Week 8: Top Nine Perform (BLACKPOOL Week) - 15 November 2014
Last week! We reached the stage in the series where all the women now start to drop like flies as the men did in the early stage! Caroline’s mum was in the audience and so she ended up in the dance-off! But Alison’s luck ran out and she and Aljaž were sent home, denying us ‘It’s Raining Men’ this week for which I JUDGE YOU ALL. [ME TOO. - Steve]
This week! BLACKPOOL! Cue more comedy VTs and vox pops with the good ol’ British public than you could ever dream of!
We open with a montage of…you guessed it, members of the public being excited that Strictly is coming to BLACKPOOL and our pro-celeb pairings packing their buckets and spades. It all ends, rather unfortunately with Anton clicking his fingers and flashing a great big purple erection. What? It’s what happened.
Tess and Zoe enter, Zoe dancing on, Tess kind of swaying a bit. Daly Dresswatch: a neon pink skirt that sits very high on the waist, with a black blouse thing that isn’t the most flattering to her bosom, but we’ve seen far worse. Ball’s Gown: A navy sparkly velvet slinky thing. They welcome us to the Tower Ballroom in BLACKPOOL.
Cue our first comedy VT of the night: this one featuring young versions of all our pros dreaming of one day visiting BLACKPOOL: “Anton” in a 60s-ish home watching Come Dancing on TV; “Natalie” (sounding very British) and “Brendan” ‘Down Under’ looking at a globe and also seeming closer in age than they really are; “Joanne” and “Kevin” dancing together in Grimsby with their dad telling them they’ll dance in Blackpool; then finally “Iveta” as a Lithuanian princess with attitude whose music box plays the Strictly theme tune. This segues into our opening pro dance with Iveta on a sparkly staircase dropping glitter on the pros whilst junior “Iveta” sings a slowed down and tune-free ‘I Have a Dream’. [Between this and Children In Need, I feel like I've exceeded my recommended yearly allowance of children singing in one single weekend. - Steve] All the pros start to come to life slowly in the background and whirl around as the professional singers take over and the two Ivetas watch them. It becomes a lovely ballroom showcase with lots of fairy light trees and spinning and whirling and then the celebrities come on and it still manages to look lovely which is an achievement giving how these things usually go – and then Iveta rises above them all as queen of all the pros, as well she might.
The judges dance on doing Saturday Night Fever moves, and it’s telling that this and Thriller are the most Darcey’s got into any of these routines all series – such a 70s/80s queen, I love it. Zoe and Tess wave at Alison who is in the audience as she promised. Go on, let her do her dance, it doesn’t have to count, I just want to see it. [I can't help thinking it would've been a much better use of everyone's time than McBusted. - Steve]
Our pairs come in: Jake and Janette; Pixie and Trent; Steve and Ola; Judy and Anton; Mark and Karen; Frankie and Kevin; Caroline and Pasha; Simon and Kristina; Sunetra and Brendan. It must be the BLACKPOOL effect or something, as most of them actually do the theme tune shimmy this week.
The first couple of the night are Frankie and Kevin. They had a bad week last week, which is the cue for Tess delivering a ‘water under the Frankie Bridge’ pun. Bad scriptwriters. Stop it. Their VT storyline is about how fast the quickstep is and Kevin gets Frankie to play Dance Dance Revolution as practice. [Best pro challenge ever, neva 4get. - Steve]
Their quickstep is to ‘A Town Called Malice’ (YES!) and sees them both in fifties (er?)-style outfits, Frankie’s a lovely yellow and black, Kevin’s a tight grey tartan that sort of treads a fine line of tightness. Vicky Gill’s sterling work on the trouser front for lovers of men’s anatomies continues, but the waistcoat looks more like ‘someone ate too much inbetween their costume fitting and the big day’ than anyone would want. They’re accompanied by backing dancers which really clutters up the stage in a couple of places – a shame, as this is a nice little routine – not, perhaps, the sharpest quickstep ever, and the rock’n’roll stylings make it feel quite jive-y in nature, but it’s fun, frenetic and fast and they both perform with a lot of joy, which makes it an enjoyable breeze of a routine, backing dancers aside.
