Gangnam Style and what the hell even is this? Then they dance a bit more and the judges throw some score paddles about and the audience do a countdown and the wobbliest cardboard space ship you have ever seen floats onto the red carpet outside with the waiting fans.  Much as I appreciate the sentiment of paying tribute to sci-fi in Star Trek’s 50th anniversary year, I’d rather they brought back the porn train. (I just rewatched it – it has ACTUAL DANCING in it. And a full complement of pros. And Aliona sassing the camera like she knows she’s about to be the most successful pro ever. And Natalie Lowe hitching her skirt a bit too high and loving it, the saucy minx. And it looks fun! Everyone in the space sequence looked painfully aware of how awful the whole thing was.)

The spaceship lifts to reveal Tess’n’Claud (looking lovely by the way – Tess in a long navy blue dress and Claudia in a red strapless number) and the judges. And then the stars – and we get the first glimpse of all our celebrities. Tameka Empson is upfront and centre and already grabbing attention, which bodes well. I think? Danny Mac makes some desperate ‘from Chester to Char Char Char’ comment like anyone’s even remembered you were actually on Hollyoaks given your secret twin sister has just been banged up for the murder of your secret father which was actually committed by your secret incest daughter who found out your secret dad was trying to frame his wife who was your illicit true love for about five minutes and your other dad is sort of missing in action these days and the serial-killer doctor who killed your serial-killer brother who killed your mother - the brother whom your incest serial-killer daughter also tried to kill was killed by yet another serial killer - and no-one’s even bothered to tell you about any of it. 

Also of note? Lesley Joseph and Judge Rinder dance on together which could be an interesting buddy combo. [Insider info: they were paired together for the pre-launch press junket, and they spent pretty much the entirety of their interview arguing about Blackpool, it was amazing. - Steve] Ed Balls does the wiggle that launched a thousand GIFs and Anastacia says this is ‘the madness’ she’s ‘always wanted’. Yes, that Anastacia, whose performance style doesn’t suggest an unfamiliarity with ‘the madness’. I suspect we’re having a year of kooks and I am all for that as long as they are more Mark Benton/Nancy Dell’Olio than Russell Grant/Widdy.

Now, I thought the absence of new pros in the space thing was to save them for some kind of big in-show launch, but as C&C Music Factory’s ‘Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)’ kicks in, Neil and Katya Jones are present amongst the pros flinging themselves around whilst the celebs stand watching with looks of terror on their faces (hee). The music morphs into a mashup of that and Justin Timberlake’s ‘I Can’t Stop the Feeling (Dance Dance Dance)’. What is with (songs employing parentheses)? This is more like it – we have a frenetic mash-up of ballroom, Latin, disco and god-knows what, from pros old and new, taking us from the carpet to the ballroom. Brendan does a biffed cartwheel, and there’s some weird business where Anton takes Natalie, Jo and Karen to be his three wives in some unholy dance harem (I am already steeling myself for the idea that Brendan and Anton could be even more over this than their previous few series, Katie and Sophie excepted, would suggest), but otherwise it’s glittery and fast and fun.

Tess and Claud come on and I recall my previous comment about their attire – Claudia is actually in bright pink and ’s OK.  Tess is in a ‘blurple’ type dress and whilst the colour is lovely, it has some weird-ass shoulder/arm things going on – one side has a standard strap over bare shoulder thing happening, but the other has a full-on sleeve with a hole cut out on the shoulder. I think Claudia might have been raiding the Sewing Bee cut-off bins again. They preview what’s coming up: 6 new pros! Two of the most annoying ever X-Factor runners up! A final reliving of the blessed Jive of St Jay PBUI despite Aliona’s insistence last year that it was too pure to ever be tainted by a second performance. The judges dance on and Claudia reminds us that it’s Len’s last series ‘and Craig’s too, but we haven’t told him yet. SURPRISE!’ The glee on her face makes the gag worth it.

