Dancing With the Stars Finale!

November 30, 2009 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

I sometimes believe I am the only person in Hollywood who actually watches Dancing With the Stars. Although it’s been a Nielsen monster for years now, I’ve had conversations about it with friends, fellow writers, film producers, and few of them have ever had more than a glance at the show. As I explain to them why I enjoy it, they all get this curious but vaguely-concerned look on their face, like I’m describing a drug trip and they’re checking ahead in their calendars for available intervention dates. The disconnect reminds me of the way that JAG ran for something like 500+ episodes while not a single “cool” person in LA ever said one word about it, even in snark.

I am sure, if I attempted to list every quality I appreciate in it, someone could point me towards a show that did such-and-such in a much hipper way. Attractive and popular people are not at all shy about crushing on So You Think You Can Dance. But considering the number of veterans of that show appearing in the ABC ballroom, it’s practically DWTS’s farm league. Anyway, if you’re an Idol fan or can’t get enough of America’s Got Talent, I can’t argue you off of that. You’re probably hooked for many of the same reasons I am. Mine’s just less cool; and I can live with that.

And I will continue to be hooked even as I, regretfully, stop reviewing episodes for I’m Not Here to Make Friends. Allison and Bryan have been phenomenal hosts, and ever-so indulgent for these treatise-length write-ups I whang together. But when the new season starts next year I am going to be hip-deep in other writing work. If my pals will allow me one final plug, you can check my website ( http://www.nicholasthurkettle.com/ ) for any news that may arise on that front.

So, with thanks, let’s get down to business:

The opening parade of this season’s stars sure does jog the memory. Ex-contenders like Natalie Coughlin and Macy Gray no longer seem like they could have actually been part of this season. But I enjoy the party-style kick-off – it’s a celebration, not a bloodsport.

And then we have a montage fail! LIIIIVE! Tom really does have to be ready for anything, even when he’s off-camera and thinks he has a minute of interview time to sit down. By the time they get back from an unplanned commercial break, they have the montage cued up properly, and he’s had time to craft a joke about it.

The montage provides one particular treat: in Donny’s post-freestyle interview, he’s still absorbing the shock of that perfect 30; and crying real tears. It is astonishing to see that a man who has had apparently everything out of life he could want might still aspire in this chintzy place.

The night’s musical guest – restricted to one to convey extra honor, like a modern Super Bowl halftime – is Whitney Houston. Or, maybe it’s a Whitney Houston impersonator behind that eye-hiding hair. Is it a wig? Then again, an impersonator would not have been so subdued, so short of breath and vocally-contained. Where is that explosive emotion we remember? Those soaringly clear tones? Don’t get me wrong, it is vastly preferable to have her out there singing rather than some of the other things she’s gotten up to in the last ten years. But this new single “Million Dollar Bill” is one of those modern producer-driven well-made tracks where the person singing it is almost incidental. Later she returns for her old hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. She can barely get through individual phrases in a verse, and lets the backup singers handle most of the chorus. It is something worse than bittersweet to watch.

Jeffrey Ross is on-hand, but they aren’t going to let him roast again. Pity, the contenders always looked cuter with his daggers sticking out of them, but even his B-material had a way of putting the audience in a hanging mood. Instead he is here to welcome the newest member of the “Loser’s Club” made up of first-week Eliminatees like himself. It was Ashley Hamilton this season, and he didn’t flame-out gloriously, he was just awkward and forgettable. Once he is presented his tacky glittering blazer, he dances with Edyta, only to dump her on the floor in favor of a quickstep with Jeffrey. Then the two of them rip their shirts open, unveiling Jeffrey’s pale-whale belly. America™ is unsure if they just saw that, but quite sure they never asked to see that.

Then begins the long strange trip through the season. Montages of the competition in 2-3 week chunks alternate with the return of the contestants eliminated in those weeks. We remember the early days, when Aaron was weeping, Macy was weird, and Hammer Tom was surprising everyone with his hard work and shameless enthusiasm. We remember the flu infestation, the injuries, the breakthroughs, the early cast-offs.

We get a few bars of newly-created tango from Kathy/Tony, Macy/Jonathan, and Debi/Maksim. The first two couples have the problems we remember (Macy does not glide, she lumbers); but Debi and Maksim don’t phone this one in – their performance is interestingly-designed and sharply-executed.

Hammer Tom does the Texas Two-Step he missed out on because of his maimed feet. Chuck/Anna and Mark/Lacey do a tag-team paso that includes some really half-assed fake fighting between the men. Natalie and Alec simply reprise a segment of one of their better routines, while Mark/Melissa opt for their never-performed Knockout Dance, a marvelously entertaining and agile Salsa. She didn’t let herself slack since elimination.

Some Muppets are roaming around again, in part to be ready for Aaron/Karina’s Muppet Show quickstep. We see Miss Piggy backstage, being massaged by a shirtless Maksim, and I want to see more of this. The old Muppet Show could have spun a whole skit out of it (and they did! Scroll ahead to 1:40).

We get a mostly-useless comedy segment with “Coach” Adam Carolla trying to peptalk Donny. He gets in one good deadpan line in about Donny’s “hard-drinkin’, hard-lovin’, hard-rockin’” Mormon lifestyle. Showing they can take a joke is part of why the Mormons will likely outlast the Scientologists.