Len says it was fast and they got three points for speeding straight away. He calls it a ‘kiss me quickstep’ (GROAN) and declares it Frankie’s best dance. Tess asks if the larger ballroom is an issue but Bruno says not for these two who flew across the whole thing. He says he was counting throughout and Frankie didn’t put a foot wrong. Craig says they used the floor brilliantly and because of that Frankie slightly lost her frame in places, and her feet didn’t always come together when they should, but it was bright and lively. Darcey calls it a frantic, rocking quickstep and says Frankie had a great topline and Kevin provided excellent choreography.
In the Ball pool (can’t really call it a Ballcony given they’re just sort of in a corner on the floor), Zoe shows us a photo of Kevin and Joanne at the Tower Ballroom when they were kids and jokes that it was just two years ago. Scores: 8, 9, 10, 10 for a BLACKPOOL-inflated total of 37. I am mesmerised by Trent’s outfit, by the way. He looks like Avon from Blake’s 7 except wearing seals of Rassilon. [NERD! - Steve] Now don’t get me wrong, I love an amoral sci-fi badass as much as anyone, I just didn’t picture Trent as one. (Brendan, obviously)
Jake and Janette are next and Tess reminds us that Jake is in need of a redemption arc. Do I smell a JOURNEY coming? Both say they’re doing the ‘American Smooth Foxtrot’ – are we officially calling American Smooths by the name of the dance they’re using as the base material now? Is this a thing since Len saved Scott (LOL) over WUTHERING HEIGHTS the other week for foxtrot content? Jake and Janette walk around rainy BLACKPOOL a bit and Jake says he can’t wait to get inside. And get out of the rain. He greets the ballroom with his usual enthusiasm.
Their American Smooth (Foxtrot) is to ‘Feelin’ Good’ and starts with Jake getting into a face-off with two backing dancers for his woman. Jake is in tails and Janette in red not that we want to take anything from this. They only just get going when the two backing dancers muscle their way back in, lift Janette in the air and throw her into Jake’s arms. As impressive as the move was, I’m not really into all this MACKIN ABAHT with human props. The dance is sexy and punchy and both perform it well in terms of acting the story of the dance, but it does seem to be quite the Janette showcase and Jake doesn’t really get to do an awful lot but act as a Janette stand as she jumps at him and poses around him - what he does get to do, he does well - lifts, turns, posturing etc - but it doesn't seem like there's enough content. It gets a standing ovation though (although it’s BLACKPOOL so I imagine most things will).
Bruno praises the acting and storyline and says Jake is back in the game. Craig praises Jake’s hands and calls it a Herculean performance and says Jake knows the value of ‘stillness’. Yes, because he was standing still most of the time. Darcey praises his catching skills like this is Strictly Come Cricket or something. Len loved the feel and all the judges think he’s back in the game. Is this just a ‘comeback’ because he was due one in the script or was there more to it than I saw? I enjoyed watching the routine a lot, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t see Jake doing that much in it – and I really like Jake and want to see him get out of the rut he’s been in, but even upon watching it over again I don’t quite get what was quite so fantastic about it.
Still, I’m in a minority as both Tess and Zoe reiterate it as a comeback and the scores are 9, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 36 and Craig’s first 9 of the series.
Last week! Sunetra went wrong and cried, and Darcey was nice to her and she cried some more. This week, Brendan is teaching her about Brazil in preparation for the Samba and takes her to a Brazilian restaurant.