On the subject of Len leaving, by the way – yes, long overdue, but I am not looking forward to it being dragged out all series in every comment he ever makes with loads of tribute clips of him shouting SEVUUUUN and the endless speculation of whether or not we’ll see Head Judge Anton or Karen Hardy or Ashley Banjo or that man with the bum from Money Supermarket adverts or whoever else the tabloids seize upon take his place (I’m all for head judge Erin Boag. I’d also take Kristina or Joanne going on their choreography corner stints.) [I vote for Erin too. Head Judge Miss Whiplash 4lyf. - Steve]

And now to the best part of any launch night – finding out the job titles our celebrities’ agents have wangled for them: TV presenter and singer Louise Redknapp; BBC Sports Presenter Ore Oduba; Actress Lesley Joseph; Star of Judge Rinder, Robert Rinder (and it’s Rinder like Tinder, which I did not know, having never seen it); Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane; TV presenter and radio DJ Melvin Odoom; Model Daisy Lowe; Actor and pop star (not idol?) Will Young; ‘From BBC Breakfast’ Naga Munchetty; World Champion Long-jumper Greg Rutherford (I guess you don’t get to be ‘Olympic Gold Medallist’ if you didn’t win it in the most recent Olympics then?); EastEnders star Tameka Empson; Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, TV host Laura Whitmore; Actor Danny Mac, and finally, singer Anastacia. They are all a little ho-hum, aren’t they? [I'm quite impressed that Daisy is, to my recollection, the only model to compete on Strictly whose agent was happy just to have her identified as a model. Remember when they tried to convince us that Clancy was also a presenter? - Steve] Though I’d say Will Young getting 'actor' from being in that one thing once and Louise Redknapp still getting ‘singer’ 20 years or so after she last released a song are a bit generous. 

Len calls ‘the girls’ risky and frisky and ‘the boys’ powerful and perky (Jeez, Len, we’re onto your private fantasies this early on?!).  Claudia asks Bruno who will win from the way they walked down.  Bruno says some of them were flamingos and cheetahs and some were wildebeests. [Looks like Craig wasn't the only judge exposed to the 'cosmic dust'. - Steve] OK then. Time for our first meeting celebs and pairing them up!

Former reality dance show judge Louise Redknapp tries to counter the ringer accusations by saying she’s not done any preparation at all.  I dunno, there’s something about her that makes me suspect she’s super-competitive and has spent years watching clips on YouTube and forcing Jamie to help her perfect every single damn genre on this show until she’s been ready to finally take to the floor.  She says she wants a kind and patient partner who shouldn’t expect ‘too much too soon’ and that she couldn’t do Strictly before when her kids were young, but now the time is right. See! She’s totally been spending years practising! I knew it!

Naga Munchetty is used to millions watching her on telly, but not hundreds in an audience (fun fact!  I nearly went on BBC Breakfast to talk about celebrity deaths earlier this year and one of my colleagues was very jealous that I’d get to meet Naga. Then Prince died the night before I was due to go over and it was called off because it’d look a bit too on-the-nose, so no nattering with Naga for me). She reminds us of some of the previous Breakfast competitors, omitting Natasha Kaplinksy, who is clearly DEAD TO BREAKFAST for some reason.

Anastacia spends her entire VT gurning it up and says she’s not into militancy in a partner (I didn’t follow James Jordan’s twitter meltdown about how OMG IT SO RIGGED but did he moan about this at all)?

Laura Whitmore says Tom Hanks taught her to dance and we see a slightly cringey clip of her interviewing him. I know the show likes to cast A-listers by proxy by putting their partners on the show, but this is taking things a bit far.

