Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pier pressure

9 Couples Perform: BLACKPOOL Week - 16 November 2013

Maybe I've just spent far too much of my life watching sentimental American dramas aimed at teenagers (actually, there's no "maybe" about it), but when the continuity announcer opens the show by referring to this as "a very special Strictly", I immediately assume that it's going to involve somebody developing a drug problem (maybe Natalie and Artem are HOOKED ON PAINKILLERS?) or coming to terms with the sudden death of an elderly relative (no, not Bruce, I definitely wasn't thinking Bruce and you can't prove anything). Of course, this isn't California Dreams, but Strictly Come Dancing, where "special" simply means that we're off to BLACKPOOL, the Spiritual Home Of Dance. It also means that nobody has to pretend that Wembley Arena is the spiritual home of dance like they did last year, which is surely good news for all involved.

We open with what is referred to as "local colour" in the trade, i.e. a montage of people from BLACKPOOL all saying how excited they are that the show is coming to their home town tonight. My favourite of all of them is the well-presented older lady in a red parka who drives a black cab for a living, if only because I've never seen such a glamorous black cab driver here in That London. Clearly the BLACKPOOL tourist board are doing a fine job if the aim of this VT is to make it seem classy and exotic.

Bruce switches on the lights (it's a brave showrunner who trusts Bruce with the electrical work, though I suppose we should all be glad that Very Special Work Experience Trainee Lisa Riley didn't somehow end up doing it) and once the titles have rolled, it's time for one of the most spectacular and frankly incomprehensible showcase numbers of the series. It's a very samba-esque carnival-style piece, and they've wheeled out some talented junior ballroom dancers to be a part of it. Obviously it's lovely that the programme is showcasing the Professional Dancers Of Tomorrow, but I can't help finding something a bit terrifying about these kids and their general razzle-dazzleness. That said, it's a lot of fun to imagine that they're all treating this as their audition to be the new pro intake for the 2025 series, and spending all their time backstage plotting how to upstage "that fucking fake diva Tristan" or whatever. As for our actual, on-the-payroll pros, they're working with a hot pink dress code and dancing to 'Young Hearts Run Free', which gets the following additional bizarre spoken intro from the band: "What's that? I don't know! Hey, it's something - something for everybody!" Something For Everybody seems like the sort of clean-cut dance troupe that would only exist in The Simpsons. Incidentally, I know that it's nigh-on impossible to track the pro-dancer pairings this year, but it really is very strange to see Ola dancing with Aljaž.

The contestants themselves make their entrance - the men are wheeled in as part of a giant roundabout that gets put together in the middle of the floor (with Patrick sporting his very best Sinister Uncle At A Kids' Party face), while the women are entering in giant CARNIVALE! dresses that take up enough room for about six people. Then the weird spoken word bit kicks in again - "I'm telling you, it's something for everybody!" (dude, okay, we heard you the first time) - and suddenly the entire population of BLACKPOOL is on the dancefloor, young and old alike, and it is HEARTWARMING. Point of interest: there are several BLACKPOOL sexagenarians taking part who are dancing rings around Ben Cohen. Meanwhile, Mark and Ashley are right at the back having their own private gurn-off with each other, so they're already my favourites tonight. It ends, the glitter cannons erupt, and the toe-tapping tots do their very best exiting-the-dancefloor flourishes. Bless.

Bruce and Tess arrive, and...oh, Tess. What is THAT? She's wearing a full-length black gown with slits up to the top of both legs, a slit across her boob cleavage, and both of the shoulders cut out. I mean, if you're going to have that much of the dress removed, why bother wearing anything at all? It looks like she's just made it to her cue after narrowly escaping an encounter with an axe murderer. Bruce declares that it's "lovely to be baff in BLACKPOOL [sic]" and adds that he can "smell the pickled eggs from here". I fully expect the punchline to that to be "no, that's just Len", but apparently the pickled eggs part was the punchline. Ah, Strictly humour - always keeping us on our toes. Bruce congratulates Tess on "last night", and I think he's gone senile yet again until I realise he's talking about the £31m raised on Children In Need - which was, of course, all down to Tess. Tess asks Bruce if he's having a good time in BLACKPOOL, and he says that he was until dinnertime last night when he was mugged for his fish and chips, except Brucie says "seagulls" far too early, so the laugh comes too early and Bruce carries on trying to tell the joke anyway. Oh Brucie.

