Sunday, 29 September 2013

The whole nine stars

Performance Show Week 1 Part 2: 28 September 2013

Last night: six couples performed the very first competitive routines of the series, and many viewers needed to take a sedative after realising they weren't all going to be cha chas and waltzes. Queen of BBC Breakfast Susanna Reid got off to a good start with a jive that was a little bit unrefined but somehow all the more endearing for it (and also because a considerable percentage of us fell in love with Kevin and his glasses), while Tony Jacklin's lumpy waltz delivered with predictable will-this-do enthusiasm by Aliona was every bit as terrible as we all assumed it would be. (And if you wish to engage in conspiracy theories about the show trying to downplay Natalie Gumede being the ringiest ringer who ever rang based on the in-show recap singling out Susanna as the highlight of the night, despite Natalie being arguably more technically precise and scoring three points higher, then it's not like I can stop you, is it?) Tonight, the remaining nine present their opening gambits, and spoiler: it's going to be a long night for many reasons. This! Is Strictly Come Dancing 2013!

Titles. My concerns for my pre-show favourite Rachel Riley's rumoured total lack of co-ordination are heightened considering that all she has to do in her bit is move from one side of Pasha to the other and she seems to have a bit of trouble just doing that.

We open with a pro routine to Rihanna's 'Don't Stop The Music'. The men are all in white and sparkly black, while the women are in white and gold lamé. There's a strange countdown at the beginning where each number is accompanied by dancers striking a pose, first in pairs and then individually. Then the music takes on a slower, more mournful tempo as Janette is lowered from the ceiling in a giant floaty harness, while most of the rest of the women faff around with feathered fans, apart from poor Iveta who's stuck partnering Anton in Erin's absence. Then half of the men arrive, banging drums (and Artem's drum-banging face defies description, but it did make me think "poor Kara", so I will leave it at that) [He also had bugger all rhythm - Rad], after which the music briefly segues into the Strictly theme tune, then back into Rihanna again as the others bear Karen aloft, stretching out her dress into a giant hanky which we then view from above. The pros head over to the judges desk and lift Darcey into the air as she fans herself with more giant feathers, and then Bruno leaps onto the desk and starts shaking it every which way. Craig and Len remain in their seats, which is probably the safest outcome for all concerned. There's another drumming breakdown and a bit of samba action, and it's all very elaborate but also kind of strange. I can't explain why, but I'm sort of glad when it's over because as technically impressive as it all was, it was also making me very uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable, enter Bruce and Tess. I don't even know what Bruce is doing, but for some reason he decides not to walk all the way over to centre stage, which means that she's standing far too far away from him when the musical sting requires her to do the leg kick and she barely manages not to fall over. Daly Dresswatch: after the comparatively good sartorial start last night, we're back to standard "oh dear" territory. I can only assume that wardrobe didn't manage to finish her actual dress in time, and instead Tess had to fashion an emergency substitute out of the purple crepe paper that her new favourite fragrance, Topline by Darcey Bussell, comes wrapped in. Tess and Bruce discuss what a great night last night was (and on reflection, it was indeed an encouraging start), and then there's a joke about Bruce losing his mental faculties. The fact that Bruce feels the need to clarify at the end that he was only joking about not being to remember where he was or what he was doing here speaks volumes. Bruce then genuinely forgets the phrase "strut their stuff". I hope this is just because he's a little out of practice, and he'll warm up a bit once we're a few weeks in, but experience tells me I'm probably on a hiding to nothing with that one.

It's time to meet the stars of our show (but not before we see Tess hastily removing Bruce's hand from her waist the second she thinks they're off camera - oh, how I've missed that): Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan Cole, Mark Benton and Iveta Lukosiute, Susanna Reid and Everyone's New Favourite Pro Kevin Clifton, Ben Cohen and Kristina Rihanoff, Natalie Gumede and Artem Chigvintsev, Julien Macdonald and Janette Manrara, Vanessa Feltz and James Jordan, Tony Jacklin and Aliona Vilani, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž Skorjanec, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola Jordan, Deborah Meaden and Robin Windsor, Patrick Robinson and Anya Garnis, Rachel Riley and Pasha Kovalev, Dave Myers (in a shirt unbuttoned to the navel, dear god MY EYES) and Karen Hauer, and Fiona Fullerton and Anton Du Beke. There's a slightly better turn-out in terms of stars shimmying along to the music tonight: this time Susanna, Sophie, Julien and Dave are all giving it a go. With any luck we'll be up to the entire cast by about week six.

Bruce turns his attention to Ben Cohen, and Ben Cohen's Arms, and Ben Cohen's Luxurious Chest Hair and...sorry, where was I again? Oh yes, and he tells him that they've had rugby players on the show before, like Matt Dawson and Kenny Logan, so he's got something to live up to. Just so we're clear, that's Matt "Couldn't Lead" Dawson and Kenny "Couldn't Dance" Logan. And I can't believe that we've now reached a point where Austin Healey has not only been robbed of his rightful series six victory, but also of being mentioned in terms of rugby-playing former contestants to aspire to. Bloody hell. Natalie also has a lot to live up to, because of former soap stars like Letitia Dean and Kara Tointon. Again, the devil's in the detail: they were both from EastEnders, and Bruce neglects to mention that former Corrie stars like Brian Capron and Craig Kelly didn't fare quite so well. And for the punchline, he turns to Susanna and says that they've had breakfast presenters before like Fiona Phillips and Kate Garraway, so she's got nothing to worry about. So apparently the "GMTV presenters can't dance" meme has now extended to "all breakfast presenters are terrible" and we're just going to gloss over the wins of Natasha Kaplinsky and Chris Hollins entirely. (I mean, I'm sure nobody is going to argue that either of them was the finest dancer this show has ever produced, but the fact remains that two former breakfast presenters have won this show, and no former Coronation Street stars or rugby players have won it. And now I'm the asshole who sits here going "but the joke isn't funny because it isn't true!", so let's just move along before I embarrass myself any further.)

Tess reminds us that nobody is going home this week, but the judges are still voting, and then it's time for our first dance of the evening from Ben and Kristina. Bruce reveals that Ben has never seen the show before and doesn't know anything about it. Bless the show's determination to have a female winner this year by hobbling the most attractive male contestant from the outset with the tag of "doesn't like or care about this show and hates you all for watching it". Although given that Ben's already got his chest and his arms out, I'm not sure if anyone was even listening.

Ben's VT informs us that he's a family man, and his wife and children are very important to him. Meanwhile, The Gays are all "STOP REMINDING US THAT YOU'RE MARRIED TO A WOMAN", apart from those for whom that's all part of the attraction. I think Ben talks about his children loving to dance and how he wants to be able to join in with them, but to be honest I can't really focus on anything because GOOD LORD THOSE CHEEKBONES. He is a very handsome man indeed. Kristina declares that she's very happy to have Ben, but then we see him in training and those hips don't appear to be moving at all, so I wonder if her excitement is a tad premature. Ben says that he's determined to get his hips loosened, and in typical comedy VT fashion, we see him attempting to sway as he does the weekly shop. I don't know about the rest of you, but "Ben Cohen in a sleeveless top in Waitrose" is pretty much my ideal fantasy, so I may need to go and have a little lie down before I can continue. However, it's not just his hips that are the problem, as Kristina explains to Ben that her primary concern is his hearing, which Ben responds to with the obligatory "pardon?" joke. Ben explains to those who are not in the know that he only has 50 per cent hearing, and Kristina says that she has to be extra loud in rehearsals, which makes her feel bad because it's like she's yelling. Ben just hopes he can hear the beat on the night.

They're dancing a cha cha cha to 'Love Me Again' by John Newman, and despite gratuitous deployment of Ben Cohen's Arms and Ben Cohen's Lovely Smile, it soon becomes clear that he is a disappointment of Calzaghe-esque proportions. There is nothing happening with the hips at all. As a reader of several gay periodicals, I'm used to hearing "Ben Cohen" and "stiff" in the same sentence, but it's rare to have to say it with an air of disappointment. However, the bright side (because I'm REALLY desperate to find one) is that his footwork seems decent enough, so hopefully Kristina can wrestle some decent ballroom out of him in future weeks. It looks like Latin isn't going to be his forte though, and Kristina ends up resorting to the obligatory "just repeat these two or three very basic steps while I twirl around you and hope nobody notices that I'm doing all the work" choreography of desperation. [Poor Kristina - Rad]

Len's got his SPORTSMAN goggles on already because he's all "Big Ben, ding dong!" and says that this week's competition is like a rugby game because it has two halves. No seriously, that's it. That's the comparison. He liked Ben's footwork and his attitude, and also that he is a SPORTSMAN, but points out that Ben got ahead of the beat because of his nerves. Bruno slavers all over Ben's body and tells Kristina to call him if she needs any help handling those muscles. Oh Bruno, I think there's a very long queue in front of you for that. He tells Ben that he needs the help because he has a lot of bulk to move, and he was a bit stiff at times and he wasn't on the beat,  but as a first go it was full of promise. The promise of several weeks of disappointing Latin mostly, but still. Craig tells Ben he's seen breezeblocks with more movement, and that it was leaden and laboured. Ben puts his hand on his heart and stagily declares that Craig is "killing him" and that he's "not going to come next week". Well, that's all the gays tuning out, then. Darcey tells Ben that he should use his impressive frame and be proud of it rather than worrying what to do with it. I think a little more detail might be helpful there, Darce.

They head up to the Tess Circle, where Ben says that two weeks ago he couldn't put one foot in front of the other, so Kristina's done well to even get him this far. (Except I swear that there were points in the opening group routine where he actually looked pretty good. Maybe I was just dazzled by The Arms as per usual.) Tess asks him if it's hard to shed that "macho rugby" attitude and become a performer, because this show for some reason keeps insisting that there's something inherently unmanly about dancing, and Ben affirms that it is indeed "a transition". It occurs to me that there is one advantage of Ben only having 50 per cent hearing - he only has to hear half as much Tess as everyone else does. Maybe that'll keep him sane. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 19. Ben says he's happy with that, since he doesn't watch this show and doesn't know that there's something seriously wrong if you're a SPORTSMAN and Len can't even bring himself to give you a seven. Despite that being the first dance of the show, we go to the leaderboard to see how Ben fits in with last night's dancers. The answer is "not great, Bob": Natalie, Susanna and Sophie are currently at the top, while Ben is only three points ahead of Tony Jacklin at the bottom.

