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
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.