There's a brief moment of mourning for People's Champion Dave Myers (emphasis on the "brief") and then it's time to meet the stars of our show. There are no stairs to descend in BLACKPOOL, so this part feels kind of workmanlike since they're just ambling out from backstage. Still, here they all are: Sophie and Brendan, Mark and Iveta (IVETA IS DRESSED AS AMBER VON TUSSLE OMG OMG OMG ♥), Susanna and Kevin (both of whom are wearing so much make-up that it looks like they've had a racelift), Ben and Kristina, Natalie and Artem (Natalie has been given Liza-in-Cabaret hair and I am NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS AT ALL. I assume it's a wig because I don't see any possible way of making her actual hair do that without cutting it, but it's still a TRAVESTY all the same), Abbey and Aljaž, Ashley and Ola (Ashley is dressed as a gay cowboy, which would be the best costume of the night if Iveta hadn't already upstaged him), Patrick and Anya, and Fiona and Anton.

Faced with the task of opening the show in BLACKPOOL are Sophie and Brendan. Thinking back to her Argentine tango from last week, Sophie is generally pleased with how it went and the positive feedback that she got, but notes that there was a unanimous desire to see a bit more actual passion from her. Sophie says that she used to watch the original Come Dancing with her mother Janet Ellis, so it's very exciting to be here in BLACKPOOL. Speaking of J-Ell, Sophie tells us that we might not know Janet originally trained as an actress before rising to fame as a Blue Peter presenter, so she's going to ask her mum for some tips on how to fill her performance with character. She is going to do this while the two of them nibble scones and finger sandwiches at afternoon tea, not that Sophie is in any way aiming for the middle-class vote or anything. Janet tells her daughter that her feet are fine, so she just needs to give her head permission to be fine as well. In other words: "have fun!" We get a little montage of Janet weeping in the audience in previous shows as she says that every time she sees Sophie dancing, it's like watching her doing a ballet show at the age of 10 all over again. Wait a minute, Sophie had ballet lessons? WHAT AN EVUL RINGER BITCH etc etc. [I can't express how much I want J-Ell for Strictly 2014 - Rad]

This week, Sophie is dancing the quickstep to 'The Lady Is A Tramp'. She begins by making her way down the steps accompanied by several men dressed as silver-service waiters (she's so playing all her middle-class cards tonight, and I love her for it), then she takes hold with Brendan and they begin to dance. There's a table in the corner, purely so they can have a bit where the waiter-dancers whisk the chairs away at the last minute and Sophie and Brendan can dance around it. Note to Robin Windsor: this is the maximum amount of involvement a table should have in any routine. It's an extremely fast-paced routine, even for a quickstep, and Sophie's hair is flinging itself around like it's dancing to Willow Smith. (Perhaps since Natalie's hair is so restrained this evening, all that follicle energy had to go somewhere.) She's occasionally a little bit stumbly here and there, but it's definitely a return to form for Sophie and her best performance since that week four foxtrot. I'm particularly impressed by how she's right up against Brendan the whole time she's in hold, because it would be easy to end up with a lot of gapping in a performance like this with such a tempo and so much travelling, but she's obviously worked very hard on keeping up with him.

Bruce welcomes the judges - thankfully, someone did manage to remind Darcey during the week that it was BLACKPOOL week so she didn't end up sitting outside the Brighton Winter Gardens wondering where everyone else was. (Although, given how little use Darcey's been so far this series, I can't really pretend I'd have missed her.) Per my rule of only transcribing Brucie jokes if they at least make me smile, Bruce says that Craig made the most of the sea air and helped to rehabilitate his hip by going for a long walk: "what a shame BLACKPOOL hasn't got any short piers." Len says "shut up, close the door and call me Mary", which I'm fairly sure is a comment he was supposed to save for Ben Cohen. He says that the routine was full of intent, full of character and that Sophie was flying around the floor - "it was absolutely spot-on". Bruno declares that this lady "definitely is not a tramp", and he thinks BLACKPOOL worked its magic because Sophie's performance level tonight was so much better. However, he wants her to check her topline. Craig loved the story and the dancing around the table, however her topline was a bit loose throughout the dance and she sometimes forgot about her left hand. Finally, Darcey says that Sophie came alive tonight and this was just what she wanted, but she just needs to pull out of her waist and improve that topline.