Because Brendan uses this show entirely to live out his 80s fantasies, he opens as Tom Cruise in Cocktail, shaking his thing in front of a gaggle of horny hens in a neon-lit bar. (The music is ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ which feels like one of those songs that must have been used a thousand times, but apparently has only appeared once before, way back in series 4 for Ray and Camilla’s samba. (Thanks, Ultimate Strictly!). Brendan then goes and sambas with all the other women whilst Sunetra mum-dances on the side like a spare part for a bit. Given we’re now three for three on this extra dancers thing, I’m going to have to accept it, aren’t I? Doesn’t mean I have to like it, mind. When they finally get together, Sunetra gives it plenty of personality but it’s a bit fast for her and she looks like she’s struggling to keep up pace at several points. She is better in the side-by-side parts where she gets to shimmy and pose than in the in-hold parts, which look somewhat clumsy. It’s a shame in the year of the samba that this didn’t work so well – I think Brendan was being a bit ambitious with the music choice and the amount of running around the ballroom that entailed – something more contained might have worked OK. [Samba was never going to be Sunetra's dance, but I wonder if she might have coped with this slightly better had it happened in any other week, on a more managably-sized dancefloor. - Steve] Still she gets to chuck a drink in Brendan’s face at the end like she’s on The X Factor. [Or The Real Housewives Of BLACKPOOL. - Steve]
Craig says it looked a bit heavy and when a moment went wrong it was quite awkward. Brendan snipes ‘funny how that happens on a live show’ – not sure what he’s getting at here. Darcey says her Latin has improved and it was full of energy and party although she needs to work on her technique. Len says it was the most energetic and vibrant of Sunetra’s Latin dances despite some stumbles. Bruno loves the people in the audience dancing and says it was ‘flirtful’ and sexy with a party mood and Sunetra covers up mistakes up top but needs to be able to do that with her feet.
Over at the ball pool, all the women are in pink Kiss Me Quick cowboy hats and feather boas to be Sunetra’s hen party. Aww. Sunetra can’t believe she’s here and Brendan does his annual thanking the production team speech. Scores: 6, 8 (Sunetra: ‘Wow, we got an 8 for THAT?!’ Love her.), 8, 8 for a total of 30. Oh, BLACKPOOL.
Simon and Kristina are the fourth couple, with the series’ first Argentine Tango. Tess says it’s her favourite dance and asks Len what they’re looking for. He says the ganchos with the legs, the lifts and the mood of a sleazy nightclub in Buenos Aires. He and Bruno then start to get a bit unnecessary as is their wont and Tess sighs that it doesn’t take much to get them started. Blee.
Last week, Simon had a comeback which surprised him. Their VT shows him struggling with the footwork and the leading. He gets very, very sweaty, too, if you like that sort of thing.
They’re dancing to the Moulin Rouge take on Roxanne and he is in a black velvet suit, with Kristina in purple. For once, there are no extra dancers, and the lighting is all central meaning they don’t have to use the whole dancefloor like the others. In some ways, this gives them a slightly unfair advantage, but in other ways it means the focus is more on them than on the faff, so mistakes would be easier to spot. I don’t think Simon’s a natural at the ‘mean and moody’ acting, but his movement and posture aren’t too bad and the routine overall is pretty good and much better than I expected from him. There are some parts in the middle where he’s looking at Kristina for guidance so I’m not sure if he went wrong or is just a bit nervous, but then the footwork gets more intricate and it ends on a showpiece lift with him holding Kristina upside-down by one arm which earns them a standing ovation and lots of whooping.
Darcey says ‘Wow’ and is glad that he was ‘in charge’ of the dance, at which, Kristina’s ‘bitch please’ face is a joy. Darcey goes on some more about how amazing it was. Len declares it finger-licking good and says the atmosphere of BLACKPOOL is responsible. Bruno calls him the ‘dark Lord of Buenos Aires’. Is that a racialist moment? He loved the atmosphere and thought the climax was spectacular. Craig says it was a bit stiff in places and his hands are like ice-cream scoops (at which Darcey attempts to strangle him). As he advises on technique the audience boo him so he can’t be heard and he clarifies ‘I did love it’. Simon thanks everyone, including his mum, who seems to be in the audience. BAD MOVE SIMON.
In the Ball pool, Simon says it felt amazing and Zoe reminds us that his mum is present in case that’s a premonition. Scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 38. Whilst I’ve enjoyed everyone so far tonight, there is a serious case of BLACKPOOL scoring going on.
Coming up: ‘Me, Mark Wright, humble ol’…’ FAST FORWARD.
Tess welcomes us back standing behind Craig and Darcey and Darcey looks so super-awkward I love it. We cut to Judy and Anton, the next couple, then back to the judges where Bruno is scoffing candy floss, Len is picking at it grumpily and Darcey is holding it under her face wondering what she does with it. Craig just sits there serenely going ‘number one in the charts, bitches, I couldn’t care less for comedy posturing’.
