The Theory of Chaos

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The first step is admitting you have a problem

It is obscene, Jimmy, it is absolutely against nature how happy it makes me that Dancing With the Stars is back on the air. You might remember how earlier this year I prostrated myself on the altar of low taste for you in honor of this cheesiest of all cheese-mongering celebrealityvarietygameshowtextvotingbadhairapalooza extravaganzas. And the truth is that my wait for the new season was painful, though not nearly as painful as my wait for the NFL season, which I’ll be blogging about in due time.

But the ballroom is once again open for C-List celebrities and the preening dance-ponies who must put some dip in their hip. The house band is warming up their bloated covers of indelicately-chosen pop standards. The producers are figuring out how to pad the damned results show into an hour.

Already I’m noticing changes, and I think it’s that the show has now figured out its basic shape. The tangents and time-killing montage vamps are more honed, the song selection less wacky – even the guest stars look like they were pre-screened. Last season we had the wheezy, plasticized remains of Barry Manilow and ex-Righteous Brother Bill Medley, who sounded like he’d had a stroke. Compare that to this year, where our first guest singer was the Sex Bomb himself, Sir Tom Jones. He seems to have lost a little of his wind since I saw him in Vegas a couple of years ago, but he’s still got gusto in his voice, plus he can still pretend to be excited about
It’s Not Unusual after singing it for four decades, and that’s no small skill.

But it was those accidental collisions of bad taste and celebrities not knowing how to react to it that made the show such a kick to me, and in that vein the “stars” are more disappointing this year. Gig-hunting celebrities are like The Borg – they absorb opportunities for attention with soulless efficiency and adapt with frightening speed to any potential avenues for embarrassment. They have learned the lessons of seasons past, and now know exactly the clichés to provide on command, and which previous celebrities to adopt as behavioral paradigms for maximum home-viewer love.

Joey Lawrence, who with his new bald head and bulging arms looks like someone got Howie Mandel angry until he Hulked out, is shamelessly striving to follow the path of last year’s winner Drew Lachey. The formula – let your cute little face be all intensely competitive, and keep showing the ladies the guns. When he stepped into the spotlight I could swear he’d slathered his biceps with Crisco. His head had veins throbbing in places I’d never imagined before.

But just like you should never fight the last war, you should never just ape the last winner. Mario Lopez, the mighty A.C. Slater himself, upped the ante and I like his chances to take the whole thing. See, not only did he do the “Wants Badly to Win, Wears Spandex” thing with effortless flair, he added, well, more than a soupçon of irrepressible ADHD kid. I think just enough people won’t find that irritating. Plus, the boy can move. Bruno Tonioli, the judge who’s always got that this-tuna-is-sour look on his face, has a gift for unfurling queeny non sequiters that might offend the values of Middle America if they could actually understand what he was talking about; he summed up Mario’s appeal with a very in-character “
Do you have extra batteries in your pants?

They also allow more time before the first show for training. This means that on the whole the Week One dancing is better, but the other edge of that sword is that there’s
less looking like a fool, which is what we tuned in for, precious.

Jerry Springer tried, but he actually projected a debonair sort of gawkiness, like your hip-nerd uncle. He should be entertaining as long as he doesn’t improve too much, and the zombie hordes that still chant his name know how to use e-mail. Harry Hamlin gave us a double shot of embarrassment. First because of his stiff and graceless flailing, he approaches dancing like a kid trying to master fractals. And second, because his wife Lisa Rinna, who admirably evolved further than any of the other contestants last season but punished us with her desperate camera-neediness, now gets to thrust her collagen pouches at every available lens from the crowd under the guise of rooting her man along. The twitchy, jonesing side of TV-induced narcissism makes for the best primetime, if you ask me.

No one represents this better than Shanna Moakler. I’d never heard of her before, but she was introduced as a former
professional rollerskater who became Miss America and then broadcast her marriage to current Paris Hilton chew-toy Travis Barker in a reality show. Because marriages that appear on basic cable have an amazing track record. In her very first interview on Dancing she shared with no prompting that she’s now going through a divorce, so in addition to scoring her foxtrot we get to Share In Her Recovery. She understands that this is how it’s done in Hollywood – the emotional transitions in life stages are worth bull plop without Our Viewers At Home to validate them. If her soon-to-be-ex shows up drunk in the ballroom and accuses her of whooring around with her dance partner, I will die with an erection.

But none of these candidates were willing to go for the GUSTO, to boldly provide us some
unforgettably awful dancing. My prayers were finally answered by “political journalist” Tucker Carlson. In a world where the line between newsman, pundit and celebrity/personality gets blurrier, when news is replaced by gossip, truth is replaced by truthiness and the press seems entirely too chummy with the power brokers they are supposed to question, this is exactly sort of the bold two-step that, say, Edward R. Murrow might have taken. Then again, since Tucker’s idea of being incisive about the issues is to accuse Jon Stewart of being John Kerry’s “butt boy”, he may have already taken his screaming leap off the dignity wagon.

This was everything you could ask for in a Week One flameout. This was the Doughy White Guy Sweat-Shimmy in all its glory, where communication between limbs has clearly short-circuited. He even made the honky “
Ooh, what a good time I’m having!” mouth “O”, and it looked like some of the bones in his legs and pelvis had fused together, causing him to sort of awkwardly shove his crotch all over the place. It reminded me of every time I’ve ever gotten drunk at a wedding reception, and I know there’s video evidence of this somewhere. He got voted off, and he earned it. Kudos, Tuck, what a fine use for any shred of credibility you had left!

Best Bizarre Song Choice
: Doing the cha-cha-cha to Smash Mouth’s pop grinder Walkin’ on the Sun

Best Expression of Rampaging Dancer Ego
: “I’m known as being the James Bond of the ballroom dancing world” – Nick Kosovich, who comes off more like Kevin Kline in a Vicodin fog.

Best Catty Judge Put-Down
: “It looked like you were sitting on a toilet!” – Bruno, not satisfied with merely dumping on Tucker Carlson’s dancing, goes after the way the man occupies a chair. That’s putting in overtime, people.


Post a Comment

<< Home