Sophie tells Bruce that she's very happy with that feedback, and they sprint off to the Tess Circle, relocated to the back of the ballroom because BLACKPOOL, and Tess asks how it felt to have a standing ovation in BLACKPOOL. Sophie says that she'll "have to change [her] CV". Presumably it'll fit in somewhere between "House Drama Captain" and "Divisional Secretary of the WI". Brendan says that he feels a bit "moist in the eye". I'm officially docking one point for use of the word "moist", Brendan. That shit is NEVER okay. He turns to Sophie and says "that was DELIGHTFUL, young lady", so it's clearly not just Sophie who's gunning for those valuable middle-class votes. Sophie says that she loved this dance and just wanted to let people know that she's loving what she's doing.

Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 34. Yes, I know the score doesn't usually get its own paragraph, but I have a lot of feelings on this subject so please bear with me. First of all, Craig's score gets booed, and Sophie tells everyone that it's fine. And the thing is, I objected to that seven very vocally on Twitter last night, largely because of the context of this episode. A seven for this dance is a bit stingy, but still understandable on any standard night. A total score of 34 is, again, a little bit under-generous but sort of makes sense. However, this is BLACKPOOL - a night in which people are frequently overscored just because they're in BLACKPOOL (as we shall see much later on) and a score of 34 is likely to put Sophie in a precarious position on the leaderboard. I feel like going out first in BLACKPOOL can be a very dangerous position to be in - the sense of occasion hasn't quite kicked in with the judges yet, they aren't yet so drunk on the occasion that they're handing out 10s like copies of the Evening Standard, so it feels a bit like Sophie got a "general episode of Strictly" score while many of those following her are going to get a BLACKPOOL score. And if that sounds like I'm stanning for Sophie, I probably am, but only because I've been watching this show long enough to know how it works, and I can't help feeling that if she'd done that exact dance later in the show, she might well have got a higher score for it.

Where was I? Oh yes, it's time for Patrick and Anya. Last week Patrick's American smooth was genuinely excellent, and Craig called him "the best male celebrity in this competition", which is really hollow praise when you think about it, because it basically only means "you're ahead of Ashley". Patrick says that getting a 10 last week was incredible, and if he wants to improve on that, then his samba needs to fill the floor at BLACKPOOL. Anya says that Patrick has "a lot of natural rhythm" (drink!) and she needs to find an appropriate way to capture that. In previous series this might have been the segue into a Comedy VT, but in these days of a return to the PURITY OF DAHNCE, it simply means that they're off to see and hear a samba band. This gets Patrick moving, and he even has a go at drumming. (I'm sorry, that's about as far as my attempts to make Patrick interesting are going to go. I'm not a miracle worker.)

They're dancing the samba to 'Copacabana' (at BLACKPOOL, which is a threefer as far as thefts from St Jill of Halfpenny go). I give props to both Patrick and Anya for this being one of only two routines of the night not to rely heavily on, er, props or backing dancers, but they hit a snag about 20 second in when a kick leaves Anya's heel snagged in her dress and she has to hop around for a while trying to get it out. To be fair to Patrick, he is both supportive of Anya in trying to help her, and he does get back into the routine instantly as soon as her shoe is freed (albeit with a giant "OH SHIT" look on his face for the rest of the routine), but as snafus go, that's hard to ignore. I could have done with maybe a little bit more energy, but it's another well-conceived routine from Anya (and I genuinely do have a lot of respect for her in this era to come in and let her choreography do the talking rather than throw giant signposts or boardroom tables into her routines), danced capably by Patrick.