Louise is first to meet her partner, and she has her hair pulled into a ponytail that makes her still look as young as she did twenty-years ago. [And an ill-fitting dress that ages her by 20 years. - Steve] We are shown the line-up of male pros, and Neil Jones is absent – guessing he’s this year’s Joanne, being shunted off to ITT?  I have also heard rumours of the *shudder* dance troupe being revived.  I thought that went back to its home planet never to be seen again? [I think he's down to play a significant part in choreography over the series, so he'll probably be looking after the group numbers and stuff. - Steve] Speaking of being partnered with someone who seems young for her age, Louise is dancing with Kevin. Much as I like Kevin, he really is overdue a duffer and I don’t see Louise being that. They’re both very happy with the pairing, understandably.

Naga, wearing a red dress that flatters her nicely, is partnered with Pasha for a vaguely rhyming partnership. He kneels before her and pulls her onto his lap and a million viewers screengrab the shot and Photoshop their faces into it. [I've told you before, take that camera out of my home. - Steve]

Tess asks Anastacia if she can dance and, straight down the camera, she deadpans ‘There’s no promises here and I’m just glad to be in your country.’ Tess tells her it’s a win win situation whoever she gets, and Anastacia, aware that Anton has not yet been partnered says ‘really?’ She’s paired up with Brendan, who looks a little terrified, but I think I’m going to enjoy her and if the two of them get on, it could be a lot of fun. [I think Brendan's going to find her exhausting, but that could be fun too. - Steve]

Tess asks if Laura ‘can move as well as she looks’. I dunno, Tess but maybe she can grammar as good as you does. Laura is wearing a fringed dress in my favourite shade of bright yellow. Seriously, I’d demand that colour every week if I was on. She’s partnered with Giovanni and she says Irish and Italian is a spicy combo. And the showmance rumours have already started good god.

The first pairings are standing in the Clauditorium because they’re not yet familial enough to sit, I guess. [Either that or the male pros literally can't sit down in those trousers because MY WORD they are tight. - Steve] Laura says it’s even sparklier than she imagined.  Claudia asks Naga whether Carol’s advice was to make sure she was paired with Pasha and Naga says Carol told her to ‘take full advantage’. Ha! I like this year’s female cast a lot already. Claudia and Louise gush over Kevin.

Len says he watches Naga every morning and the female celebrities are a bit like muesli ‘bitty, soggy and give you the shits’. Or you know, fruity and nutty blah blah blah.

Time for our first ‘special’ guest, whose performance I will watch for approximately five seconds in order to answer the following burning question: Does Rebecca Ferguson still honk like a goose? Answer? Yes, unsurprisingly.

Claudia tells us there are six new pros, and we’re going to meet them through the medium of… Conga.  Great. Confusingly, the dance (a Gloria Estefan backed generic party Latin ‘conga’ rather than the Black Lace Party Party variant) opens with the existing female pros beckoning us to the dancefloor, where they dance with the existing male pros who are wearing the most godawful shirts known to man – some black, brown and orange rectangle shape things that even a 70s dad on holiday would think were too ugly.  Even more confusingly, our first introduction is to: ‘Four time British champion Kevin Clifton and World Mambo Champion Karen Clifon’, then ‘Eight time Australian ballroom champion Natalie Lowe.’  Interesting how, when our celebs get slightly underwhelming intros, our pros get the starriest ones they’ve ever had.  We also meet: ‘Nineteen times Slovenian champion (of…?) Aljaž Škorjanec’ and ‘International Latin Superstar (oof) Janette Manrara’; ‘First ever Strictly Champion (damning with the faintest of praises there) Brendan Cole’; ‘Legend of the ballroom (dear oh dear) Anton du Beke’ and ‘World Ballroom Showdance champion Joanne Clifton’; ‘US national finalist and 2014 Stricly champion Pasha Kovalev’; ‘Eight time South African Latin champion Oti Mabuse’; ‘Italian Latin Champion Giovanni Pernice’. 

