Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Passion Of The Kristina

Christmas Special: 25th December 2010

First of all, a belated merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of you! I realise this recap is a little later than we would normally allow, but I have to plead an excess of other Christmas-related responsibilities (including playing with my inexhaustible six-year-old niece and helping to look after a hyperactive terrier) that made it pretty much impossible to tackle a recap until now.

We begin with the traditional Christmas opening, with the theme tune revised to include jingling bells and a riff on 'Wonderful Christmastime', one of my most-hated of all Christmas-themed songs. We open with fake snow falling in the studio and some kind of vast iron gate-style prop, and as it creaks open, we see the Strictly professionals dressed in pyjama-type outfits (all very family friendly, just in case you were hoping for something saucy) sitting by giant presents. The pros in question are Kristina, Erin, Vincent, Anton and Matthew, which struck me as a really odd selection at first until I realised that these are the pros actually competing in the Christmas special. In my defence, when I first watched this, I was in the process of digesting about 3lbs of turkey, so I was perhaps not at my sharpest. Also, I was watching it with most of my immediate family (mum, brother and sister) and spent most of the time explaining to my non-Strictly-watching brother who these people were and why he was supposed to care about them.

Anyway, the band start playing 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', which is officially the best Christmas song ever, bar none, and is so amazing that even the band's barely-adequate rendition of it can dent its awesomeness. The pros begin jiving around the giant presents (and to continue my general density, I really didn't realise the significance of these props at the time), and it's a little bit cringeworthy, because they are in pyjamas, lest we forget. You can understand why I had trouble convincing my brother that this was normally a serious and dignified dance competition. [To be fair, the show has trouble convincing ME it's supposed to be a serious and dignified dance competition. - Carrie] As the band gets to the chorus, the pros return to their gifts and open them - and out pop the Christmas celebrities. Matthew unwraps Fern Britton, Vincent gets June Brown, Anton opens Ronni Ancona, Kristina gets BARROWMAN (who's so ridiculously excited to be here that he star jumps out of the box before she can even finish opening it) and Erin has Vince Cable, who struggles to get up from the crouching position he's had to hold for the past couple of minutes. I must admit, I did think afterwards how impressive it was for 83-year-old June Brown to be squatting in that box for so long and still be able to stand up on cue. That's professionalism for you. I'm 54 years younger than she is, and I think I'd have trouble with that. The pros pose with their one-off celeb partners as the band finishes, and then trot off. Surprise! There's a standing ovation for them all. The judges are all dressed in white, apart from Alesha, who's in a hot red dress with another ruffle, which I remain convinced is part of her secret alien army that she's planning to sic on Len if he starts yammering on about SPORTSMEN or FOXTROTS or DANCES THAT ARE DIFFICULT FOR MALE CELEBRITIES. Fingers crossed, anyway.

There is a Christmas Bruce, and there is a Christmas Tess. Daly Dresswatch: an asymmetric black silky number that's not actually too shabby, although a question mark hangs over the shoulder strap. She's obviously made a special effort for Christmas. Also, we can see this year's top five contestants sitting in the front row, all dressed up for Christmas. Bruce welcomes us to the Christmas special and wishes us all a merry Christmas. Bruce cracks a crashingly predictable joke which shall remain under my non-recappable policy, but let's just say that it revolves around a Christmas present for Tess, and when La Daly replies, "I don't know what to say", Bruce points at the autocue and says "look down there and read it." And since that one did genuinely make me laugh, it gets recapped. Never let it be said that I am not a man of principle.

Tess tells us that as well as the special five festive couples taking part tonight, they'll also be "reuniting" some couples from the recent series, even though we all know this was filmed ages ago when everyone involved was sick of the sight of each other. Bruce tries to talk, but has come in too early and Tess continues talking over him. And remember folks, this is a pre-record. If they can't even get it right when it's not live, what hope is there for the world? Bruce suggests that Tess has been drinking. I suspect she would have to have been.