Then we get a segment that is both genuinely useful, and a reminder that there is a competition happening. The judges break down the finalists by strength, style, and weakness. The finalists have all been typecast, but it feels organically earned – we watched them develop their dance persona.

Then, for one final set of judges’ points, they get to revive a dance from earlier in the season.

KELLY OSBOURNE/LOUIS VAN AMSTEL – Viennese Waltz

We get a glimpse of Kelly’s Week One Waltz in their final montage, which is useful in comparing it to her reprise. She has gained so much confidence and form, and she has lost SO much weight. She is elegant and wonderful – the steps don’t have to get any more difficult, she just knows how to make something out of them now. Wherever she ends up on the ranking board, she knows she finished at her best. When the crowd starts chanting her name, we get the rare pleasure of actually watching someone realize that this is one of the greatest moments in their life.

MÝA/DMITRY CHAPLIN – Jive

Mýa’s Jive in Week Two is what first made me believe she was not just a contender, but a lap ahead of everyone else. It was so good because it was so tight and precise. What I was not expecting was that her revival of it would be so much looser, and that this would make it better. Instead of a mod dancing doll, she comes across as present, commanding, and sly – the technique was always in her, now her ability to use that technique to project warmth and sex appeal has grown.

DONNY OSMOND/KYM JOHNSON – Argentine Tango

This Tango was a break-through for Donny, both in terms of his odds on the show and, I think, personally. Maybe I read too much into it, but I think he touched the current of feeling channeling through the dance, and was actually awed by it. It doesn’t show off his spotlight charms, but you can forgive him the desire to do it just once more. There is a difference between stiff and strong, and he gets the better of it; it’s not a dramatic improvement on his first version of it, just a hair tighter in all the ways that count for the judges. He looks reluctant to even finish the routine, the final snap-pose is an uncertain ellipse rather than a decisive period, and his face shows him feeling too much to describe.

3rd Place, 26 points: Kelly/Louis (total 102/120)
2nd Place, 28 points: Mýa/Dmitry (total 115/120)
1st Place, 30 points: Donny/Kym (total 115/120)

I don’t agree with the judges’ standings on this round, but have a look at that math – Donny just made this a voters-only contest.

Hobbit and Chelsie return, Donny actually catches his breath long enough to sing a fragment of “Puppy Love” live for them; it evolves from Waltz to Jive, the better to show off some Hobbit gymnastics. Samantha, who had managed to keep her foot so far away from her mouth, starts desperately trying to play showmance matchmaker between the kids.

Michael Irvin gets to have a Hall-of-Famer’s Dance-Off with Season Two Runner-up Jerry Rice. He calls Rice “Jesus in cleats”, then says he wants to “Beat Jesus in cleats”. I’d say there’s no way someone could misunderstand that and start up a torch mob; but I know better than to bet against zealotry. The prize in this rivalry, naturally, is a Mirror Ball ring.

MICHAEL IRVIN/ANNA DEMIDOVA vs. JERRY RICE/ANNA TREBUNSKAYA

So the dance sure doesn’t last long. Jerry has let his form slip, but he still gets the edge in that category. Michael is the obvious winner in aggression, so I’d call this one a draw. Still, the judges put a greater premium on the aggression, and Michael gets the ring. At last, he can say he was better than Jerry Rice at something. But the judges have a backup ring, which they award to Jerry for “best body”. Really, these are grown men who have lost in their lives; they didn’t need the “Everyone’s a Winner” safety net.

Aaron/Karina indeed reprise their quickstep, with some bonus Statler and Waldorf commentary from the balcony. I would be fine if they were around more often – they’d be better guest judges than Baz Luhrmann. Tom interviews Aaron, who says he has learned many lessons from his experience, and pledges to “do what’s right from now on”. I think Aaron Carter just vowed to fight crime.

Past comic relievers Cloris Leachman, Jerry Springer, Steve Wozniak are brought back for a fake Competition Mambo with Joanna and Derek. Woz sneaks in a few seconds of the infamous Woz Worm, but Joanna and Derek are the inevitable winners. They treat us to a gender-reversed version of their famous mambo move; the one that cleverly manages to combine copping a feel with groin thrusting.

And after that gluttonous entertainment experience, we come at last to the purpose of the show. Third place goes to Kelly and Louis, and they look neither surprised nor disappointed. Kelly is so grateful to have had the chance to come this far; and this is Louis’s best finish ever (he gonged out twice in fourth place, with Lisa Rinna and Monique Coleman).

So the choice is between Mýa and Donny. But for the peculiar confluence of her hobbled freestyle and Donny’s near-perfect closing week, this would not even be close. But he surged himself into a judges’ tie, and she was just vulnerable enough, because nothing prior to this week can be factored in…

And Donny and Kym get the trophy. It’s an upset – the voters chose the beloved underdog who tried so hard. He is in ecstasy, and Mýa is a gracious second-place. And Dmitry had better expect a few nasty letters over his choice of freestyle.

Considering what Dancing With the Stars had to choose from in this season’s contestant line-up; the drama of the final weeks could not have broken better their way. Mýa’s dominating talent could have turned this into a rerun of Season Six’s barely-blemished march to victory by Derek and Brooke. Instead we had the come-from-behind victory by the man old enough to be his rival’s father.

A hell of a finish, ladies and gentleman – but less contenders next time? PLEASE?

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