And now the newbies: ‘Ukrainian Latin Champion Oksana Platero’; ‘British, European and World Latin Champions: Neil and Katya Jones’ ‘Three time undefeated-something-I-couldn’t-make-out ["youth Latin" - Steve] champions and also apparently contestants on BGT once-upon-a-time looking at their website which also looks like it’s emulating the style of a Geocities homepage from 1998 because millennials, huh, AJ Pritchard and Chloe Hewitt’ and finally ‘Spanish Latin Dance Sensation Gorka Marquez’ – who comes on dancing a bit like David Brent infused with Scott Mills as a crab, so… yeah, guessing he’s going to be producing some Gorka Specials before the series is out.

Also: that's it.  No promo videos where we get to meet them or anything like that, which means they're going to have to work harder than usual to stand out. Also: Neil's role (or lack thereof) is not explained. (Also Chloe's but I entirely forgot about her when I initially wrote this recap. Poor Chloe.)

Claudia, bedecked in a lengthened golf jumper which looks like another Sewing Bee alteration challenge gone wrong, says she’s looking forward to seeing Greg Rutherford because she’s always been a fan of a ‘long jumper’. Ho. Time to pair up the first set of male celebs.

Melvin Odoom looks very cheerful and does a high-pitched impression of his over-excited mum and says you can put him in every kind of outfit and he won’t be scared.

We’re reminded that Greg has won gold and bronze in LIMPICS and he has a young son who likes dancing. BABY WARS KLAXON! Greg says he wants to rectify ‘losing’ in Rio by winning Strictly.

Judge Rinder next.  Having only ever seen pictures of him before (he looks like the baddie from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), I imagined he’d be some mouthy American type, but no, he’s got a slightly camp and posh British accent. He loves the ‘absolute joy and escapism’ of Strictly. Oh God, he’s a luvvie! *Rubs hands in glee* [He is the absolute luvviest of luvvies and that's precisely why I love him. I'm so excited he's on the show this year. - Steve]

Dodger reminds us about some of his sensational Hollyoaks storylines and says he did to dance at college BUT THAT WAS YEARS AGO AM NO DIRTY RINGAH.  Oh this cast and how defensive they’re all going to be about their SECRET DANCE PASTS.

Melvin says his mum loves Tess and Tess is genuinely surprised at this.  Poor Tess.  He’s paired up with Janette, who does her typical manic ‘can’t tell if real or fake excited because it’s Janette’ reaction.

Greg is shaking and we can see some sort of odd tattoo on his side, a rose? Can’t tell! He is partnered with Natalie, WHO IS TALL and who looks like all her Christmases have come at once. On paper it’s her best chance of a win in years, but athletes are certainly not guaranteed to be any good, so… [Also Greg spent the entire pre-launch telling everyone he was incredibly shit at dancing and that getting Natalie was literally his only hope of not falling on his arse, so...good luck Natalie? - Steve]

Judge Rinder (what are we calling him?  Judge?  Robert?  Rinder?  I can’t wait for the proper credits to actually tell us) makes a joke about looking forward to being judged by Len, Darcy and Bruno (‘I missed someone? Did I?).  He’s paired with Oksana for a series of blonde jokes and he says he’s never been so excited about meeting a girl and Tess says ‘there’s a first time for everything’. Hee.
Tess says Danny played ‘Mark Savage’ on Hollyoaks and that’s also Craig’s judging strategy. She asks Danny how he feels about what he’s wearing and he says it was either what they’ve put him in or nothing and Tess gets the sexual harassment in early by expressing her clear disappointment. Oh dear, I just noticed the weird leg thing on Tess’s dress – one half is straight and normal, the other cuts off with an uncomfortable curve on the thigh. Danny is paired with Oti, who seems happy, but in the Clauditorium, he reveals he has ‘a rogue shoulder’ and you can just tell Oti’s suddenly having flashbacks to last year. [I feel like "poor Oti" is going to become a meme at this rate. - Steve]

Claudia asks Oksana what phrase Judge Rinder will most likely hear in Russian, and she says something… which we don’t get translated. [Was I the only person who found this incredibly uncomfortable, given that Oksana is Ukranian? - Steve] Claudia reminds us of how obscure Melvin is by pointing out he works ‘on Kiss radio’ which is never a thing anyone has actually listened to, right?