Time to meet our Christmas stars: broadcaster Fern Britton and her partner Matt Cutler (ooh, "Matt" Cutler, is it now?) [ooh I wondered that too! The new! improved! Matt Cutler returns to reclaim his rightful place on primetime telly! - Carrie] , the Rt Hon Vince Cable and his partner Erin Boag, comedienne Ronni Ancona and her partner Anton Du Beke (and can I just say now, when they promised us that the Christmas special would feature A-list stars who didn't have time to commit to a full series, Ronni Ancona was emphatically not the sort of person I had in mind), EastEnders legend June Brown and her partner Vincent Simone, and star of stage and screen BARROWMAN and his partner Kristina Rihanoff. Already Kristina looks positively giddy not to have been stuck with a fodder contestant for once in her life. Things are really lining up for ol' Liz Lemon Kristina Rihanoff.

Bruce opines that they must all be mad to come on the show with so little training. The pinched look on Ronni's face suggests she might agree with this statement. Tess explains that there will be no phone vote because it's "the holiday season" (just say "Christmas Day", Tess), so the audience will be voting as our proxy. First up tonight are BARROWMAN and Kristina, and he wastes no time in working my last nerve by beginning his VT yelling "it's Christmas!" and cackling loudly. I like to think I have a reasonably high BARROWMAN tolerance, but I don't think I made it more than about 10 seconds into this VT before wanting to throw my niece's new Disney Princess Magic Rise Oven at the TV. (And speaking of which: like Disney princesses ever do their own baking.) We see some clips of him standing ON A ROOF IN BEAUTIFUL CARDIFF Torchwood, and BARROWMAN shooting sparkles out of his fingertips, which I'm guessing is from Tonight's The Night (either that, or it's just from, like, a Tuesday). BARROWMAN says that the reason he was put on this planet was to entertain. And also to buy lots of stuff from QVC. (What? He does! He told me so when I interviewed him once.) [AND when I interviewed him he showed me his QVC membership card! Does this mean we are Friends Of Barrowman? - Carrie] Clearly about to spontaneously combust from sheer glee, BARROWMAN squawks, "Sequins! Christmas! Santa Claus! Beautiful women! Gorgeous guys! Let's make a TV show!" I suspect several BBC executives were watching the box as they digested their roasted pheasant and thought "oh, so that's how you do it!" He pulls a cracker and Kristina appears, and he squeaks and hugs her. They're dancing a quickstep. "That's quick!" opines BARROWMAN in rehearsals. Kristina is pleased that John has lots of energy, because he's going to need it. She doesn't mention that she's pleased that he knows his craft, but I'm sure that goes without saying. BARROWMAN tries to play down his supreme ringerdom by telling us that he's "moved before in musicals", but this is a different kettle of fish. He screams a lot in rehearsals, and wonders "how Liza Minnelli did it", and then sings Kate Bush's 'Don't Give Up' to himself. He's almost too gay to function right now, for serious. He then announces that people who say they're not in it to win it are full of shit (and we agree on that, at least) and says that they're going to quickstep all over us. Sounds painful.

They're dancing to 'Sleigh Ride', and the routine opens with Kristina tapping her toes while sitting at her vanity, while BARROWMAN bounds in with his arms full of presents. He does a quick solo number that's a bit like tap dancing without the tapping, and then they take hold for the proper quickstep part of this evening's presentation. They're pretty good together - he's got the energy to pull this off, and while the routine's a bit rough around the edges (which is to be expected from all of tonight's couples, really), it's the sort of thing that wouldn't look out of place on the main show, except for the fact that there are fuckloads of lifts in it. Then again, after this year, does anyone even know when you're allowed to lift and when you're not any more? It's a good, peppy, fun routine anyway, and a great start to the show. Also, it's brilliant to finally see what Kristina can pull off when you give her a decent partner. Take note, producers in charge of casting for the 2011 series.