Afterwards, Patrick does a giant "OH MY GAAAAAHHHHHD!" face when he gets over to Bruce (hooray! A personality is beginning to shine through, and it's the personality of Leslie Jordan!) and Bruce tells him what a professional he is for handling the skirt incident. Anya stares at the floor. Bruce welcomes the orchestra while Patrick and Anya get their breath (/dignity) back, and Bruno opens for the judges by saying that he felt like he was in Rio. However, Bruno doesn't really know where he is 95 per cent of the time, so whether this is Patrick or just general intoxication is hard to pinpoint. Bruno tells Patrick that everything was close to perfection apart from he messed up a pass and "a tiny incident" (LOL WHATEVER) - but he's still one of the best male samba dancers they've ever had. Craig agrees with that point, and says that it's just unfortunate that it all went "horribly wrong" tonight. Darcey and Bruno start protesting that it was a "tiny" problem, and seriously, Anya was HOPPING ON ONE FOOT FOR ABOUT FIVE SECONDS. That is not a "tiny" slip-up from where I'm sitting. However, Craig hopes they get to do it again - not in the Dread Dance Off, but in the "semi-final". Which has historically not been an occasion in which people reprise dances, but I can't see into the future, so who knows? He finishes by saying that it "could have been dazzling". Darcey says that the samba is "an extraordinarily difficult dance", and there were a couple of "tiny, tiny faults", but it was superb. Len says it wasn't a samba, but a "whamba". (Actually, Carol Smillie's samba was a Whamba. She danced it to 'Club Tropicana' and everything.) He admits that Patrick messed up one set of stationary samba walks, but he thinks it was fantastic and Patrick is a terrific dancer.

They head to the Tess Circle, where Patrick says that it was fantastic. Anya's still cringing about what happened with her skirt, and Tess reassures her that she is not to be held to account for wardrobe malfunctions. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. (Oh my god, they went the whole hog and stole St Jill of Halfpenny's scores for a samba to 'Copacabana' in BLACKPOOL!)

On third tonight is (sigh) "Big Ben Cohen" and Kristina. He really enjoyed his jive last week, but he got a four from Craig which hampered the experience a tad. Still, he tried his hardest, apparently. Ben is excited about BLACKPOOL, because it's like being in TWICKENHAM for a rugby player, so he can relate to that. He hopes he can do the BLACKPOOL ballroom justice. This week, they're dancing the American smooth (based around a Viennese waltz) to 'Fallin'' by Alicia Keys, and Ben thinks he's lost his "competitive edge" since retiring from rugby, so Kristina brings in some "board games" to help reignite it. Except the two that we see them playing are Buckaroo! and Twister, neither of which are board games. And frankly I'm surprised that the show focuses on Buckaroo! in the way that it does, when they could have shown BEN COHEN SEXILY PLAYING SEXY TWISTER WITH HIS SHIRT OFF SEXILY or something. Maybe this is their attempt at bussing him, although it's rather half-hearted if it is. [Or maybe they're cooking up slightly kinky ideas for his Fusion week routine - Rad] Ben loses at both games, because there is no universe in which he is less competitive than Kristina, so she takes him to the arcade to whack one of those strongman machines with his GUNZ instead.

Literal choreography alert: Kristina begins by falling into the arms of the backing dancers. And what's Ben doing while this happens? Just standing there. So much of the first 30 seconds of this dance gets delegated to the hired hands that have been hired that I'm not actually sure what Ben's contribution to any of it is. I get that you've got to fill the space with something at BLACKPOOL, but getting in substitutes to dance in the celebrity's place feels somewhat against the spirit of the show. Anyway, eventually Kristina remembers to choreograph something for Ben to do, and he's not actually that bad. He's still not especially graceful, but he's moving fluidly, and more to the point, he's moving, which is more than can be said for several of his routines, or indeed the first third of this one. Sadly, for all that Kristina's attempted to create a dreamy romantic atmosphere, Ben kind of looks like he's mentally planning out his diary for the next week.

Craig declares that "Big Ben is back in the ballroom", and is impressed by the speed of the routine. I assume Ben is being judged against his own standards here, because by general Viennese waltz standards it was about average. Craig would have liked a bit more style, but it was a vast improvement all the same. Darcey likes that Ben is such an attentive partner in all of those lifts. I dislike how Ben is such an attentive partner who stands there watching for a chunk of the routine while Kristina subcontracts all of the actual dancing out to other people. She wants him to watch his arms out of hold, but thinks it's such an improvement. Len huffs that it's not that Ben's back because he NEVER WENT AWAY (oh Len), and he fully committed himself [Keep that kind of comment for your fanfic, Len - Rad]. Len liked the footwork, but does grudgingly admit that it was "too whimsical" out of hold. Bruno liked the warmth and care of the performance, and says that he did the Viennese waltz part very well, but when they're out of hold he needs to extend those lines properly.