We throw over to some meaningless glibness from Bruno and Darcy before the annual visit from last year’s winners. Jay says he and ‘Ali’ formed an amazing friendship. Aliona, whose hair has been bleached almost white, says she was glad to leave on a high (/with a ‘fuck you bitchez’). They reprise DAT JIVE and, like all returning winners’ dances, it suffers a little from the loss in athleticism of the celeb involved, but it’s still a stunning routine – just not as stunning as it would have been IN LAST YEAR’S FINAL FGS. [It wasn't quite the disaster that Caroline's salsa was last year, but it really did look quite rough. Maybe they ruined the specialness by doing it EVERY NIGHT ON TOUR and that's why? - Steve] Aliona says she had an amazing seven years and she’ll miss it, but she won the glitterball twice. Jay, out of breath, says to enjoy it, just as Caroline Flack told him to last year. Aww.

It’s been a good twenty minutes since our last comedy VT, so here comes another: Grange Hill music accompanying Tess, Claud and the pros to the first day of training to meet the celebs. Of note: Judge Rinder says he’s never seen so many attractive people in one place before outside of a magazine. Louise is all ‘oh noes I hope I can dance, it’s been sooooooo long.’ Claudia struggles with ‘having a partner… the steps and stuff.’ Anastasia says the thing she can bring to the show is doing the splits. She does the sideways splits… kind of. With a bit of an angle thing going on that makes it look a little like ‘sitting.’ Judge Rinder is secretly ripped. [And so are Ore's trousers. Look, I just get paid to report the facts, okay? - Steve]

Back in the ballroom, Tess says she’s looking forward to Claudia doing gymnastics and then our Claudia (or a body double? Maybe not going on the audience whoops, but who can tell, for as we all know, the BBC LIEZ) does some impressive backflips and splits before Tess says she means Claudia the gymnast contestant (pronounced Cloud-ia to distinguish).

More VTs now.  Claudia F says she loves the audience reaction at the Olympics and she wants the crowd to go wild in the same way on Strictly.  She says she’s 4 foot 7 and can barely walk in heels so she’s nervous about that. 

Daisy says she’s acted and written a cookbook and knows Sam Smith and stuff but is first and foremost a model (/daughter of celebrities /ex of a Doctor.  Sidebar: Why is Pearl Lowe on apparently-still-going-even-though-noone-can-follow-the-scheduling Four Rooms now? And where has Anita Rani gone? And what is Raj Bisram doing on some BBC daytime antiques thing, still wearing the same costume he wears on FR? And why, of all things, is it now Sarah Beeny's Four Rooms?).  Daisy’s looking forward to the costumes, hair and make-up.  I'm more here for the tango to Kraftwerk's 'The Model' but whatever floats your boat.

Lesley, dressing like Dorien, says she’s looking forward to having a spray tan, never having had one in her life. I find that kind of hard to believe. She’s pleased to be the oldest ever female contestant as it could be inspiring.

Tameka says she can’t imagine why people mix her up with Kim and then full-on-Kim-gushes and says she’s most looking forward to doing the showdance in the final. Ha!

Tess reminds Claudia that she’s eighteen and tiny and she looks about half the size of Tess, bless her, although I think the ‘awww isn’t she cute’ thing is going to get old fast, especially as she’s paired up with little puppy AJ. Tess calls them ‘pocket rockets’ and oh yeah, that’s going to be a thing, isn’t it?
Daisy says she wants someone to be tough with her and work her quite hard because it’s going to be intense and she delivers this in a very breathy wanting to meet Christian Grey kind of way. She’s paired with Aljaz, who has form in dancing with models-who-are-closely-associated-with-people more-famous-than-themselves.