Bruce offers a Christmas welcome to the judges, who will all be "playing pantomime characters that really suit them" - Alesha is Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, Bruno is The Beast, Len is in Snow White and the SEV-UNN Dwarves, and Craig is a wicked queen. Ahh, festive homophobia. [And I'm so sick of Bruce calling Alesha "beautiful" all the time. Sexist pig. - Carrie] No Christmas is complete without it! Len says that BARROWMAN "jingled my bells out there" (knowing BARROWMAN, I wouldn't put it past him, but you'd think he'd at least wait until the after-party) and that it was full-on and a fabulous dance. Alesha thinks BARROWMAN was so springy he almost took off, and loved his solo section at the beginning. Bruno leaps out of his chair and says that dazzlers don't come more dazzling than BARROWMAN. "Is there anything you can't do - or that you haven't done, by the way?" he asks. Hee. Craig finishes by saying that he wishes he could be as enthusiastic as Bruno, but BARROWMAN lost a bit of body contact in hold and there was a little stumble moment, but it was light and bright, and he loved the "homage to Brucie at the beginning". Kristina is all "is this really happening? Fuck me!" and they scoot up to the Tess Circle.

BARROWMAN says that he watches the show all the time, and to perform on the Christmas special is a dream come true. Tess asks him if he's here for the dancing or the sequins, and BARROWMAN says that he's here for the sequins, and his proviso for doing the show was that he wanted to be covered in bling. [I actually love Barrowman. He is lolarious. And sometimes he even means to be. - Carrie] BARROWMAN says that he's so happy and pleased that he was asked to be on the show. Scores: Craig 9, Len 9, Alesha 9 and Bruno 10 for a total of 37. Kristina is all "I am completely unfamiliar with these numbers, someone please explain." BARROWMAN says that Kristina is brilliant and beautiful, and Tess thinks they've set the standard for the evening.

Ronni and Anton are the second couple of the evening. Ronni introduces herself in her VT by saying that she's been a comedy actress for years, but people probably know her best for her impressions. We see a clip of her Nigella impression, which is actually pretty good, but Ronni thinks she's best known for her Posh Spice impression - even though it sounds about as much like Posh Spice as I do Angela Merkel. Seriously, every time I see that impression I wonder if Ronni Ancona has actually ever heard Victoria Beckham talking. I have my doubts. Ronni says that she's worried about being herself on the dance floor, as well she might be. She feeds Anton a mince pie, and reveals that she's dancing a "Viennese whirl". There are some "jokes" about Ronni teaching Anton everything she knows about dancing, and I'm guessing this is why her material is usually written by other people. Ronni hopes she can retain "one small modicum of dignity", and Anton thinks it'd be good if they got marks for excitement.

They're dancing to 'It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year', and it opens with a big lift, which looks nice, but things fall apart somewhat when Ronni is required to actually dance. She seems to have balance issues and stumbles around the floor like Bambi on the ice. In hold, she's not too bad, but anything that requires her not to be guided by Anton is a bit of a mess. Even the in-hold sections aren't entirely free from errors - there's a near-toppling at one point when they change direction at the top of the stage, and you can see the tension on her face whenever the camera's up close. It's a bit uncomfortable to watch, to be honest. I think she might have been better off taking part in the full series (and I suspect she probably does have the time) where she'd have had more thorough training, because the basics are there, she just needs a lot more work.

She stumbles with exaggerated dizziness over to Bruce, and claims that she bribed everyone in the audience to give her a standing O. It probably only took about 20p per person, you know what this lot are like. Bruce thanks DaveArch, who is wearing a festive hat. Alesha tells Ronni that she had nothing to worry about - it was shaky and skippy at times, but there were nice moments when she got into hold, especially the lifts. Ronni interjects and says that she was actually doing "the Vauxhall waltz", which is supposed to be skippy and jerky. I don't know whether she means the car manufacturer or the area in south London, but I don't suppose it really matters either way. Bruno thinks she's overdone it with the eggnog, and was unsteady out of hold, but when she was back in hold, it was nice. Craig tells her she had major balance issues throughout, and the spins were a bit of a disaster. "I thought they were quite good," whimpers Ronni, going on to point out that "we did have to follow a West End star", and she laughs nervously. I'm sure she meant that to be a good-humoured joke, but I did think it came across a little bit overly-defensive. It's Christmas, Ronni! Just relax and have another After Eight - none of this shit matters to anyone except BARROWMAN anyway. [And she may have been a bit rubbish, but she [was light years better than Anton's partner on the last series. - Carrie] Len says that in hold Ronni was a Christmas cracker, and the lifts were good, but out of hold she was unsure of herself and looked like a duck on ice. "That's the Vauxhall waltz, it's very important to be a duck on ice," Ronni clarifies. I'd say she needs to quit while she's ahead, but that would've probably necessitated her quitting about three weeks ago.