Tess asks Ben if he's finally got his eye on the prize, and Ben's all "LOL NO". Tess asks Kristina if she's still fuming about that four last week. Obviously, yes. Scores are in: eights all round for a total of 32. I feel like Craig is straight-up trolling me now, giving Ben more points than Sophie for only dancing about 70 per cent of a routine.

Ashley and Ola are next. Bruce says that Ashley has decided he's going to be a cowboy (yes, because everything about this theme reeks of Ashley's decision-making). Brucie joke: Ashley asked the wardrobe department for a pair of wrinky old chaps, they sent for him and Len. Ashley was very happy with how last week went, though he notes that continued improvement just means more pressure on himself from week to week. So they're doing a paso doble with a Wild West theme. I'm already disappointed that Ola didn't cast herself as the giant robot spider. Ashley is struggling to be a badass, so Ola brings in a lasso for him to embrace his inner cowboy. That doesn't work either, so she takes him off to a fancy dress saloon in BLACKPOOL to have his photo taken and start talking like he's swallowed a beehive. This, naturally, seems to be far more successful.

They're dancing to 'You Give Love A Bad Name', with Ashley playing the aforementioned dirty cowboy and Ola as the queen of the old West. (Insert Bruno Tonioli joke here.) It's a fairly prop- and set-heavy routine, but it manages to escape those confines and emerge as a genuinely good paso. Ashley's still haughtiness feels a little bit half-hearted, but the dancing and shaping is very good, and the energy doesn't let up at any point.

Darcey points out that a cowboy is not a matador, but she loved the shaping, the attack and the lines - though she would have liked a bit more drama in the ending. Len thought Ashley got stronger and stronger as it went along, and he liked how Ashley captured both the speed and the stillness of the paso. Brucie adds to his Inappropriate Comment quota for the night by pointing at Ola and shouting "who do you thank? That little mite!" Bruno thought it was powerful with plenty of thrust, and he liked the light and shade as well as the focus of the routine. He adds that it's a good sign that Ashley was dancing alongside two professional boys, and yet Bruno couldn't take his eyes off him. And Bruno's stared at a lot of professional boys in his life, I'm sure. Craig says that a cowboy defending himself with a cape doesn't really do it for him, "but each to his own, darling" - he thought it was bizarre, but he liked it.

Tess reminds Ashley that he is a NORTHERN boy dancing in THE NORTH, and Ashley's all "yes, geography, thanks." Ola is very proud of Ashley, and thinks he can go further. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35 - Ashley's joint-highest score, tied with last week.

Our fifth couple are Fiona and Anton. Fiona was thrilled with her paso last week, but she was "a little bit hurt" when Craig declared her to be forgettable. She doesn't want that to happen again. She's excited about BLACKPOOL because she's a Strictly superfan. I love that she can only view BLACKPOOL through the prism of this show. The editors soundtrack Fiona's training with Lily Allen's '22', which is some excellent stealth shade, and in rehearsals Fiona struggles with the lifts because she's never done anything like that before. In an attempt to get Fiona comfortable with heights, Anton takes her up the tower (FNAR). Fiona thinks this has really helped. Maybe we should have the whole show up there?

They're dancing an airport-themed American smooth to 'Come Fly With Me', and frankly any sort of airport-themed dance is inevitably going to invite unfavourable comparisons to this, so I feel like they're set out to fail from the beginning. To be fair, it's not terrible - Fiona looks fabulous and absolutely nails the old-Hollywood glamour of the theme, but she just looks unsure and uncomfortable for a lot of the routine, she's out of sync with Anton constantly and she's awfully cadaver-like in the lifts.

Len thought the attitude was first class, the movement was a bit business class, and the lifts were a bit economy. I think that's bang-on, actually. However, he adds that it had an air of style and class about it. Bruno declares "VIP lounge for you, my darling!", but he agrees - the attitude was elegant, but she looks a bit lost when she changes direction, saying it's a bit "oh, where's my handbag? Oh, Anton's there!" Did he call Anton a handbag? Craig would've liked more smoothness and points out the timing issues and the problems getting into the last lift. Anton cracks a "first-class take off" joke, and Craig admits that the soft shoe element in the middle was definitely first-class. Darcey loved the subtle details, but agrees with the men on the lifts - she thinks Fiona needs to dance with more pizazz and just watch her position in the lifts.