Darcey then looks at Tess for guidance (and when Tess is the person you need to steer you right, we’re in trouble) pulls her candy floss out of its container with a confused face and then picks a bit off. There’s some punchline or other about Craig being a donut but it’s clearly something left over from ye olde funtime Bruce Forsythe Craig is so MEEN gag book so let’s move on.
Judy VTs that she loved the storyline last week where she got to be a fierce boss bitch and chuck Anton in jail, but ‘the bits I find difficult are the bits where I have to kind of dance.’ Love Judy Murray so hard. Her VT is soundtracked by Pink’s ‘So What’ which is perfect. Bravo, VT makers. They’re dancing to ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ which will involve ‘kiteography’ – meaning they get to dick about on BLACKPOOL beach wearing woolly hats and wincing at the cold.
They’re dancing a Viennese Waltz and Judy’s in a candy pink ballgown whilst Anton’s in pastel-striped Dick-Van-Dyke jacket and boater. They enter flying a big yellow kite and there are backing dancers and giant props lurking ominously on the stage. Judy accidentally gets bumped into by a young man and then she dances with him and another young male dancer and can actually dance, unlike with Anton. I kind of want Anton to get injured and Tristan or Aljaž to come in as rent-a-pro to see if she’s actually been a ringer all along and all she needed was some toyboy action to spark her to life. [I still lament that Judy wasn't paired with Pasha. Now that would have been a pairing for the ages. - Steve] The moment Anton grabs her, quality declines (maybe she looked better with the other dancers as she was more relaxed than in the ‘main’ section?), although it’s not a disaster. Her footwork isn’t very clean – she’s a bit lumpen and static as usual, but her top line has improved massively and she’s got the rhythm of it for the most part as well as grinning through the spins. It’s lumbered by a pointless static lift slung in because Anton’s decided that’s the way to go, and then she ascends on balloons, hurrah.
Len calls it candy floss – light and fluffy but a little sticky in places, but declares it her best dance so far. Bruno says it was actually recognisable as a Viennese Waltz, sloppy in parts but there’s hope for the future. Craig says it went wrong at the beginning. Anton blames it on an ice-cream cone. Bloody props. Craig says her posture is appalling and the lifts were heavy as lead but she had a good fifteen seconds and it was her personal best. Darcey was pleased that she was travelling and turning and needs to lean out more. Scores: 4, 6, 7, 7 for a total of 24 and their best score yet. Judy laughs that it’s too much for her.
Zoe teases Pixie and Trent going back to ‘Ancient Rome’. Ancient Rome as seen through the lens of 70s sci-fi, presumably. Tess introduces Mark and Karen sitting next to Kacey Ainsworth AKA Little Mo from EastEnders, who is surely due a return to the Square (Impromptu Slater ranking anyone? Jean/Little Mo/Belinda/Charlie/Big Mo/Zoe/Lynne/Kat/Stacey/Sean). [Hang on, which direction are you going in? Either way, I have severe objections to that ranking... - Steve]
Me Lil’ Ol’ Mark Wright can’t believe he’s going to BLACKPOOL. His cousin Sergio dances a bit like every other child vaguely connected to a celeb has done this series, and sort of teaches him a magic trick because Mark and Karen’s routine is based on magic. Mark tells Sergio he’ll be dressed exactly like him (white shirt, black waistcoat and trews) on Saturday and will do a magic trick for him. Sergio is seriously unimpressed with the whole thing and makes Mark do ‘fifty-two card pick-up’ by sullenly dropping the cards (rather than flinging them everywhere) and bolting out of the rehearsal room as fast as possible.
Their Charleston is to ‘We No Speak Americano’ which will always and forever be Holly and Artem’s music and one of many Artem-hates-Charleston routines. I kind of miss that sullen white toothed tan fan. Anyway, for this one, Karen is wheeled on in a box by two backing dancers, whilst Mark is a tight-clothed magician (wearing skin-tight black and red braces so… not exactly like Sergio’s outfit). The dancers (not Mark) attempt a poorly-executed ‘woman sawn in half’ trick and then Karen comes out, dressed like Frank-N-Furter, and they get going, accompanied by the dancers for some of it. Now, I know Charleston is a bit sloppy, but Mark is very sloppy and his gurn face isn’t so much Charleston over-acting as yet another iteration of ‘Me Mark Wright Am Happy. Make Open Mouth Smiley Face.’ He looks lost in several places, too. That said, he does try and keep the pace, but his footwork is lumpen and dreadful and he isn’t putting anywhere near enough energy or bend into it. The routine itself is good, but I don’t think he’s up to it – or up for it, whichever. I swear that wasn’t even as good as what Judy did, but I suspect the judges will still be trying to MAKE MARK WRIGHT HAPPEN.