Bruce ushers then up to the Tess Circle, and they take about 20 years to get there, and Tess asks Ronni if this has fulfilled all of her dreams as a Strictly fan. Ronni says this is the most stressful way to get a free hairdo she's ever encountered. Tess asks her if it was worth it, and Ronni says she thinks so, at least until she got to the judges. Anton is asked for his feedback, and Anton blahs that she was fantastic, and the judges just don't understand. He's so on autopilot right now. Scores: Craig 6, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 28. Ronni purses her lips very tightly indeed.

Next up are Vince and Erin. Bruce cracks a joke about Peter Mandelson wanting to come on the show and do the Viennese waltz, but they didn't know how to stop him spinning. LULZ. Vince talks about how hard it is to be a cabinet minister, especially when you hate the Tories, and he's a bit serious because it's a very serious job. But not so serious that he couldn't take a bit of time off to trot around the dance floor, evidently. He's dancing with Erin, which he declares "a perfect coalition". Erin adds that she thinks they should "run the country". HELL YES. Erin And The Telestrator For Prime Minister - the campaign starts here. Vince says that he's somewhat reluctant to suggest that to "Mr Cameron". Call him Dave, Vince! He's a man of the people, remember! They will be doing a foxtrot, and Erin points out that Vince is not an actor, a singer or a performer, so she has to teach him to act as well as dance. [Haha, Erin, are you seriously saying that a career politician has no idea how to maintain a facade? - Carrie] Vince says that smiling will be the difficult thing. Vince hopes that he can win, and lighten the mood of the country. Oh, Vince. You're a Liberal Democrat. The best you can hope for is that BARROWMAN won't have enough votes for a clear majority and will need you to be his kingmaker. (BITING POLITICAL SATIRE!) (Also, this is one hell of a disturbing metaphor when BARROWMAN represents David Cameron and/or the Conservative Party.)

They're dancing to 'Winter Wonderland', and I'm not crazy about Vince's posture, but the dance itself is rather nice - he's not doing too bad a job of performing it, though you can spot that he's the only person tonight who's not an entertainer by trade. He and Erin even do a little "waving on the doorstep of Number Ten" moment at the end of it.

Bruce asks Vince if he would like to do that with Theresa May. Erin looks at him all, "say yes and I will kill you, cameras or no cameras." Bruno thinks it was "as elegant, charming and smooth as our esteemed judge Len Goodman" - so, not very, then? Craig thinks he was really leading the dance, that there was beautiful rise and fall, but "you do have a tendency to lean slightly to the right." HA! What's brilliant is that no one in the studio gets this for a good five seconds or so, apart from BARROWMAN, who's guffawing up in the Tess Circle, and Fern, who's making an "ooh, risqué!" face just across from him. Len tells Vince that he was great, and technically sound, and he's just going to ignore that his posture needed work. Alesha admits that she's danced with Vince before, so she expected him to be good, and he didn't let her down. He was a bit unsteady very occasionally, but his footwork was great and he led Erin around the floor very well.

Up in the Tess Circle, Vince admits to being pleasantly surprised by the judges' feedback, and credits Erin for bringing that performance out of him. Erin tells him that he was lovely to dance with. Tess asks if Widdy gave him any tips, and Vince says that she really enjoyed taking part, and that encouraged him to do it. "Did she really?" asks Tess, who clearly was not paying attention at all. Tess asks him what's more scary: the opposition, or Craig, and Vince thinks that Gordon Brown's a pussycat compared to Craig. Tess asks if the PM's watching this tonight (undoubtedly, since the Conservative Party is unreservedly supportive of the BBC and in no way in hock to Rupert Murdoch or anything), and Vince says that the show is "coalition politics at its best". Helpful, since we know all know what he thinks of coalition politics. Scores: Craig 9, Len 10, Alesha 8, Bruno 9 for a total of 36.