This means Lesley and Tameka are left to discover who’ll be the Anton – it’s Lesley, unsurprisingly, with Tameka getting Gorka.  Lesley says she’s reasonably fit for a woman of her age, and the hairstyle and purple they’ve got her in make her look like an older Deanna Troi. She doesn’t appear to be that thrilled to get Anton but jumps into his arms and calls him a legend anyway. Tameka (who plays a Salsa teacher in EE, RINGER ALERT), fakes spinning herself dizzy and then says she’s happy to be working with a dancer who can lift her up and place her down on the dance floor and she and Gorka hug and his arms are kind of stuck out at weird uncomfortable angles like he doesn’t quite know what to make of it all.

In the Clauditorium, Tameka writes Len’s jokes for him by saying she has a ‘corker’ of a partner.  Lesley says she’ll be sleeping in her dance for the rest of her time, Daisy claimed she had a bath of just glitter and Claudia says she feels sick. Claudia says AJ looks 11 and a half and asks if his school has given him permission to be here. [We're really going to need some sort of code to distinguish the two Claudias in these segments, aren't we? - Steve] Craig says he adores Tameka and he’s looking forward to seeing Oti and Danny.

Time for our second ‘special’ guest, whose performance I will watch for approximately five seconds in order to answer the following burning question: Does Olly Murs still come across as an unsufferable twat whose face I would like to punch? Answer? Obviously. 

Time for our final set of celebs and our first Ed Balls. Ed Balls. Joke. Cos that’s not getting tired.
Ore shows us that he was in Rio, in case you don’t know who he is.  He also says he’s a crybaby.  He doesn’t mention he has RINGER FORM from Let’s Dance. Ed Balls says he’s coming in below novice level and that this is going to be tougher than politics. Will Young enthuses about all the characters he plays in his pop videos. The luvvie-offing between him and Rinder is going to be what I live for, I can sense it. He says he’s done lots of dance at college BUT NOT LATIN OR BALLROOM OK.

Ore says he’s going to just dance everywhere in his daily life and that he’s really looking forward to the jive. He is partnered with Joanne who seems quite pleased. Hopefully he’s as much of a contender as I suspect, because I would love to see her with a serious contender (and for some reason, her blonde hair seems more serious than the red as well).

Ed is partnered with Katya, who will at least get herself some publicity for having the komedy kontestant, I guess. Maybe it’s punishment for that fat suit internet outrage thing the other week. That leaves Will to be partnered with Karen, who is delighted, much to the rage of James Jordan (who got to the final twice, whilst Karen has had to dance with the likes of Dave Myers and Nicky’s nono). [You'd need a microscope to find the amount of fucks I give about James Jordan's opinion, but it really is rich of him to complain about anyone getting preferential treatment considering he got megaringer after megaringer during his time on the show, and usually managed to guide them to an early boot. Eat shit, James Jordan, I hope we have our first three-way tie for the win this year and it's ALL CLIFTONS. - Steve]

Then there’s the usual rounds of gushing and judgely ‘advice’ about having fun and hard work. 
And now we come to the annual car crash group dance! Given that there’s been little in the way of actual content, recapping this show has felt like a slog so I’m happy to get here.

First impressions? Ed Balls is as dad dancey as we all expected, Ore looks to have some moves, Anastacia can growl, Daisy can pose, Naga can flirt, Claudia seems a little nervous, Tameka is less OTT than expected, Laura looks more Rachel Riley than Caroline Flack, Judge Rinder has the energy at least [he moves like a muppet and it amuses me so much, his body moves about a clear second before his head follows it <3 - Steve], Louise and Will seem to be coping well, Lesley seems enthusiastic and the others are a bit obscured in the crowd apart from one moment where Greg does the mashed potato.

Tess and Claudia remind us to come back later in the month, and we'll be back with you then.  But for now… Start Dancing!