Up next are Fiona and Anton, for a dance in which she'll play a Bond Girl and Anton will be James Bond. So I guess they're not hugely confident of Fiona's chances of a long stay on the show, if they're ushering in all the Bond references in week one. In her VT, Fiona says that being on the show has taken her back to an era when she was famous an actress, but it's been 17 years since her daughter was born in 1995 and she changed careers to spend more time at home. Fiona explains that it's strange for her daughter, who's never seen her performing before, to suddenly see her up there dancing. I'm not entirely sure how that sets her daughter apart from the entire viewing audience. Anton, meanwhile, is glibly thrilled about having a Bond girl, and wonders if this might finally be his time to dance all the way through to December. Anton's previous partners who have lasted until December: Patsy Palmer, Laila Rouass, Widdy. Still, poor Anton, etc etc etc. Fiona thinks she will have to overcome her nerves. Also: not being famous. In rehearsals, Anton encourages her to tackle her self-doubt by playing a character like, say, A BOND GIRL, and turns up in a tuxedo to help her with the fantasy. I think it'll take more than that, dude.

They're dancing their tango to 'A View To A Kill', because that's the Bond film Fiona was in, she might not have mentioned it. If we were strictly following the theme of the film, Fiona would be in this dance for about eight seconds before being replaced by either Tanya Roberts or Grace Jones, but we all know how this show likes to exaggerate its links to the Bond franchise, so let's let them have their moment. (Also, Grace Jones and James Jordan for Strictly 2014, plsthx.) Despite all the pre-series talk about Fiona having ringer tendencies of her own, this is a fairly low-key start. The footwork is mostly there, but the posture is all a bit limp, except at the times where it's far too stiff even for the tango, and at times there are gaps between them through which you could pilot a helicopter. Also, the singer's voice cracks hilariously at several points, which has nothing to do with the dance but is worthy of chronicling. [I'm still having shivers from last year's BOND BOND BOND DID WE MENTION BOND so everything about this whole sequence can bugger right off - Rad]

Bruce invites us to thank Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra, and does the weird "look, they're real people!" schtick that he did last night, as though the lack of space in the old studio meant that they were secretly cardboard cutouts for all those years. Bruno enjoyed the vampish roleplay (of course he did) and thinks that Fiona started well, but got herself into a muddle and it was clear at points that Anton was placing her into position rather than Fiona getting herself there. Craig thinks it's lovely to see Anton actually dancing with a partner with co-ordination, though the routine was occasionally rough around the edges. Darcey was impressed with the level of content and how well Fiona recovered from her mistakes, but warns her to watch her top line. Len agrees that it's great to see so much going on, and Fiona was nice and sharp early on, but that she did lose it at times.

They BOND their way up to the Tess Circle, where Fiona questions whether Len's comment of "as sharp as a lemon tart" is actually a compliment or not, and says being here is like she's just walked inside a television set. Presumably it's cramped and full of wires? Anton says that Fiona was outstanding. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len (double 0) 7 and Bruno 6 for a total of 24.

Next it's Dave and Karen. The main thing we can learn from Dave's VT is that he is genuinely thrilled to be here, which is rather sweet. He's enjoyed being dressed up and looking suaver than he's used to, and he's somehow managing to cope with the hardship that is swapping Si King for Karen Hauer. Dave describes his dance style as "dad dancing, crossed with a gyrating troll". Self-deprecation, or honesty? We're about to find out. In rehearsals, he explains that someone's got a sense of humour because he's dancing the cha cha cha to 'Moves Like Jagger'. Karen tells him that she needs to correct his horrendous posture, and tries to sort it out by tying up his shoulders with one of her scarves, but Dave - and I actually really like this as a gesture - is concerned about ruining her scarf with his sweat and volunteers his belt for the task instead. After a series of increasingly weak Rolling Stones puns, it's the moment of truth.

Well, it's certainly unique: Dave serves as his own hype man by skipping out onto the floor going "WHOOOOAA! WHOOOOAA!" like he's trying to round up a particularly energetic herd of horses. He then gestures emphatically to Karen - who's posing behind a mocked-up set of turntables - to join him, puts his hands on his hips and struts into position. The whole thing is hilariously bad - Dave is apparently incapable of moving subtly, so everything is rather stompy and takes twice as long as it needs to. He's also got even less movement in his hips than Ben had, but do you know what? I have no problem with bad dancers as long as they've at least tried to be good - it's the Sergeant/Widdecombe school of doing the absolute bare minimum and then scowling when you don't get any praise for it that annoys me - and Dave has clearly worked really hard on this routine, and I applaud him for that. The other main selling point of this whole experience is Karen's face throughout the routine, because she is giving her all to making it look like she's having the time of her life, despite the very real possibility that Dave's going to accidentally kick her in the shins at any moment. I wasn't entirely sure about Karen last year, but based on her handling of this whole routine, I'm starting to really like her. Also, she's choreographed in a bit where she basically sits on the floor with one leg in the air and has Dave drag her along by the ankle like she's got worms, so I think we can safely say she's not hugely concerned with her own vanity this year. In all seriousness, I like the way she's risen to the challenge of tackling a celeb with little dancing ability - rather than the obvious approach of making him stand still while she dances around him, she's choreographed a routine of basic but still challenging moves so that while Dave's unlikely to win many points for technical excellence, he's got something to work towards and a routine that he clearly enjoys. So brava, Ms Hauer.

Of course, Craig is the first one to comment on this routine, and he declares it "terrifying", saying that he recoiled in horror when Dave headed over to the judges, and he had a feeling of revulsion during the booty shake. He also advises Dave to stop counting and saying "two, three, cha-cha-cha". What, no "beans-on-toast"? Darcey says that she was "crying with happiness" during the routine, and advises Dave to "watch the enthusiasm" because it was bordering on out of control. Heh. Len tells Dave that "you dance like I cook - just chuck it all in and hope for the best". Bruno declares it "the most insanely hilarious mess ever". And he should know. Bruce tells Dave that he's his favourite. Karen and Dave are thrilled.

They receive a rapturous reception in the Tess Circle, where Dave says that he thinks all the steps were there, just not necessarily at the right time or in the right place. Scores: Craig 2, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 4 for a total of 16. Dave's philosophical about it all: "the only way is up, Tessa." I hope he thinks that's her actual name. Tess reminds us that nobody is leaving this weekend. Can't imagine why she would've thought of that at this moment in time. (Prediction: Dave makes the top five. I've just got a feeling. Then again, my premonitions about this show are usually hilariously inaccurate.)

With the herculean task of following that up, it's Rachel and Pasha. In her VT, she explains that she was a tomboy and enjoyed things like football and hockey, "all the sports where you didn't have to worry about what you look like". So pretty much everything except beach volleyball and professional wrestling, then? Rachel says that she can't wait to train with Pasha because he's so caring and gentlemanly: "it's like having a puppy that can speak to you." That's pretty much the best description of Pasha I've ever heard. Pasha explains that Rachel has never danced before, but that's what makes this exciting for him. They're doing the waltz, and Rachel says that she thought this would be a gentle way to start, but WRONG. Pasha notes that she's behaving rather aggressively, so Rachel explains her sporting background and then has to explain to Pasha what "boshing" means. Hee. They're having a problem with gapping in rehearsals, so Pasha unveils his secret weapon (no, not THAT, get your minds out of the gutter): some age 5+ maths tuition books, which they have to hold between their chests and ensure they don't fall to the floor. This engages Rachel's competitive side, and she says she'll consider it an achievement if she at least manages to look elegant, even if she doesn't get all the steps right.

They're dancing to 'When I Need You', so this is basically Waltz 101. I don't even know if I can judge this fairly because I've spent the last two weeks fretting that Rachel, who I really like as a TV personality, didn't seem to be giving out much to get confident about in the brief clips we'd seen of her dancing. So it's possible that this benefits hugely from me having very low expectations, but you know what? It's actually pretty good. She's got a long dress on which hides her feet for a lot of the time, but as far as I can tell, she seems to be getting most of it right. There is some gapping, which is a concern, and she does look a little bit glassy in the eyes, but she at least seems to be dancing with Pasha as opposed to being dragged along by him, so there's enough in here to at least make me quietly hopeful that she might surprise us all - at least until I see her Latin.

Darcey starts for the judges and saying that the key to the waltz is to glide and be graceful, which Rachel did, but she lost her core in the transitions, so she needs to work on that. Len thought the dance was very pretty, but it was a touch on the careful side - he cautions that careful "will get you through three or four weeks, but you won't win Strictly being careful." Kara certainly didn't. So she's going to need a bit more passion in future. Bruno enjoyed the grace and the fragility, but thinks that mostly came from Rachel's nerves, so she does need to be more confident in future, and also extend her lines. Finally, Craig thinks her head didn't always look like it belonged on her body, and her hands are a bit spatulistic, but it had beautiful flow, gorgeous rise-and-fall and was full of elegance. Rachel visibly breathes a huge sigh of relief, and I'm sorry I ever doubted Pasha's abilities as a teacher.

Up in the Tess Circle, Rachel says that she was terrified and sort of can't remember any of it. Also, based on this and the launch show, it appears she's not a natural quipper. Bless. Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 27. Rachel is extremely happy with that, and vows to shake her hips in her salsa for Len next week.

Our next couple are Julien and Janette. Janette bellows "HELLO!" down the camera by way of introduction. I'm already in love. Also, her "responding to one of Bruce's jokes" face is pretty accomplished despite this being her first competitive appearance. Julien says that he's always loved dressing up thanks to his mum and sisters, but his dad always thought he'd be a SPORTSMAN. With Julien and Ashley, Len must be furious at all the near-misses he's had on the SPORTSMAN front this year. Janette says that Julien is one of the most "energetic" people she's ever met, so she was very excited to be paired with him. I do like that the casting process here seems to have been "oh, let's just make the two most obnoxious people dance together" - at least until they realised that James Jordan was already down to dance with Vanessa, and gave Julien to the runner-up instead. In training, Julien explains that he's got a fashion show in a few days, so his mind is elsewhere. Janette compromises by going to his studio to work (and also going to his fashion show, because let's face it, it'd be rude not to), and then once that's out of the way, it's time to crack the whip. Julien admits that dancing is a lot harder than he expected, and he might just have to blind us all with sparkles so we can't see what he's doing.