Our penultimate couple are Fern and Matt, who will be dancing the jive. Bloody hell - that's not something I'd want to attempt with the reduced training time they have on this show. Considering everyone else has been given a ballroom routine so far, I'd say the odds are not in Fern's favour here. Fern says in her VT that she's best known for presenting This Morning, and in the last 18 months she's written a book and done an interview with some bloke who done a war. She says that she doesn't mind making a fool of herself, which is rather helpful. She's very excited to have Matt as her partner, and thinks you couldn't ask for a better present - although Matt begs to differ, because he would like a yacht. Fern confesses in rehearsals that she doesn't like the jive, and is fearful for her bosom. They fall and laugh a lot in rehearsals, and it looks like they had a lot of fun, so that's nice. Fern says that she's always best in soft focus, and advises anyone watching who isn't drunk already to go and get another drink now. Works for me!

Their routine is to 'Step Into Christmas', and it starts out reasonably well, as Fern does some good twirls, and there's a good lift at the start. She's got a good sense of rhythm and some of the early kicks are pretty good, but when they get to the chorus and there's a whole protracted kicks and flicks section, she comes apart a bit, because her movements are a bit laboured. I don't think it's a particularly poor performance under the circumstances, but it's not objectively a great jive. Her free arm is terrible, though, and just dangles limply most of the way through the routine, even when it's clearly supposed to be pointing somewhere. However, credit to them both for incorporating a bit where Fern does a backflip, resting on Matt's arm - that's quite brave. [I just watched Matt. I love to watch the Cutler. Not in a stalkery or peeping Tom way. - Carrie]

Craig says that the kicks and flicks were a little lame, but that's his only gripe - he thought she coped very well with all the changes of rhythm and her timing was excellent. Fern blows him a kiss. Len compares it to a trifle - fruity up the top, but a bit spongey down below. Which part's the custard, though? Alesha says it was sexy and flirty and a bit cheeky, and says that Fern's in good hands with Matt. She thinks it could've been sharper, but it was full of personality and Fern was wonderful to watch. Bruno thought it was lively and vivacious with plenty of Christmas spice, and he thinks she's got great musicality and lovely legs.

Up in the Tess Circle, Fern makes it her top priority to give Matt a hug and a kiss, as any sane woman would, and says she's very happy with having been on the show. Tess asks Fern if her husband BILLY CONNOL--oops, sorry, force of habit. If her husband, Phil Vickery, would be happy with that, and Phil gives her a thumbs-up from the audience. Scores: Craig 7, Len 8, Alesha 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 30. Fern's happy with that score, and is happy to be here on Christmas Day. "On Christmas Day." Then Fern's segment is over, and everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief, Fawlty Towers-style, that they got through it without mentioning the gastric band.

Finally, we have June and Vincent. Bruce reminds us that June is 83, and cracks the obligatory gag about her being older than he is. By one whole year. Whoop-de-doo. June says that she's best known as Dot Cotton, but she'd rather be known as a wonderful classical actress - though she admits, giggling, that this is not the case. She thinks she's the oldest person who's ever been asked to do Strictly, but she doesn't feel or act 83. "I'm just frightened I might fall over," she chuckles. They're dancing a tango, and June's disappointed that Vincent doesn't want her to do anything exciting. "I think he thinks I move like an old person," she complains. They also appear to be having fun in rehearsals, as June giggles that she "almost got [her] bum out" at one point. If I can be half as awesome as June is when I'm 83 - assuming I make it that far - then I shall be a very happy man. June jokes that she might be able to incorporate the clicking of her arms as castanets. She says that she's hopeless at all of this, and it's just like how she was never good at being able to pat her head and rub her stomach at the same time. "I shall never be a Flavia," she tells Vincent.

Their tango is to Alma Cogan's 'Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo', a song which is played repeatedly in my office in the run-up to Christmas, so the merest snippet of it is usually enough to send me on some sort of killing spree. I shall do my best to restrain myself, however. Their routine involves Vincent as a greasy Italian waiter (showing his full range as an actor here) who's attempting to seduce a haughty June. The expression of horror on her face throughout is priceless, and Vincent has choreographed a lot of eskimo kisses into the routine, having recently graduated from the Brian Friedman School Of Unnecessarily Literal Choreography. It's all a bit slow and delicate, but June has some nice footwork and they pull off some good lifts, and the whole thing is pleasingly theatrical.