Bruno says he likes a man with plenty of tricks up his sleeve and can’t believe how much Mark has improved. He says he was swift on his feet and comical. Craig says he’s starting to fall in love and Mark bounds over and kisses him. That’s the first time I’ve vaguely liked Mark’s personality. [And even then Ben Cohen did it better. - Steve] Darcey says she’s seen more strengths in him that she doesn’t feel he’s ever going to produce, whatever that means. Len makes a knob gag. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 for a total of 36. And I know BLACKPOOL scores are about as valid as Donny scores, but seriously, WHAT THE FUCK? [I feared it might actually get 10s, so I considered this overscoring to be a comparative relief. - Steve]
Pixie and Trent are next and Pixie, with big hair in her VT, jokes she kept last week’s do. Pixie wants them to do fun stuff like donkey riding and not just boring rehearsals. So their BLACKPOOL promo VT involves them being cold and windswept on a big wheel, eating fish ’n’ chips (or holding them, anyway) and a comedy prop sign saying ‘Donkey’s gone south for Winter’ which I am choosing to assume means a donkey, singular, called Donkey, rather than being a grammar abomination. Trent then dresses as a Donkey and sleaze-voices ‘donkey rides for everybody’. So much fan fiction being started with that moment, I betcha.
Their Paso is to ‘Eve of the War’ and Pixie is basically Servalan to Trent’s Avon (LOL Rome what now?), with two kinky leather-clad ‘soldiers’ accompanying their intergalactic foreplay (indeed, the opening has a lot of, um, four-play). Pixie’s snarling paso face is a bit too cutesy, but the kicking is very her and whilst there are clearly some fumbles, they make up for it with dramatic posturing and shaping, flaming torches and the adoption of every 60s and 70s sci-fi and cult B-movie cliché in the costuming (which is amazing, obvs). I love how camp and ridiculous the whole thing was, despite its imperfections, and I never would have thought a couple who started out so seemingly beige could pull out the level of high-concept theming and epic dramaz we’ve had recently in their routines. [I never thought I'd say this, but I think I want Pixie to win? - Steve]
Craig loves it and thinks Pixie’s pretty much invincible. Darcey loves the attack but says she needs to make her upper body as strong as her legs. Len says if she was Blackpool rock, she’d have brilliant written right through. Not, um, BLACKPOOL? Bruno loved her having three men and wonders if he can borrow one and loved that they had substance even with a big concept.
A breathless Pixie declares how much she loved it in the Ball Pool. Scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 for a total of 38 and the joint-highest score tonight. Zoe declares Trent a great Spartacus. Anton, Brendan and Kevin then each do the ‘I am Spartacus’ line and then Judy squeaks out ‘I am Spartacus’. Aww, I love the camaraderie between the cast and the way they’ll all do daft things like that. [I know - it was clearly as rehearsed as all hell, but Judy squeaking totally sold it. - Steve]
Steve and Ola now. My seven-year-old goddaughter told me to ‘just wait’ until I saw this routine so I’m not sure whether to be scared or excited by what’s ahead (bearing in mind she liked Dave Myers when he was in this). Their VT is soundtracked by Kylie’s ‘I Was Gonna Cancel’ and having seen the Kiss Me Once tour twice now, I still can’t decide whether or not I wish that had been in the set-list. (Although I would totally have taken it over Beautiful. For why did you do that, Kylie?) The storyline involves Steve checking out the Blackpool wildlife. I thought that was Sunetra’s hen night routine, ho ho. Oh wait, the wildlife is the ‘dancer’ and he spies on all the pros, including the randomers who’ve been on backing duties tonight. [Not entirely random, incidentally - one of them is Trent's wife Gordana. Gordana as new pro for 2015 plz. - Steve]
Their American Smooth (Unspecified) is to ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and involves two of the backing dancers waving around sheets like it’s parachute day in PE (which I assume is what excited my seven-year old friend). Dry ice and blue lighting fills the room as Steve (pinstripe waistcoat and trews) lets Ola (glittery Princess Jasmine-type dress) dance around him and then lifts her, amid a sea of fabric that keeps hiding them. Ola gives him a bit more to do than Janette seemed to give Jake, even though Jake is clearly more capable. Steve copes OK with the spins but his frame is somewhat ungainly and his face looks quite pained in places, and then he ends with a lift and Ola’s skirt falling over his face. I trust and hope James Jordan was suitably outraged on Twitter.