They're dancing a cha cha cha to 'Vogue' (of course), and it's every bit as gaymazing as you would expect it to be. The dancing is pretty much an afterthought, it's all about Julien wearing as much glitter as possible and getting to vogue on national television. Like pretty much all of the men cha cha-ing in this opening weekend, he's pretty stiff in the hips, yet he's very loose in his torso, which makes for an odd combination. I will say this much, though: it was quite a spectacle, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What can I say? It's opening night, my standards are low. You can either impress me with your skills, or you can just entertain me. Either way, I'm good. They whoop and holler loudly to celebrate it all being over, and Julien yells "I DID IT!!" to Bruce.

Len starts: "I don't know about Vogue, it was more like Woman's Weekly." Oh good, the veiled LOLGAYs are starting already. He describes it as being "prim and proper and neat and tidy", which are words I really would never use to describe that routine, but okay. He advises Julien to straighten the legs (AND NOT JUST THE LEGS, AMIRITE LADZ) and says that Julien scared him at times, but it was good. Julien bellows "I'M HAVING A HARD TIME BECAUSE I'M NATURALLY QUITE BENT, I NEED TO BE STRAIGHT!" and suddenly I wonder if the reason Ben Cohen only has 50 per cent hearing is because he once stood too close to Julien Macdonald. I think Julien needs to learn quickly that what works on It Takes Two (i.e. shouting) doesn't necessarily work on the main show. Bruno enjoyed the posing and posturing, but says that the cha cha cha needed a makeover. "You can't be bent all the time, my darling. Trust me, I know. Sometimes it pays to be straight. Sometimes you have to play straight for the money." I think I'm getting a migraine. Craig tells him that it was hideously flat-footed. Julien screams (again) "BUT CRAIG, THERE'S ONE THING YOU MUST LIKE, LOOK AT MY FABULOUS TOP! THERE'S 20,000 CRYSTALS ON THIS TOP, THAT IS FABULOUS!" I think I'm witnessing the birth of a denizen of the Dance-Off right before my eyes. Darcey tells Julien that she loved the joy in his face, and he's better come back with the same joy next week - and then she cracks up. I'm starting to like her. (Also, if the public votes Julien out before he gets to do a paso doble, I'm telling you now that I will be furious, because I need to see that.)

Julien and Janette cackle their way up to the Tess Circle, seemingly knowing they're going to be an early boot and not giving a shit, and Julien tells Tess that he's here to have fun, do it with a big smile, and also HAVE FUN! Tess wisely stands at a distance. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 20.

Next up we have "Deborah Meaden, and her partner Robin Windsor - yes, from Dragons' Den!" Oh, the Brucie syntax. How I have missed you. Deborah says that being on the show is like stepping through a looking glass, and she no longer recognises herself when she looks in the mirror. Robin thinks that Deborah might be more of a pussycat than a dragon. In training, Deborah admits to finding it a struggle, and that she can basically get one thing right at a time, but no more than that. Robin gives Deborah some homework to do, which seems to basically amount to "learn the routine please", and a Deborah-cam at home reveals that her husband has banished her to the guest bedroom because her feet were twitching and keeping him awake.

They're dancing a tango to 'Money Money Money', of course, and it opens with Robin doing a series of aggressive pirouettes by himself, which is not really my favourite way for a routine to start. Once Deborah gets to join in, she seems to spend quite a lot of her time being dragged around. I hate to bang on the same old drum all the time, but I have the same problem with Robin's choreography that I've had so often in the past: it doesn't really seem to take the ability level of his partner into account. Deborah can't keep up with the speed he needs her to go at, so she's being pulled from place to place rather than dancing. Possibly the song was forced upon them by the producers rather than being personally chosen by Robin, but I'm sure there's still a way the routine could've been choreographed at a speed that Deborah could've managed more comfortably. It doesn't need to be SLOW, per se, just slightly less rushed. Maybe the same speed, but with fewer steps? I realise I'm no choreographer and that it's all very easy for me to sit here eating crisps and pull the routine apart, but at the same time, if it's this obvious to me that this routine, at this time, was too much for Deborah, shouldn't it have been obvious to Robin? [Oh Robin and his inappropriate choreography - Rad]

The routine ends with Deborah returning to her chair and saying "I'm in!", although I'm a bit disappointed that Robin doesn't shout "I'm out!" and do jazz hands. (Obligatory reminder of Robin's first year on the show when his intro VT was all "LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS, HERE COMES ROBIN WINDSOR!" Oh, Strictly.) Bruce cracks that this is the first time he's ever seen a dragon out of puff. Bruno thinks it was a good pitch, full of determination and power, but Deborah messed it up in the middle. "You have to carry on a pitch to the conclusion," he tells her. Craig thought she was lagging behind Robin for most of the dance, but he was surprised by her performance. Pleasantly, one presumes. Darcey liked the attack, but advises Deborah to pull up out of her waist. Len liked the attitude and enjoyed it, though he reiterates that Deborah needs to lift her diaphragm a bit more.

In the Tess Circle, Deborah says that she thinks Robin's probably still got some work to do with her, but her main objective was to have a good time and not let him down. Scores: sixes all round for a total of 24. Deborah's happy with that.

Patrick and Anya are next. Bruce makes a joke about how Patrick was in Casualty for almost eight years, with the predictable punchline about NHS waiting times. Bloody Tory. Patrick's VT is a little on the dry side - he admits that he's quite shy, and he probably became an actor because he found being himself quite tricky. He's turning 50 in November, and wants to be the oldest person to win Strictly. (Current oldest person to win Strictly: Chris Hollins, at the age of 38. The three winners since him were 27, 26 and 23 at the time of their respective victories. In short: good luck, Patrick!) Anya gets all about being paired with Patrick, saying she "felt the connection right away". Patrick talks about FRED AND GINGE and is all very earnest. Patrick has the jive for his first dance, and frets about having had a knee injury not so long ago. As someone with dodgy knees who desperately yearns to be able to jive, I cry, INSPIRE ME, PATRICK! His knees manage to survive rehearsals, thankfully. This is about as exciting as Patrick's VT gets, unfortunately. Let's hope he can dance, because he and Anya are not so much with the banter so far.

They're dancing to 'Runaway Baby' by Bruno Mars, and the dance suffers from a lot of the same problems that Susanna's jive had yesterday: the basic ability and the energy are both there, but the execution is still quite sloppy. Again, he gets points from me for the effort he's putting into it and for having the performance panache to cover up the shakier moments.

Bruce compliments Patrick on remembering to point his toe in the flicks. Craig thought the rhythm and energy were fantastic, but he needs to sort his flat feet out and "get up onto your balls". Somewhere in a posh London hotel, Nicole Scherzinger's ears are burning. Darcey compliments Patrick on his energy and fitness, but warns him about his flappy feet on the kicks. Len thinks that what he lacked in technique he made up for in energy and enthusiasm. Bruno loves that it was "a powerhouse of energy" and advises Patrick to just work on refining it all a bit.

Up in the Tess Circle, Tess informs them that they've got the first standing ovation of the night - not entirely surprising that it's taken this long considering what we've witnessed - and asks Patrick how it was to be himself on the telly. Patrick says it was scary but fine. Thanks Patrick. Scores: all the sevens for a total of 28.

Our penultimate performance of the night comes from Vanessa and James. In her VT, Vanessa talks about doing it for the grandmothers and all the women of a certain age. (Women Of An Age That Is Certainly Higher Than Vanessa's in this series: Fiona and Deborah.) Vanessa's thrilled to have James as her partner because he's "oozing testosterone". Sounds nasty. James is not confident of his chances of getting Vanessa to do what he tells her. Strangely, this ends up working out almost too well for him: Vanessa is very compliant in the training room, which doesn't fit with the assertive routine that James has laid out for her. He asks her, in Vanessa's words, to "try to be more like the Vanessa that the public thinks it knows". My brain hurts. Vanessa declares that trying to act like she's unimpressed by James "requires the thespian talent of Dame Judi Dench". I'm fairly certain I could do it. Just saying.

As you might have guessed, their cha cha cha is to 'That Don't Impress Me Much'. Initial impressions of Vanessa's dancing, as far as I can tell, is that she's got a decent grasp of rhythm, but she looks rather lost a lot of the time, and seems to not have complete control of her own legs. Also, her "unimpressed" acting is pure pantomime. James has already resorted to choreographing in a move in which he rips his shirt open, and it seems like all he can do not to laugh for most of the performance. It's odd how much more likeable James is when he knows he's got no chance of winning.

Darcey thinks it wasn't lively or cheeky enough, and does the "there's always one dance that won't suit any given person" thing. Yes. This is the sole dance that Vanessa is going to struggle with. I think you generally need to save that comment for when someone has actually managed to do one dance successfully, Darce. However, Darcey believes that Vanessa will do a much better job in ballroom next week. Len thinks it needed more "flash bang wallop", but she didn't lose her timing and got through it without any glaring mistakes - not that he's damning with faint praise or anything. Bruno thinks that she was trying so hard to get it right - which she did - that she didn't manage to give it the "va va voom" that it needed. Craig tells her that it's a shame she doesn't dance as well as she speaks, because it was too much acting and not enough dancing. Vanessa: "I defer, sir, to your perspicacity." Hee. If nothing else, I appreciate Vanessa shoehorning a sentence like that into primetime Saturday night BBC1, especially since I suspect the only other time most of us have ever heard that word involved Lisa Simpson. Vanessa adds that she's having a hot flush (WHICH LADIES OF A CERTAIN AGE WILL UNDERSTAND) and it's very hard not to be impressed when James gets his tits out. I can only imagine how difficult she found it to watch Atlantis, in that case.

Up in the Tess Circle, Vanessa says she thinks she did okay, since she managed to keep breathing and not fall over. She calls Craig a "meanie". Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 19.