The time comes for them to head through security (although from what I hear, security on the night was a tad lax) to the Tess Circle, where Fiona sad-sacks that she knew she was going to blow that lift. Tess tries to help by pointing out that she didn't manage that lift AT ALL in the dress run thereby making it an improvement, though I'm not sure that Fiona is particularly grateful to have that secret failing broadcast to ten million people. Fiona credits Anton with getting her into the lift, "somehow". Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29. Fiona's happy with that score.

Our next couple is Abbey and Aljaž. Aljaž is looking delightfully Brideshead Revisited in a striped shirt, cravat and braces. Abbey reminds us that she "was in the bottom two the week before [last], even with high scores". I love that she's going to great pains to remind us that she's deeply unpopular. Last week she got high scores but was not in the bottom two, so it's very much onwards and upwards for La Clancy. Abbey used to go to BLACKPOOL with her family as a child to see the illuminations at Christmas, and never dreamed etc etc be there dancing in the ballroom. They're dancing the quickstep this week, and Aljaž (wearing an I FEEL sLOVEnia t-shirt ♥) decides that the best way to get her into the correct frame of mind for an old-fashioned dance take her to a tea dance. Abbey asks the clientele at the tea dance for advice, and they provide tips such as "stay close", "be on your toes", "imagine you're wearing a beautiful necklace" (okay, maybe not that last one) and then Abbey and Aljaž showcase the quickstep for the tea dancers. The tea dancers suggest that it's worth an eight, maybe a nine. I love the tea dancers. Can the tea dancers replace Darcey and Len? Abbey talks about how amazing it's been to come here today and how she wants to make everyone at the tea dance proud, while everyone at the tea dance sits behind her not giving one solitary shit.

They've got a seaside theme for their performance, complete with deckchairs, one of those pictures where you stick your face through it and have your photo taken, and a bizarrely oversized bucket and spade. I hope the story of this dance is that they're going to get comically shrunk halfway through and have to spend the rest of their quickstep trying not to get captured by crabs or squashed by careless tourists. They're dancing to 'Walking On Sunshine', and it's a little stilted at times. It's clearly a quickstep that's going for precision over speed, but it's marred throughout by a gap between them so vast that you could store all of their props in it, including the comically large bucket and spade. (On a positive note: well done to wardrobe for putting Aljaž in cream trousers once again; it's the best colour to fittingly highlight Dat Ass.)

Peter Crouch is on his feet (shot from beneath so as to look taller than the tower itself). Bruno calls it a "quickstep of pleasure beach" and calls for champagne for Abbey. He makes sure we know that Abbey is a NON-DANCER and that it's unbelievable for her to be able to pull off a dance of this quality. Craig notes on the gapping and says that her chin was too far down on the standing spin, and the frame was loose throughout. Also, she was dancing with both arms in the charleston section. Bruno screams "NOOOOOO!" like someone's trying to wrestle his drinks cabinet out from under the desk, and Craig insists that these are minor details and he loved it. "Oh, cut the crap!" snorts Bruno, and immediately clamps his hand over his mouth. Eh, it's no "the hills are alive with the sound of bullshit!", but it'll do. Darcey reminds us that Abbey is TALL and LEGGY and how hard it is for someone like that to handle those quick moves. There was one part where Abbey got overexcited and her elbow started acting like a metronome, but otherwise it was beautiful. Len tells Abbey that if she were a stick of BLACKPOOL rock, she'd have "talent" written all the way through. He then snorts in Craig's general direction that if you look hard enough at anything, you can find fault. I feel I should point out that I was cooking spaghetti bolognese while this dance was happening, so I had my back to the screen for most of it and I still saw most of that gapping, so nice try, Len.

