Tuesday, March 20, 2007

You Should Be Dancing, Yeah

I’m trying to cut back on my television viewing, so I can catch up on my Netflix. We’ve had “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” in our possession for over a month now—the time just never seems right to watch a sick old man do battle with the Romanian HMOs. At this rate we’ll make it through our current queue, assuming we cease and desist on additions, some time in 2025.

Make that 2027, now that “Dancing with the Stars” is back on the air.

I know—I should be spending my time volunteering with orphans, reading The Economist, calling my parents, folding laundry. Mourning the death of Mr. Lazarescu. But, god help me, I love this show.

I love the competitions within the competition—which female professional can trot out the costume with the least amount of fabric (Karina and Edyta have met their match in Kym), which judge can evoke the most convoluted metaphor (“like a bear stumbling around in a swamp”), which song the house band will massacre beyond all recognition of the original (pretty much everything).

I love how loosely the term “star” is applied. Seriously, Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA 2004? She’s not even the one who went to rehab. Yet Finnessey provided perhaps the best comedic moment of last night’s premiere, when judge Bruno Tonioli referred to Shandi and her partner as Barbie & Ken. Finnessey clapped her hands, jumped up and down, squealed in delight, and gave “Ken” a squeeze—as if the comment were meant as a compliment of the highest order. I imagined a thought balloon over Shandi’s head: “Finally, someone recognizes me for who I am!”

I love how seriously the celebrities take this competition, as if their career depended on it. And I guess, in the case of Ian Ziering, it does. Leeza Gibbons, former co-host of “Entertainment Tonight,” displayed surprising intensity and a killer instinct that might explain why Mary Hart once felt compelled to take out an insurance policy on her legs.

I love that contestant Paulina Porizkova, a former supermodel, has watched “Dancing” at home. Maybe even with her husband, Ric Ocasek, who used to sing with a band called The Cars. So that’s what happens when models and rockers unite—they cancel out each other’s super powers and become humans like the rest of us.

I love that boxer Laila Ali wore enough body glitter to qualify as Tinkerbell.

I even love the dancing. Among the current crop of competitors, a top, middle, and bottom tier are already apparent. Those with a shot at the crown including Ziering, Joey Fatone, Ali (a graceful revelation), and speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno. Ohno may be the most naturally gifted in the bunch, but he’s also paired with the youngest professional, who may lack the experience not only to choreograph interesting routines but to get her partner to stand up straight.
The best of the rest include Porizkova, Gibbons, John Ratzenberger, Clyde Drexler, and maybe Finnessey, who has the stork-like figure of Season 2’s Stacy Kiebler but none of the elegance. All of them need to loosen up— Drexler, a former NBA all-star and the show’s tallest dancer ever, seems afraid to move his upper body for fear of elbowing his partner in the eye. Gibbons, in particular, is tightly wound. Why is it that the oldest male in the competition—Jerry Springer, George Hamilton, Ratzenberger—always looks like he’s having a hoot, while the oldest woman--Giselle Fernandez, Vivica Fox, Gibbons—always looks like she’s constipated?

Which leaves us with two contestants in a class by themselves. First, there’s Heather Mills. Who used to go by Heather Mills McCartney but thinks that by dropping a few syllables we’ll forget she’s the Yoko Ono of the new millennium. Instead she, and the show’s producers, would prefer we focus on her prosthetic leg—that might fly off at any moment! Who wouldn’t want to tune in every week for that. Except the leg didn’t fall off last night and Mills un-McCartney failed to display a personality. She’d probably be the first sent packing if it weren’t for…

…Billy Ray Cyrus. Oh Billy. You can flat-iron you hair in the hopes we’ll mistake you for Keith Urban and have Karina whirl around you in the hopes we’ll mistake you for a dancer. But it won’t work. The performance was cover-your-eyes, is-it-over-yet dreadful. Which means, of course, that I hope he’ll be sticking around for weeks to come.


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