Thus our final couple is Abbey and Aljaž. In her VT, Abbey tells us that she loved to sing as a girl, BUT NEVER DID ANY TAP OR BALLET OR ANYTHING, IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A RINGER THEN LOOK ELSEWHERE SIR OR MADAM. She says that despite people's assumptions, she leads a normal life like everyone else, doing nursery runs, cooking, cleaning and picking up her husband's dirty underwear. She neglects to mention that she does all of this while having considerably more money than any of us. She's pleased to have Aljaž as her partner because he is hotter than fire, even if it does make her feel like an "old bag" in the process. Abbey says that Aljaž has obviously got what it takes (yes, that's why he's the professional),  but she doesn't know if she has. They're dancing the waltz, which as we know is a graceful dance, but she feels "like a sack of spuds" dancing it (prompting Aljaž to ask her what "spoodz" is). She's having trouble telling her left from her right, so Aljaž gives her a glittery L and R to help remind her.

They're dancing to 'Kissing You' by Des'ree, which feels like another very unimaginative choice for a waltz soundtrack. [And also a song I hate outside of the context of Romeo+Juliet where it just about works - Rad] Also, I'm generally not a fan of white trousers because they are not remotely practical in 99 per cent of situations, but the one time they're handy is when you have an arse as impressive as Aljaž's and you want to show it off to its fullest, because DAYUM. (I am going to be drooling over the pros a lot this year. I'm not even sorry.) Their waltz is beautifully controlled, very elegant and graceful, with Abbey doing an excellent job with the choreography, but...I can't help finding it just a teensy bit boring. Sorry, I'm just not really a fan of waltzes in general, and the main thing that held my attraction through Rachel's was the fact that she was dancing much better than I expected her to. With Abbey, I never really had any doubts about her ability, so I don't really have that fascination to maintain my interest. It's certainly an excellent routine, danced exceptionally well for a first week, but emotionally it just didn't really engage me. Sorry. I'm a terrible person.

Len says that the waltz is a big dance of flowing movements, and Abbey's was the dance of the night. Bruno calls it "dreamy" and "deeply felt", adding that it's an incredible debut. Craig declares the routine "gorgeous". Darcey finishes by saying that Abbey has excellent posture, which made for some beautiful lines. For some reason Bruce asks Abbey if she has any family here tonight, as though she's just joined him on stage for his matinee show at the Margate Winter Gardens, and Abbey says that her mum and her 96-year-old nan are here. Steady on, Abbey - I know that getting her nans out on this show worked well for Alesha, but don't give us too much too soon.

They retreat to the Tess Circle, where Tess and Abbey agree that rubbing up against Aljaž is a very satisfactory way to spend one's Saturday evening. Aljaž says that he's very proud of Abbey. Nobody asks Aljaž about his arse, which seems like such a missed opportunity. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 32. Abbey is...surprisingly unresponsive. Nerves? Maybe, I don't know.

There's a trail to remind us that It Takes Two begins again on Monday, and then we look at the leaderboard for the whole weekend, which runs as follows: Abbey & Aljaž (32), Natalie & Artem (31), Susanna & Kevin (28), Sophie & Brendan (28), Patrick & Anya (28), Rachel & Pasha (27), Ashley & Ola (25), Mark & Iveta (24), Fiona & Anton (24), Deborah & Robin (24), Julien & Janette (20), Ben & Kristina (19), Vanessa and James (19), Tony & Aliona (16) and Dave and Karen (16). I'd say those scores are mostly fair, although I'd be inclined to move Mark and Vanessa a little higher than their current positions. We get a reminder of all the weekend's dances, even though we don't really need one because there's no public vote this week, although it does make me realise just how terrifying Artem's teeth are in HD.

The credits roll, and I'm both amused and terrified by Bruce getting a writing credit (although it does explain a lot), and Bruce and Tess remind us that next week is when it gets serious because it's 15 couples in one night and one of them's going home on the Sunday. Rad will be here to see you through the whole thing, because she's ever so nice like that. We end with Bruce screaming at everyone for not doing the final sway properly. It's like McFly storming the stage all over again.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Cha cha feels

Performance Show Week 1 part 1 Friday 27 September 2013

And so it begins. Three weeks ago the warm-up show suggested that this series’ front-runners might be Natalie and Artem, Ola and Ashley and Brendan and Sophie, whilst poor Fiona was lumbered with Anton and his Latin and Kristina was given another opportunity to go mental and splurge away an early lead as she was gifted Ben. [I can tell you wrote this before you saw part two. - Steve] Meanwhile, we not only lost Vincent, Flavia and Erin, injury took out Natalie. Why so cruel, Strictly Gods? Her place was taken by Aliona who was given Tony and the promise of a week one or two boot.

As is customary these days, Strictly is beginning on Friday after the watershed, with another show at the proper time tomorrow. Over the course of these next two nights, we’re going to see whether or not that first dance was any indicator of what’s to come, as six couples dance tonight and the remaining nine tomorrow. Following a second dance next week, someone will be fired get to put their shoes on a rack and fly away on the moon leave and barely be remembered again. We begin with a montage of curtains closing, glitter being poured into a glittery mug which… is going to leave some interesting bowel deposits… popcorn being poured into bowls with tiny disco balls (think about your teeth, people), someone sending a tweet with the hashtag #scd which is at least more subtle than when Channel 4 flash up #innappropriatelylonghashtagwhenyouonlyhave140characters all over all their programmes all the time. (My personal favourite was #maryqueenofthehighstreet instead of something like #mary or #mqohs or #notasgoodasherbbc2days).

Cue credits! Of note: Anton looks like he can’t believe his luck, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s arms are going to need a lot of work, Aliona’s ‘I’m back from the grave bitches’ face is a bit terrifying, Artem’s ‘see, I knew that if I threw a pissy strop then they’d give me a ringer’ smugness is a bit grating (I used to love Artem, but he was just a bit of a dick last year), Kristina’s big smile is already planning a full-on demented run for the glitterball, James and Vanessa are going to be the home of terrifying BANTERLOLZ as though that wasn’t the worst part of his otherwise potentially great partnership with Denise.

Tess and Bruce arrive. Daly dresswatch: a really nice shade of yellow (what? It’s my favourite colour) longish-shift-style thing (sorry guys, Steve is the fashion one amongst the two of us. That I can identify something as a ‘dress’ is about as far as I go) that is almost OK but the moment Bruce forces her to do ‘the leg’, bunches up uncomfortably and doesn’t get itself back into position. It also makes her look incredibly bosomy and in need of a better bra. [Agreed. It's still better than 90 per cent of what she's worn before, though. - Steve] Bruce reminds us that his mate Tony Jacklin is on and this is the cue for a joke about beating him at golf, the punchline of which is ‘crazy golf’ but you just know Bruce was wanting to boast about beating Jacklin at actual golf there.

The lovely stars of our show are welcomed: Mark and Iveta, Susanna and Kevin, Sophie and Brendan Natalie and Artem, Julien and Janette, Ben and Kristina, Vanessa and James, Tony and Aliona, Abbey and Aljaž, Ashey and Ola, Deborah and Robin, Patrick and Anya, Rachel and Pasha, Dave and Karen and Fiona and Anton. Of the celebrities, only Vanessa and Susanna seem to be getting into the spirit of jigging along to the theme tune. Poor show, celebs. Tess and Bruce remind us that there is no public vote this week, with the scores carrying forward to next week when there will be a dance-off.

First up to dance are Ashley and Ola, whose name, you will not be surprised to hear, Bruce and Tess still cannot pronounce. HAY YOU GUISE you might not have heard but Ashley’s wife is due to have a baby any day now. [Point of interest: I believe Ashley and his partner aren't actually married. I wonder if that was an error in the script, or an error in the Bruce. - Steve] Bruce jokes that if that happens he can dance with Ola himself. And pronounces her name correctly, which only makes it more annoying that most of the time he and Tess don’t. He suggests they might do some ‘twerking’ and I swear if that becomes this series’ Gangnam Style…

VT time and Ashley says before he became an actor, he thought he might be a SPORTSMAN. I can hear Len’s heart breaking from here. Ola says that she thinks all the girls secretly wanted Ashley and she’s pretty happy. We then see that Ashley’s days are very long with Ola making him dance til past midnight, which is presumably practice for when he has a BABY. Ashley says he’s the luckiest man in the world to have his job, family and Strictly.

They are dancing their cha cha cha to ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ for… ironic purposes, I can only assume? Both are wearing hot pink although Ashley’s is teamed up with black. His chest is already on show as Ola starts as she means to go on. The dance is a bit stilted and relies a lot on Ola wiggling her bum and him grabbing at it, which at least makes a change from the hypnoboobs. Ashley seems to be able to cope with the pace quite well even if his movements aren’t very graceful. Then there’s a random ten seconds of hip hop or something in the middle. Other than that, it’s a standard first-week cha cha – bit ropey but they’ve got it out of the way and can get onto more interesting dances.

Over with the judges, Bruce congratulates Len on getting married. Len says that Ashley’s hips could have moved more and his legs could have been straighter but Ashley will ‘sail on’ in the contest. Bruno said Ashley was surprisingly at home on his hands and knees and was happy when he was ogling Ola’s bum because Bruno is a filthmonger. Craig thinks his rhythm was good but his hips were too stiff and the footwork was ‘feral’ (whatever he means by that) but he is ‘rather easy on the eye’. Darcey says it was a confident first dance but he needs to watch when he hits the floor. Up in the Tess Circle and she gets in early with the groping by placing her hand on his shoulder and not letting go. Scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 for a total of 25 and Ashley and Ola are happy with that. Tess gropes him some more and fans him as a camera pans straight to his sweaty chest. This after the watershed business – BAN THIS SICK BBC FILTH ETC.

