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!

1 comment:

Scott Willison said...

The Pasha/Susannah moment was hilarious because of her TADAH! face to the camera. I am genuinely distraught that we will never get to see the two of them in a comedy VT together.

As for "not seeing the appeal of Ben Cohen", I have a couple of folders of JPGs I must send you.