Tess comes over all ‘phwoar, TESS LIKES MANZ’. Good job he’s not a rugby player, eh? Darcey says it was clean but with his physique and strength he can mark things too much and needs a bit more light and shade. Tess gets all giddy about his strength and manliness some more. Len says it showed the smoothness of the dance but like a small man at a urinal, he has to get on his toes. Can we retire him yet? Bruno says he was rolling along and Craig says he was calm and collected.
In the Ball pool, Zoe asks how the guns are holding up and he flexes them and is mobbed by the female pros. Hee. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31.
Finally, we have Caroline (dressed as Ginger Spice at the Brits) and Pasha (dressed as a toy soldier). Last week, they were in the bottom two. She goes to see a “clairvoyant” (Pasha in a costume doing his usual bad acting) for reassurance. He tells her she’ll be dancing with a tall handsome guy. She perks up and goes ‘What, Aljaž?’ and Pasha gets all wounded. Boy knows his fanbase (watch those hurt/comfort fics on AO3 increase tenfold). [I'M ON IT. - Steve]
Their jive is to ‘Crocodile Rock’ and involves Caroline running on with two female friends to find three handsome beefeaters, one of whom is Pasha. They dance about trying to get a reaction and then Caroline nicks Pasha’s hat and they dance (as do the backing dancers of course). I love how brazenly she flirts although I bet this makes her a big hate target from certain sections of the audience. Like most dances tonight, it has its technical issues, but the performance and energy are really selling it and her grin is infectious. It’s a very fast and bouncy routine and lots of fun.
Len says if she’s in the dance-off, he’ll run to the end of the pier and dive off naked. I can’t work out if I want them to be in the bottom two just so someone calls him on it, or if that is an image made entirely of DO NOT WANT and I should be pressing the redial button continually, but I suspect the latter. The thought certainly terrifies Pasha. He says ‘you can’t half flick, Flack’ which he has been clearly dying to say all series. Bruno calls her the best of Britannia, says he loves the concept and then shouts RULE BRITANNIA like the, er, Italian that he is. Craig says it was sharp and clean and executed with military precision. Darcey says it was clean and exact, just as THE BOYS said.
They bounce over to the Ball who implores us to vote for Steve and Ola (because they gave out the wrong number earlier, but way to take the shine off Caroline there). Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 for a total of 37.
Shall we have a look at that BLACKPOOL-inflated leaderboard then?
Simon and Kristina - 38
Pixie and Trent - 38
Frankie and Kevin - 37
Caroline and Pasha - 37
Jake and Janette - 36
Mark and Karen - 36
Steve and Ola - 31
Sunetra and Brendan - 30
Judy and Anton - 24
Quick recap: BLACKPOOL being cold! Frankie and Kevin taking the 80s back to the 50s! Jake fighting two other men for Janette! Sunetra and Brendan having a drunken party dance! Simon and Kristina being the only people blessed with no bloody backing dancers getting in the way! Judy and Anton flying kites! Mark being sloppy and unconvincing and praised to the hilt again anyway! Pixie and Trent’s big camp retro Roman space opera! Steve and Ola rolling in sheets of fabric! Caroline and Pasha jiving in the most BRITISH way possible!
Tomorrow! Someone will be going home. I’d say Sunetra was the most in danger, although Simon does have the disadvantage of a mother in the audience. We get two musical performances including SHIRLEY BASSEY and some other people who don't have the range. Join me then!