Tony and Aliona are up next and for whatever reason, Bruce makes some crappy joke about the state of our railways and it’s not wot it used to be, Oh Dr Beeching what have you done, there once were lots of trains to catch but soon there will be none. We’re shown Tony’s golfing past where he wore bright colours. He calls Aliona a consummate professional, and she’s all ‘yeah, fine, let’s get this over with, give me the paycheque now, thanks’. They go to Tony’s home in Florida to rehearse so at least she’s getting something out of this experience. He then makes her play golf, so you win some, you lose some. [I love how Aliona continued to wear her "just here for the money" face throughout her free trip to Florida. Aliona ♥ - Steve]

They’re dancing a waltz to the theme tune from Birds of a Feather (What’ll I do) and their set is meant to be a platform with a steam train because, I dunno, they needed a hook to hang Bruce's joke on or something.  Aliona looks lovely in a powder blue frock whilst Tony wears a navy waistcoat. He is stumbling about a bit and it’s ungainly and stompy and relies on Aliona swinging herself across the floor, but as first-boot older man first waltzes go, there have been worse. But enough of that, let’s get to the real issue – is the ITV Birds of a Feather going to be as big a car-crash as I imagine? A BBC One Christmas special could just about have worked, but a full series? On ITV? With a whole new son for Tracey that they have just MADE UP? (apparently he was in the stage show, but stage shows aren’t canon as any fule kno) and Matt Willis as a presumably-quite-a-lot-younger-than-he-should-be Garth? I have a soft spot for that show but like most sitcoms it should have bowed out after three series instead of going on and on and on. I mean, I’m pleased Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph are getting work and everything but…

Where was I? Oh yes. Bruce welcomes the fabulous singers, Dave Arch and the wonderful, wonderful orchestra, but I can’t see The Man In The Hat, which I’m sure will make Monkseal highly distraught. Bruce shouts that we can see the band now because they’re not hidden behind the set. Onto the judges and Bruno says the waltz should be smooth and romantic, and this wasn’t although there was a second where Tony was swinging like a hare, but the rest of the time he was like a Galapagos tortoise. He tells Tony not to over-analyse the dance as it stops you moving. Craig says when he finally got into hold he was like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and it got worse and worse throughout. Darcey implores the competitive Tony to come out. Len says he is the ‘spirit of this show’, presumably because he is a SPORTSMAN?

Aliona drags Tony up to the Tess Circle where everyone gives him a patronising round of applause and Tess rubs it in that he’s had to leave Florida to come here. Tony says it’s an adventure and Aliona says he works so hard and she’s ‘never seen anybody sweat so much’ in a kind of impressed / but mostly repulsed voice. Scores: 2, 5, 5, 4 for a total of 16.

Up next are Mark and Iveta and Bruce shouts at the audience to acknowledge that he can pronounce Lukosiute. It’s one step away from ‘I’m not a racist, honest’. Wait until you get to Aljaž Skorjanec. Mark recounts that he wanted to be an actor because his uncle was and he wants to get fit and lose a bit of weight on Strictly. Iveta wants their dances to be memorable but technically good. He tells us that he’s in Hairspray which involves a bit of dancing. DIRTY RINGER ALERT. He wants to do Tango properly.

Sadly, he has been gifted the Strictly comedy mantle by Evil Moira Ross's replacement and their minions, and so their tango is the slightly bizarre story of a jewel thief who is so rubbish he wears his mask on his forehead not his eyes [and doesn't even tuck his shirt in, honestly he's just ASKING to trigger the security lasers - Steve] and who gets confused by the beautiful lady who takes the jewels back at the end. To the sound of ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. The gimmicks and comedy faces mean it takes a while to get going. When it does, the dance seems to involve a lot of Mark standing while Iveta moves, but then that’s the tango, I guess. His footwork is a bit sloppy and the comedy faces a bit off-putting and his leg gets caught in her skirt a bit. But it’s in time and he’s having a good go at it – and hey, let’s hear it for a non-waltz/cha cha week one dance. 

Craig says it had intent and purpose but his right thumb and his hand shaping need work and overall he danced it rather well. Darcey says he’s going to be the ‘most brilliant entertainer’ (which I am so looking forward to…) but he was masterful. Len said he had some good steps and a lovely frame and some great storytelling. Bruno says the comedic twist was great and the content was there but he needs to not just step the tango, but drive through the foot and keep the Latin attitude. The audience cheer wildly as they go up to the Tess Circle and Tess gets him to mug for the camera some more. Scores: 5, 6, 7, 6 for a total of 24.

Tess drops in a ‘Burn the Floor’ reference as we welcome our next couple, who are my favourites already, lovely Susanna Reid from the news and lovely Kevin Clifton from I hope the whole of Grimsby votes for you. Kevin wants to bring out Susanna’s sparkly side and she pretends that he can get a bit steamy, which I really doubt. I mean, he’s totally adorkable, but steamy? The VT focuses on her asking him lots of questions because she’s an interviewer, innit, and Kevin doing a bad Craig impression. [I loved that the second Kevin put his glasses on, about half of my Twitter timeline was all "OOH HELLO KEVIN." Clearly the people I follow have a type. - Steve]

They’re both in spangly blue which, as we all know, is the colour of one particular dance – that’s right, they’ve got a jive! In week one! Which seems a bit cruel, but anyway. They’re dancing to ‘Shake a Tail Feather’ and Susanna has a lot of energy and pace and they’re very cute and funny together. It’s a bit sloppy in places and not up to the standard we should see in later jives that will no doubt (SPOILER) earn less than this because the judges are getting their overmarking in early but it’s very charming and they look like they’re having the time of their lives. Then Susanna attempts a cartwheel and it goes horribly wrong and she falls on her arse on the sofa but it’s hilarious and adorable all at once and she just laughs through it. <3 [Agreed. If this had been a week two or week three dance, it would've been brilliant. That said, I thought it was a cracking effort for week one, and they managed to make the fact that it was a bit rough around the edges quite endearing, so I'm very much Team Susanna right now. - Steve]

Bruce says you ‘could never do that with Bill Tufnell’ who is presumably some weird hybrid of Bill Turnbull and Phil Tuffnell ready to compete in Strictly 2014, perhaps with some weird hybrid dancer called NatAliona.  Darcey says Susanna really sold the jive, it was fast with high energy and style which she didn’t lose (what, even at the end?) but she should maybe wear lower heels.  Len calls it ‘Chicken soup for the eyes’ which doesn’t make sense because chicken soup, whilst allegedly soothing, is a bit gross looking. [And probably should not be applied directly to the eyes. - Steve] Or maybe that was the point and he was being secretly snarky.  Bruno praises the energy and content but says the kicks and flicks need to be sharper.  Craig says some of it was laboured and her arms need work, it was a bit heavy-looking at times and the cartwheel went horribly wrong but it was full of energy and personality.  Bruce demands Susanna kisses him and keeps saying she’s made the BBC proud.

Up on the Tess Circle, Susanna plays down any early accusations of ringerness by saying Kevin dragged her through it.  Scores: 6, 7, 8, 7 for a total of 28.

Sophie and Brendan are next and Bruce makes a rude joke about mooning.  This post-watershed business is making everyone giddy.  Sophie is the daughter of the best ever Blue Peter presenter (Janet Ellis for Strictly 2014) and had a couple of good singles with indie group theaudience which she pretends didn’t happen before having a number one with one of the most overrated and annoying songs of all time followed by a series of follow-ups ranging from amazing to bloody awful.  Speaking of bloody awful, she’s sporting a heart-shaped tattoo bearing the slogan ‘family’.  She says she doesn’t really like touching anyone except her husband and Brendan has nice manners but he’s not her husband and she’s not like that Natasha Kaplinsky ALLEGEDLY and she’s not going there, even if it would help Brendan be the first pro to win twice.  She asks Brendan about her character in the waltz and he says it’s hard to see what she will be like on show day as if he is talking about a prize pony.

She’s wearing a lovely lilac frock but wardrobe haven’t covered up her arms so all I can see is that horrid tattoo.  Sorry, Sophie.  Their waltz to ‘Moon River’ is actually quite nice, mostly smooth, bar a stuttery bit in the final third or so and a spot of ungainly posture here and there, but a pretty good start nonetheless.

Sophie says she’s very stampy normally so would have preferred a faster dance.  Len said it had great fluidity but she was lifting her feet a bit too much in places – it was beautiful though.  Bruno said it had an aura of sophistication and elegance and he liked how she used the musical phrasing but her top line needs work.  He then apologises for liking it for some reason.  Craig says it would have been beautiful apart from the top line and then Len tries to start an argument because he’s Len and thus incurs my first FUCK OFF LEN of the series (unless we count the preview show).  Darcey also loved it but doesn’t get to say much because of Len/Craig drama.

Tess says Sophie’s mum was crying and Sophie says ‘yeah, well, she cries at everything’.  Heh.  Scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 for a total of 28.

Tonight’s final act: Natalie and Artem cue up a Bruce is Old joke in the form of him asking how Ena Sharples is.  Natalie hams up the VT for all its worth but instead of adopting Denise’s ‘I’m not a ringer, honest’ mentality, she seems to be embracing being a dirty ringer for all its worth.  She says that Artem’s philosophy is not to cry unless she cries in training. Given Fern Britton’s tears last series, her training must have been awful.  Their training VT shows Artem turning up late and Natalie swigging wine and swaggering around in heels being the boss <3

Their cha cha is to ‘Rasputin’, Artem is wearing Rasputin clothes and there is Russian architecture in the background.  It could only be more Russian if the dancefloor comprised a giant game of Tetris and all the gays were frogmarched out of the building (/sophisticated political satire).  Artem is mesmerising here, but for all the wrong reasons.  His tan and his teeth remind me simultaneously of Ross Geller in this episode and this one and I will never, ever be able to consider Artem an attractive man again.  Did he count Mississippily to look like that?  The dance is basically a ringer cha cha replete with Natalie giving it awesome faces although Natalie slips a bit in a couple of places towards the beginning with her feet.  Then the editors take the piss out of Artem’s teeth with a sparkle effect which is probably my favourite moment of the night.

Bruno says she is amazing but her hips need work.  Craig says the fringing on her dress covered up a multitude of sins of the hip but she’s the front runner. Darcey lies that she didn’t expect the dirty ringer to ring so hard in week one but can’t wait to see what else is coming.  Len says she’s not the favourite, honest (she so is) and her hips do need work, but it was great.  Bruce attempts a joke about cobblers that no-one gets and he dispatches them to the Tess Circle, where Tess congratulates them for a standing ovation, like that even means anything these days – they weren’t even the first one of the night.  Scores: 8, 8, 8, 7 for a total of 31.

Tomorrow the remaining nine stars take to the floor and Steve takes to the blog! Join him then!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pairs apparent

Launch show: 7 September 2013

It's eight-and-a-bit months since Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace lifted that glitterball trophy, and WE STILL DON'T KNOW WHETHER KIMBERLEY OR DENISE FINISHED SECOND. Ahem. We must put such concerns of the past behind us now, however, as a new batch of celebs (and a handful of new pros) have arrived to commence a new series, and tonight's launch show will decide who is paired with whom. Will Pasha get another attractive young woman with ringerish abilities? Will James get his eleventieth contender in a row? Will Anton get the obvious joke contestant? Will all the female pros get the collywobbles when they look at the male celeb line-up and realise it's rather short on hunky young male vote-grabbers this year? All is about to be revealed...