Len says that he liked the story of the Italian waiter trying to get her to sample his bolognese. Alesha loved the drama and the storytelling, and then goes to the Obligatory Alesha Judging An Older Lady Place by telling June that she is a legend and an inspiration. June swats at Bruce for telling people she's 83 and protests that she's only 70. Heh. Bruno spouts a lot of nonsense about playing hard to get, but does not comment on the dancing. Craig says that there wasn't a lot of dance to judge, but what there was, June did with passion and commitment. June interjects that Barbara Windsor had said to her that Craig had said she would bring some class to the show, and she was terribly frightened about disappointing him, so she offers to do a waltz for him instead. Hee.

June thanks all the judges politely as she heads up to the Tess Circle, and then tells Tess to cram it with the constant references to her age. June likes what the make-up people did to her eyes, anyway. Tess asks June if Dot might want to come on the show, and June says that Dot loves dancing, but she wouldn't go for Vincent because she doesn't like younger men. Scores: Craig 6, Len 7, Alesha 8 and Bruno 7 for a total of 28. June thinks she should've got more than that just for her style. Hee.

Leaderboard: BARROWMAN and Kristina are top, Vince and Erin are second, Fern and Matt are third, and Ronni and Anton and June and Vincent are tying for last place. Ronni has the misfortune to be sat right behind Tess throughout all of this, looking miserable in front of nine million viewers.

Video recap, for those of us who may have had a turkey and/or alcohol related blackout during the course of the show. I'm not recapping it - everything you need to know is up there, look.

After that, the votes are being counted, so Bruce welcomes the winners of Last Choir Standing (remember that?), Only Men Aloud, with a festive melody. I suspect he means "medley", since they're blending 'Silent Night' and 'I'll Be Home For Christmas'. Kristina and Robin come on to dance in front of them and do a rather enjoyable little showcase. That's really all there is to say about it.

Once that's over, Bruce reminds us that we'll have a special performance from the "stars of 2010" soon, but first, it's time for the important business - finding out who won the Christmas special. Each couple gets a quick recap of their judges' comments - Tess repeats Craig's joke about Vince leaning to the right, and everyone makes a point of laughing at it quickly this time to show that they're politically aware. And the Christmas champions are...BARROWMAN and Kristina! They do a "you're the best" "no, you are" "no, you" sort of thing between them, and make their way over to the Christmas trophy, which they lift up - much to Bruce's annoyance, as he runs over and tells them to put it back. Heh. Tess congratulates the also-rans, who are already leaving by this point, and BARROWMAN says that it's about time that Kristina won. That's sweet, I guess. He says that he'd love to do the entire series if he had the time, and he's had a ball taking part in the special. Bruce finally allows them to take the Christmas trophy, but looks into the wrong camera as he makes the announcement. Professional!

To round the show off, we have the stars of 2010 dancing to 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day', which is opened by Bruno yelling "IT'S STRIIIIIIIIIICTLY!" Oh dear. Alesha kisses him under the mistletoe, though I would've thought she's had quite enough of his affections over the past few months. The top five do a Christmas-themed dance, which is kind of a really slow jive, while the band murder the song. All the girls (pros and contestants) go up to kiss the judges, although poor Alesha has to make do with being patted on the cheek by Natalie. lThe music segues into 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' and becomes more of a foxtrot, although I guess it's a freestyle as much as it is anything at this point, and everyone's taking it very gently because they were all knackered by this point. The music then changes again into 'Merry Christmas Everyone' and includes some gender-bending hilarity when James "accidentally" tries to kiss Scott under the mistletoe, and then it becomes a free-for-all as the Christmas contestants and the judges all take to the floor. Craig's dancing at this point is terrifying. Alesha and Bruno do a little charleston. And there we have it! Hope you enjoyed the festive special, and we'll see you in the autumn for Strictly 2011!

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