We begin with a fake newsreel, whose title card has Bruce's face superimposed over a cockerel, and I'm determined not to start the first recap of the year with a cock joke, so let's all move on quickly before I change my mind. The newsreel runs through the year's high points, like a Brit winning Wimbledon and the English cricket team retaining the Ashes (both points which I'm sure the average Strictly viewer cares about hugely) and that pesky royal sprog that proved so inescapable during the summer months (okay, fine, that one was probably slightly more in line with this audience's sensibilities). But of course, there's one big event left in the calendar: Strictly Come Dancing 2013! (X Fac-whatnow?)

From there we segue into blessed colour, and the red carpet launch event from earlier this week, where Craig arrived in a motorbike sidecar for some reason, and Tess insisted that "nobody brings the glamour like Strictly!" in front of a swathe of stormclouds darker than the corridor the leads to Evil Moira Ross's office. The pros, both old and new, wave to the crowd and then the celebs arrive. Vanessa Feltz says that she was born to walk on the Strictly red carpet, but does not address whether her destiny includes actual dancing at any point, a very veiny-looking Julien Macdonald says he's living the dream. Deborah Meaden says she cannot describe the atmosphere here tonight, while Dave "shorter, balder Hairy Biker" Myers says this is an opportunity he'll probably only get once in his life. "Probably"? Maybe he's already hoping he'll get invited back to take on Kara and St Jill in an All-Star season. Patrick Robinson insists that everyone loves Strictly (I don't know, I'd imagine Peter Fincham's not so keen on it these days), and Abbey Clancy says that it beats any catwalk she's ever been on. And she's been on Britain's Next Top Model's catwalk, so you'd better believe she knows her catwalks. Susanna Reid gets excited about all the sequins like she's Roxxxy Andrews (Yes, I'm aware of the hypocrisy of me suggesting that Strictly Come Dancing makes references to things of little interest to its target audience in one paragraph and then making a RuPaul's Drag Race joke one paragraph later), and Some Guy Who's A Big Deal In Golf Apparently says it's spectacular and unbelievable. Obligatory James Bond-Adjacent Contestant Fiona Fullerton says she's been watching the show for ten years and to finally be a part of it is unbelievable. Evil Kirsty From Coronation Street is terrified but thrilled to be here (she'd better be, she's been actively campaigning for a spot on the show ever since her Corrie contract came to an end). Rugby Player And Friend Of The Gays Ben Cohen is a bit nervous. (Confession time: I'd never really got the fuss about Ben Cohen, but I went to the filming of the launch show and saw him up close and looked at those arms and asdfhuisrghsergsdfgsdgs...sorry, a large puddle of drool inexplicably clogged up my keyboard just then. Can't imagine how that happened.) Ashley Taylor Dawson of Hollyoaks (and allSTARS) fame wonders what he's let himself in for. Mark Benton admits that he's mostly here for the spray tan and the sequins. Sophie Ellis-Bextor says that it's "going to be gone in a flash". Geez, lighten up Mary Sunshine. Rachel Riley says she's been COUNTING DOWN (geddit?) to this moment for weeks. Some women planted in the audience "spotaneously" exclaim that they're SO EXCITED, which leads the pros to break out into an elaborately choreographed group routine to the Pointer Sisters song of the same name. (Sidebar: you have no idea how much I want Elizabeth Berkley to dance to that song on Dancing With The Stars this season. If she has a caffeine-pill induced breakdown halfway through, I expect nothing less than a perfect score.)

The pros exit through a curtain and suddenly we're inside the studio at the launch show (which was actually filmed a day later. Sorry to shatter your illusions). New pro Anya Garnis (looking so much like Katya in this number that I did a double-take on several occasions) opens the proceedings by wiggling her ass in the general direction of Pasha's crotch, and frankly if I'd known that particular job was up for grabs I'd have checked the BBC's Careers website a lot more often. The rest of the pros arrive, including last-minute returnee Aliona, who blows an "I'm back, bitches!" kiss at the cameras. The number's all very energetic and I try in vain to work out what all the partnerings are this year now that we have more female pros than males. I will endeavour to have some sort of definitive list drawn up before the end of the series. Then the judges get wheeled in on a glittery black dais, Tess arrives down the staircase and is born aloft by all the men, while Bruce scampers on like a dazed meerkat as per, only to be hidden while an insultingly bewigged stunt double dives through a giant ring. (PAPER ring, you dirty bleeders. HONESTLY.) Bruce's skills at keeping up with those frantic Latin beats appear to be about as adept as Anton's, incidentally.

Bruce and Tess make their re-entrance, and thus it's time for our first Daly Dresswatch of the year. Sadly, her sartorial advisor is no less soused this time around, and has sent poor Tess out in a sparkly golden bib and a floor length black skirt. Neither item is awful on its own terms (although the golden bib is right on the line), but the combination is Bruce asks if we all like the new studio, and conveniently the audience does. Tess asks if Bruce has had a good summer, and Bruce says that he has indeed, because he got the best reception of his life when he performed at Glastonbury. That's odd, I thought the phone signals got all jammed up at those sort of events. Thank you, I'll be here all week! My punchline turns out to be just as dodgy as Bruce's own, since he elaborates that he has done an opening ceremony in the West Country before: Stonehenge. He then mimes carrying a large stone across the stage, because all these years of working with Tess have given him a real sense of how to handle a dead weight.

Coming up in tonight's show: the celebs get partnered off, the inevitably hilarious first group dance, music from Jessie J and Rod Stewart (not together, sadly) and a valedictory performance from Louis and Flavia. Tess asks if the audience has missed them, and the response is not as enthusiastic as perhaps she might have hoped. (She might have fared a little better if she'd asked whether they'd missed the show as a whole.) Anyway, let's get on and meet the stars of this year's show. And they are, verbatim:

Pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor, star of stage and screen Mark Benton, BBC Breakfast presenter Susanna Reid, England rugby hero Ben Cohen, Coronation Street star Natalie Gumede, international fashion designer Julien Macdonald, broadcaster and journalist Vanessa Feltz, golf legend Tony Jacklin, model and TV presenter Abbey Clancy, from Hollyoaks Ashley Taylor Dawson, Bond girl and author Fiona Fullerton, Casualty star Patrick Robinson, Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, TV chef and Hairy Biker Dave Myers, and finally, star of Dragons' Den, Deborah Meaden. You can clearly tell whose agent is really earning their 10% from those intros, can't you? Frankly, if you didn't get the word "hero" or "legend" in there somewhere, or include a line of work that literally nobody associates with you (*looks in the general direction of "TV presenter Abbey Clancy"*), then you're worth about 7% at the most. Also, I feel it was a bit cruel leaving Deborah until last, because she barely makes it down the stairs before Dave Arch and friends finish playing.

Some awful person in the scripting department forces Bruce to say "totes amazeballs innit", and Tess reminds us that there'll be no voting and scoring tonight, although the judges are contractually obligated to be here anyway. Bruce welcomes all the judges, and makes a crack that they all agreed not to tell Craig where they'd gone since they've moved studios this year. Len looks at the line-up and thinks that this year we're going to see fantastic dancing. Possibly with the subtext "because I can't believe you were all picked on name-recognition grounds alone". [I had heard of every single one, although I don't know what that says about me - Rad] Bruno thinks there are plenty of things in this line-up that could tickle his fancy, mentioning no names Ben Cohen's Arms. Craig advises the celebs to listen to the pros, accept criticism and not answer back. Which is strange, because I'm sure the producers advised them to do the exact opposite. Darcey knows that a lot of them will be able to pull out the stops on the night, but she also wants them to put in the hours in training and work through the pain barriyah. Er, barrier.

Right, it's time to create our couples, so let's meet the first four females. To begin with, "multi-platinum-selling" Sophie Ellis-Bextor is changing her approach to life and actively avoiding trying to get a number one (geddit?). Sophie tells us that the only video she really had to learn any choreography for was (first of what are sure to be many references this year) 'Murder On The Dancefloor', in which she played someone who wasn't a brilliant dancer and so cheated in order to win, but THAT'S DEFINITELY NOT HAPPENING THIS TIME COUGH COUGH. She says that she's a mum of three sons and loves to embarrass them, so this should provide an excellent opportunity for that. [She also retrofitted her career, claiming 'Groovejet' was the first single she ever had.  What about theaudience, Sophie?  'A Pessimist is Never Disappointed' is still my favourite Sophie Ellis Bextor-related thing ever.]

Deborah Meaden declares that when she's in the Den, she means business, but she also lives a secret life in the country, feeding the ducks, making sure the chickens don't read Penthouse under the covers after she's put the lights out, and delousing the pigs, the last of which she's been preparing extra-hard just in case she gets paired with James Jordan. (I'm kidding! Don't email me.) She's hoping people will see a more fun side of her on this show, but admits to being very competitive and wanting to make the final.

Natalie Gumede played "a really troubled character" (read: an evil bitch) on Coronation Street and won Villain Of The Year (amongst other trophies) at the British Soap Awards, and now she's planning to repeat that feat by emerging as this year's designated Evil Ringer Who Pretends They've Only Ever Sat On A Chair When Really They Spent Ten Years Touring In Top Hat or whatever. She wanted to be a professional dancer, but injured herself at the age of 19 and made it impossible to pursue that particular goal.

Rachel Riley has some footage of herself dancing at the age of four - well, I say "dancing", she's basically running around the room in a circle, repeatedly. Or as we Strictly fans refer to it, "Chris Parker's paso". She thinks her dancing partner should watch out for flailing limbs, and is very excited about getting all sequinned up.

Back in the studio, Sophie is standing next to Bruce, who reminds us that she had a hit named 'Murder On The Dancefloor' (drink!) and suggests that her next victim, should she need one, can be Craig. Obvious joke is obvious, and we're probably going to have to endure a lot of variations on it over the course of the series. Bruce tells the women that the good news is that there are lots of men to get partnered with, the bad news is that they can't all have Anton. Aww, it's the jokes that suggest that Anton is actually a desirable partner that seem the meanest, somehow. Let's run through our male pros for this year, just to ensure we're all up to speed: Pasha, James, Anton, Robin, Brendan, Artem, and our newcomers, Aljaž and Kevin.

Sophie's partner is...Brendan Cole! That's an interesting pairing, considering he's tended to get the "delicate older female" [Older?  Michelle and Pendledrama? Hush your mouth, Mr Perkins - Rad] contestant in previous years, so this is either an indication of a change in Brendan's fortunes or...a slightly insulting early indicator that Sophie is going to struggle. I'm hoping for the former.

Natalie steps forward next, and Bruce reminds us that her character in Coronation Street is currently detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, dealing with rotten food and hard labour - which is just like this show, etc etc. (Bruce's joke, not mine.) Natalie's partner is...Artem Chigvintsev! I don't know who's more thrilled about this particular coupling, but after last year's exploits with Fern Britton (not to mention having to handle Nancy Dell'Olio on tour), I'm assuming it's Artem. [Could Artem be the first pro to win twice? I wouldn't bet against it - Rad]

Deborah's up next, and Bruce tells her how much he and Wilnelia love Dragons' Den. There's no punchline, so apparently they really do love it. She's going to be "doing business, because you're a businesswoman, business" (who wrote this script, Romy and Michele?) with...Robin Windsor! That seems like a sensible pairing - she should be able to have fun, while Robin's limited choreography skills are kept away from harming the ringers.

Finally (for this bit at least), we have Rachel Riley, and Bruce asks Dave Arch for some dramatic music, which is of course the Countdown sting, and Rachel's partner is...Pasha Kovalev! I genuinely thought they were going to give Pasha a real dud this year. Which, to be fair, could still be true because I haven't seen Rachel dance yet, but I mean I was expecting him to get a Widdy-equivalent. Still, he and Rachel look super-cute together.

Bruce asks Len what he makes of the first batch of pairings. Len thinks Sophie and Brendan are "a match made in heaven" and it definitely won't be MURDER ON THE DANCEFLOOR (drink!), while Natalie and Artem are going to be eyeball-pleasers.

Let's get to know the new pros, and laugh at Bruce's inability to pronounce anything forrin-sounding: here are Iveta Lukosiute, Aljaž Skorjanec, Anya Garnis, Janette Manrara and...Kevin Clifton! [About time we had some Grimsby representation on this show.  I mean half the population have been on X Factor by now - Rad] They're dancing to 'Walk This Way', which is intercut with some intro VTs: Anya likes to dance quickly, sensually and passionately, and says that the hardest part for beginners is coping with the pressure. Iveta says that music just does something to her body that she can't control (funnily enough, Craig Kelly could say the same thing) and she's a two-times world ten-dance champion. Janette has danced with Jennifer Lopez and on Glee, and describes herself as "a very sexy Latin señorita" because that worked so well for Karen Hauer last year. Kevin brings lots of energy and gives 110% to every performance, and is totally up for the challenge of teaching a total novice. Aljaž (pronounced "Ali-ash", just in case you were wondering) treads down the well-worn paths of Artem and Brendan in years past by declaring himself to be a tough taskmaster - BUT HE'S ALSO REALLY FUN AS WELL YOU GUYS! Once the intros are out of the way, the rest of the pros invade the number just to make sure these newbies don't think they own the place or anything. Also, the less said about the band's rendition of 'Walk This Way', the better. It almost gives me a newfound appreciation for Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes. Almost.

Suddenly we're up in the Tess Circle for the very first time with this year's celebs. Sophie's relieved to know who her partner is, because she thinks Brendan's going to be a lot of fun to train with. She clearly hasn't spoken to Bloody Lulu in a while (which, to be fair, only makes me like Sophie more). Tess asks Deborah if she's going to wear the trousers in the training room, and Deborah says of course not, because Robin's the expert in that room. Tess asks Natalie if she's going to be nicer to Artem than Kirsty was to Tyrone, and Natalie's all "well no Tess, surprisingly enough I'm not going to twat him with kitchenware every time he upsets me." Rachel says she's used to doing times tables to music (????) but it doesn't go down well at parties, so she's looking forward to learning some steps. I hope Rachel is better at dancing than she is at spontaneous aphorisms.

Next: it's Jessie J with her new single 'It's My Party', which inexplicably is not about crying if she wants to. My ideal setting for this performance would be for all the judges to sit with their backs to her and for Darcey to be the only judge that turns around for her (but not before she's pulled a load of obnoxious faces, obviously), but instead they bus in a load of people with glow sticks. Such a missed opportunity. Confetti pours from the ceiling, which is mysteriously gone in the next shot. Boy, I sure hope someone got fired for that blunder!

Now it's time to meet the men: Casualty's Patrick Robinson speaks with the sort of amusingly affected theatrical accent that I didn't think existed outside of Vicious, and loves dancing but doesn't know how good he is at it. His children are very pleased that he's on the show, so he's got to go right to the end for them.

Ashley Taylor Dawson refers to Darren from Hollyoaks as "a lovable rogue...who's living with a psycho". Sounds just like James and Ola. (No, I'm not specifying which one's which.) He admits his DIRTY RINGER PAST as a member of a pop group, but insists that they did the sort of dancing that a five-year-old could pick up easily. Oh, just say you sat on a chair and have done with it, Dawson. Ashley admits that he has a baby due any day now, so this is obviously the perfect time for him to take on extra work commitments.

Internationally-renowned (notice the show doesn't specifically say for what) fashion designer Julien Macdonald has worked with some of the world's most glamorous women, and also Claudia Winkleman. (Come on, I love Claudia as much as you do, but I couldn't not make that joke after the recent eyeliner debacle at the GQ Awards.) Julien is doing the show to demonstrate that fashion designers can be fun. You know, like when John Galliano had that hilarious racist rant.

Tony Jacklin's history includes the first televised hole-in-one, and he's the first golfer ever on the show. He did a bit of jiving in the late sixties, so he's looking forward to the Latin, or something.

In the studio, Tess is with Patrick and has to break some sad news: Natalie Lowe is out injured this year (NOOOOOOOOO!!!!) and can't compete, but will hopefully return for group numbers when she's recovered. Let's run through the Natalie-less female line-up: newcomers Janette, Iveta and Anya, Ola, Aliona, Kristina and Karen. (I won't cast aspersions on the newcomers as I haven't seen them in action yet, but the list of returnees is not an inspiring one, choreography-wise.) Patrick's partner is...Anya Garnis! Anya makes a big show of her excitement and scampers over.

Next up is Ashley, who looks almost Gavin Henson-levels of uncomfortable, bless him, but says he's ready to embrace the Lycra. His partner is...Ola Jordan! Ashley slumps into a dead faint, and then springs up to confirm he was only kidding. (Fun fact: those who attended the launch will know that this actually went on a lot longer, to the point that Tess actually thought he'd really fainted. Ashley Taylor Dawson Supertroll <3 <3 <3) Ashley tries to leave without talking to Tess any further, and who can blame him?

Then we have Julien, who is the "king of glitz" in the fashion world, and demands "a few more thousand crystals" on his shirt. When asked which pro he wants, he screams "I WANNEM ALL!" I love him, he's such a giant ham. His partner is...Janette Manrara! Janette runs down and leaps into his arms, but luckily he manages to catch her. Not only are they almost the same height, they also have matching initials - it's a partnership crafted by the gods themselves.

Finally for this group, it's Tony, who says "I've been a swinger all my life". Apologies for that mental image, readers, but if I had to experience it, so should you. Tess makes a joke about "the dancer hoping to take you a fairway in the competition" is...Aliona Vilani! Aliona's fake enthusiasm face is marvellous. (Sidebar: I wonder if they'd already decided the pairings when Natalie had to pull out, or if they were still tweaking. Since Aliona is Natalie's official replacement for the year, I'm fractionally less gutted about Natalie not actually being able to compete if she wasn't even going to get the ringer she richly deserves.) Needless to say, Aliona does not leap into Tony's arms, which is the best course of action for the spines of everyone involved.

Further thoughts from the judges: Bruno thinks Ashley and Ola are an explosive combination, and that he's looking forward to seeing Julien voguing.

Next we have footage of the first training session, in which the pros found out for the first time who this year's contestants were, assuming none of the pros bothered to check the rumours threads on Digital Spy. Karen "Giant Lady" Bruce has the unenviable task of whipping them all into shape, first of all with some speed-dating that reveals that Sophie Ellis Bextor speaks (/can introduce herself in) Russian, much to Artem's delight. Early rehearsal footage confirms Natalie and Fiona to be the not-so-secret ringers we all knew they would be, Ben appears to have some hip action going on, and Karen (Hauer, not Bruce) is teaching Dave the cha cha cha by making him say "beans-on-toast" instead of "cha-cha-cha". Also, Julien gets lifted by Anton and squeal with delight. Ola says that all the girls want to be partnered with Ashley. Susanna is not sure how to look "sexy" rather than "ridiculous". Vanessa is loud. That's pretty much it.

Following that, we have our final group of women: Abbey Clancy is a model, TV presenter (apparently), wife of Peter Crouch, "but above all, she's a mum". Sigh. Abbey's daughter is very excited about her being on the show, so that's nice. We're shown the inevitable clip of Peter Crouch doing The Robot, and Abbey insists he can only dance off the beat. She says she's thrilled at the idea of being the best dancer on the dancefloor at every party they go to after this. Just like you can't stop Widdy from dazzling onlookers with a snippet of her samba at every Conservative Club AGM.

Fiona Fullerton was in a jacuzzi with Roger Moore in A View To A Kill. She claims this is one of her most embarrassing moments because she was introduced to him, and then took her clothes off and got in the jacuzzi with him. I think she left out the "hilarious pratfall" part of that story. She thinks that Strictly will be every bit as difficult as being in a Bond movie, presumably because she'll actually have to be on this show for more than two minutes. She has fancied Len Goodman ever since the show started, but there's no accounting for taste.

Vanessa Feltz is known for being a no-nonsense broadcaster, and also for going a bit mental in the Celebrity Big Brother house that one time. Vanessa says she's going to be a grandmother in the New Year, and would like to be able to dance properly with the baby, which is up there with the most ridiculous justifications for doing this show I've ever heard. Unless you're planning on doing a paso with the baby as the cape, I don't see a lot of these skills being all that transferable. She's hoping to represent the larger lady, and prove that being 51 is not too old to learn a new skill. Apparently the Conversational Mandarin class was full.

Susanna Reid thinks that Breakfast has a good history on the show, thanks to Bill Turnbull and Chris Hollins (we'll politely ignore that breakfast presenters from The Other Side haven't always fared quite so well). She admits that being a working mother of three can be a logistical nightmare, but if she has to rehearse in the kitchen to fit Strictly in, then so be it. I'm totally on board with that - I was choreographing my cha cha (not a euphemism) while boiling some pasta the other day.

Back in the studio, Bruce is with Abbey, who confirms that Peter is 6'7", and therefore "a big boy". The audience whoops at this, the dirty fuckers. Bruce asks if Peter will be coming to watch her, and Abbey points him out in the audience, so Bruce mentions how unfair this is for whoever's sitting behind him. Abi's partner is...Aljaž Skorjanec! Aljaž gets up on his tiptoes to help Abbey feel more at home, bless.

Fiona's next, and admits to having done a Christmas show with Bruce and Ronnie Corbett 25 years ago. And she's embarrassed about having done a jacuzzi scene in a Bond movie? Fiona will be dancing with...Anton Du Beke! From what we've seen of rehearsals so far, she might actually be his most able partner since Laila Rouass. Considering Fiona's actually motivated as well, this could be very interesting. [Poor Fiona when it comes to Latin weeks if it does prove true that she can actually dance - Rad]

Vanessa arrives next, and Bruce reveals that her birthday is one day before his, so he can't believe she's one day older than he is. Vanessa laughs like Basil Brush, only without the "boom! boom!" at the end. She'll be partnered with...James Jordan! Vanessa apologises to him in advance, but given James's near-uninterrupted run of ringers (/people who were at least fairly capable or popular), I am very keen to see the results of this particular pairing.

So that leaves Susanna with Kevin ("just act surprised," Bruce tells her, "you do it on Breakfast every morning"), who Bruce refers to as "what's left" and "him" before Susanna finally puts him out of his misery and shouts "Kevin!" Whether this was a staged bit or just further indication of Bruce's advancing senility is, as ever, anyone's guess. That's part of the fun of the show, right? Kevin runs over and does a little spontaneous routine with Susanna, who copes with it surprisingly well. Susanna is my favourite Breakfast presenter by far, so I hope this bodes well. [I am so team Kevin/Susanna - Rad]

Bruce gives a slightly overdue thank you to Dave Arch, the fabulous singers, and the wonderful orchestra before asking Craig what he makes of the couples. Craig thinks they're all "reasonable" pairings - Abbey and Aljaž are "edible" and he's practically giving them 10s already (watch for that attitude to change the actual competition starts), while James might need a miracle to cope with Vanessa.

We're back in the Tess Circle after that, and Tess asks Vanessa if she's planning to be typically outspoken with the judges, and Vanessa (quite rightly) says that after Craig just threw shade at her in public she'll be lining up some "badinage" for him. Abbey is in shock, because she didn't think she'd get Aljaž. Susanna makes a joke about the shininess of Bill Turnbull's ties, and Fiona admits to being a superfan (again) and says that she watches it with her mum and her daughter every Saturday, so there are three generations of Fullerton women being gripped by the sequins.

Time for another musical interlude from Rod Stewart, singing 'She Makes Me Happy' while Robin, Kristina, Kevin and Karen dance in front of him. I bet Robin was super-excited to be able to join the KKK for this routine! Wait, maybe I should rethink my nickname for those three. After the performance, Bruce joins Rod for a little chat about performing at Glastonbury and suggests they duet next year. It'll be Daphne & Celeste at Reading all over again.

Before our final pairing session, Louis and Flavia are back to reprise their charleston, but first we must relive their Strictly story, which I remember as being sullen sullen sullen CHARLESTON DIRTY DANCING VICTORY! Or something like that. Anyway, they come back to perform their charleston one last time. If I'm honest, I wasn't a huge fan of it the first time around, and...well, let's just say it's obvious they haven't practised as much this time around. They're still well-synchronised and everything but Louis hasn't quite got the Steamboat Willie bendiness he managed first time around, and I swear there are some points where Flavia's just gone "oh fuck it, do a flip and hope no one notices" which I don't remember being in the routine previously. [Oh that was definitely in there before, which was why I didn't love it as much as I could have - Rad] Bruce asks if winning Strictly has changed Louis's life, and Louis says that it's made him more confident as a person. Tess confirms that Flavia is definitely not competing this series, just before they partner up the last lot of men after which point it'll be too late for her to change her mind, but Flavia promises that she and Vincent will be back to dance together soon. And then they're gone!

Time for our last three men! Dave Myers tells us that two years ago he couldn't have done this two years ago because he was too fat, but last year he and Si did a series/tie-in cookbook called The Hairy Dieters and he lost three stone in the process, so it really works, plug plug! (Other TV series/tie-in cookbooks are available.) Dave says he wants to do well, and he's determined to get his feet to work in co-ordination with his brain. Good luck with that.

International rugby star Ben Cohen's Arms says that he was part of a great team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2003. He tells us that he called up series four runner-up Matt Dawson Who Never Actually Learned To Lead It Was All Lilia Just Pretending when he agreed to take part, and Matt Dawson Who Never Actually Learned To Lead It Was All Lilia Just Pretending told him he was in trouble. Shut up, Matt Dawson Who Never Actually Learned To Lead It Was All Lilia Just Pretending. Ben follows this up by revealing that his wife came in after that phone call and found him with his head in his hands. I wonder how many people who only know Ben Cohen's Arms as a gay rights campaigner were surprised to hear that he has a wife? (I had a conversation once with somebody who asked me why he is a gay rights campaigner if he's not actually gay. That conversation made me sad.)

Finally, Mark Benton done a Waterloo Road with Chelsee Healey, and thinks the public probably think he's a bumbling oaf as a result. His daughters have been giving him tips, and are thrilled and proud that he's doing the show. Mark promises that he can bust some moves, but that he's saving them for the show. He doesn't mention that he's currently touring in Hairspray: The Musical and dancing in high heels for eight shows a week, because he's one of them dirty ringers who lies about his past. I would love it if Mark Benton actually turned out to be this year's Denise Van Outen.

So we're in the studio with Tess once more, and Dave's up first. Tess reminds Dave that he's usually paired "with a hairy bloke on a motorbike", and asks how he'll cope with being partnered with a slender, plucked woman instead. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dave doesn't seem hugely upset, but he hopes his partner is light like a soufflé, so that he can lift her. He will be partnered with...Karen Hauer! Karen actually seems genuinely pleased - clearly that whole "one, two, beans-on-toast" thing was fun for her. Dave declares himself "chuffed as nuts".

Ben Cohen's Arms come down to join Bruce. Bruce asks Ben if he played right-wing, and Ben has not been briefed on Brucie Joke Protocol (either that, or he doesn't care, and I hope it's the latter because it would be wonderful for everyone if The Arms were backed up with a healthy disdain for Bruce's jokes) because he's all "well, occasionally, but not really". Bruce tells him to stuck to the fucking script, Ben Cohen's Arms says "yes, I was on the right-wing", Bruce makes Ann Widdecombe joke that everyone has been anticipating for the last five minutes, because it's always great when you use humour to make bigoted people seem warm and cuddly, and we'd prove that by getting Nigel Farage on the show to do a funny charleston if only we had any English female pros to pair him with, but oh dear what a shame we haven't got any. Ben will be dancing with...Kristina Rihanoff! Kristina, unsurprisingly, is very happy to have got one of what appears to be the only two viable male contenders in this series, and will therefore have gone completely insane by about week six if previous form is anything to go by.

That means that Mark is paired with Iveta, who grins toothily (as if she can do it any other way) at the news, and I hope for her sake he lasts a little bit longer than Johnny Ball did last year, because it'd be rotten luck to be out early two years on the trot. Bruce asks Len what he makes of all of this, and Len says that he can't see "a grotty botty" among them. Is that worse than "tutti frutti, what a booty"? I'm worried it might actually be. Bruno thinks we'll be getting a hair-raising experience from Dave. Bruce asks Darcey what lies ahead in their three weeks of pre-competition training, and Darcey says that if there's one muscle in their bodies that isn't sore, then they're not working hard enough. (Insert masturbation joke here.) Tess asks Craig what he wants to see, and Craig replies "talent". Fair enough.

Time to close the show with the group dance, which they've only had two days to practice for. They're dancing to 'This Is It', and my first impressions run thusly: Ben Cohen's Arms seems to have the basic ability in there. Natalie is possibly the ringiest ringer that ever rang. [And how.  She looked like one of the pros at points. - Rad] Tony and Dave have little, if any, grasp of rhythm. Patrick is good but needs to work on a less rictus-y performance smile. Vanessa and Deborah are both quite wafty with their arms. Abbey seems pretty good. Julien is having the time of his life. Sophie's a little rigid but her footwork seems promising. Ashley, Susanna and Fiona all look like naturals. Mark's got what looks like some decent step ball changes going on. Rachel's the one I can't really work out - I think there's some promise in there, but she's very hesitant and occasionally messy in this number, so I think Pasha's got his work cut out to build up her confidence and her technique. I just have my fingers crossed that she's not going to be Michelle Williams levels of awkward when the competition starts, because I can just about cope with Natalie not being around this year but if I end up losing Pasha early on as well, you are looking at a serious sulk from me. (Also, as much as I think Rachel and Pasha are adorable together, I'm now gutted that Pasha wasn't partnered with Susanna, because they have a little section together in the group number and they have the exact same showbiz grin, which is precious.)

The number ends, and glitter rains from the sky once again. Bruce and Tess return to tell the stars to disappear and get training, and remind us that the first live show is on the 27th September. As the credits roll, we get some initial reactions from the couples: Karen isn't going to let Dave anywhere near the kitchen, Artem feels like he won the lottery (well, duh), Rachel is very happy to get Pasha (duh again), Julien and Janette are definitely competing for some sort of "loudest couple" award, Vanessa and James are already concocting ways to sass Craig, and Deborah and Robin agree that they've got a lot of work ahead.

So that's it - Strictly will be back in three weeks, and so will we, so we hope to see you then!