Back in the Tess Circle, Tess makes sure to apologise for Bruno's potty mouth first and foremost. Tess asks Aljaž if this is his first time in BLACKPOOL (somebody clearly doesn't watch It Takes Two) and Aljaž says it's not the first, but definitely the best. Oh, you old smoothie. Tess asks how it would feel to get a 10 in BLACKPOOL, and Abbey says it would be amazing. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 37. I now feel more confident than ever that a BLACKPOOL 10 is equivalent to about an eight on a normal day, because come the fuck on. [Since POOR ABBEY and POOR PATRICK hit the bottom two I can't help view their scores through anything but the prism of judges overmarking to keep them safe - Rad]

We cut back to Bruce, who's recovering from Abbey's score and saying "I still can't believe that!" You and me both, kiddo. Mark and Iveta are next, and Mark admits that he found the rumba extremely difficult last week and being in the Dread Dance Off made him feel like he'd let Iveta down. "She deserves the best from me, and that's what she's going to get," vows Mark. He says he wants to give it 100 per cent this week - unfortunately, they've got the jive which is about as natural a fit for Mark as the rumba was. Mark has bad knees, which is going to make all the bouncing quite tricky. Mark and Iveta hit the town in BLACKPOOL and eat chips on the promenade, hoping that everyone's going to enjoy their jive. Iveta is wearing a hooded cape, because Iveta continues to be amazing.

So they're dancing to 'You Can't Stop The Beat' from Hairspray, as you've probably already inferred from their outfits. Again, this is a song that invites comparisons that won't do it any favours, and Mark struggles with the kicks and flicks part of it, but he's clearly spend a lot of time on getting his footwork right, and for someone of Mark's general level of ability in Latin who already has dodgy knees, it's a very credible effort. Some of the choreography appears to have been lifted more or less wholesale from the actual Hairspray choreography, which I suspect he may have some prior experience of, but fans of It Takes Two will be pleased to hear that this is the routine in which Iveta finally caved and incorporated The Dinosaur, following weeks of badgering from Mark. I wonder if she thought maybe this was her last chance.

They head over to Bruce who crows "if ever there was a dance that wasn't for you, it was this one, but my golly, you really pulled it together". I think Bruce and Tess attended the same school of accidentally insulting someone while trying to compliment them. Craig thought it was flat-footed and stompy, "it looked like you had flippers on the end of your legs". He knows it was entertaining, but he's looking for more technique. Bruce: "sometimes, Craig, you remind me of a funfair: you're no fun, and you're not fair." Oh, all right: heh. Bruce continues "for a guy of his size to do a jive!" and OH MY GOD, STOP GOING ON ABOUT MARK'S SIZE WHEN HE'S RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. Jeez, Bruce, have some class. I know you're trying to help, but shush. Darcey calls it "a show-stopping performance", but advises Mark to shift his weight a bit forward to get properly onto the balls of his feet. Len says you come to BLACKPOOL for fun, and that's what we got - it was lighthearted and joyful. Bruno finishes by saying that Mark gave them a fantastic ride that put the feelgood factor through the roof, and he danced more than he ever has.

Tess declares that they "bring the feelgood factor in bucketloads", but does not specify whether this is one of Abbey and Aljaž's buckets, or a regular-sized one. She also points out that it's Mark's birthday, and Mark says that he's had a great time all week. Asked if he wanted to come back with a vengeance after last week's Dread Dance Off encounter, Mark says he just wanted to have fun with this one. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 29 - Mark's highest score to date, possibly courtesy of BLACKPOOL Inflation.

Next up are Susanna and Kevin And All That Slap They're Wearing. Last week's waltz went very well, and Susanna was thrilled to get four nines, "especially one from Craig Revel-Horwood". Heh. This week, they have the paso, and Kevin explains that as a boy he was always taking part in ballroom competitions, so he was in BLACKPOOL quite a lot. Susanna, on the other hand, has mostly been there covering party conferences as a journalist and hasn't been there for fun. Kevin decides it's high time she experienced The Fun Of BLACKPOOL, so they go out shopping for rock, with Susanna buying Kevin one with "for my teacher" through the middle (adding "and frankly, you have been my rock", because like all breakfast TV presenters, she's a little bit cornball at heart). Kevin takes Susanna for her first look at the ballroom, and says "now I'm going to show you something that few people get to see." Ooh, Karen's going to be FURIOUS! Oh no, never mind, they're just playing on the Wurlitzer. (Not a euphemism.)

Their paso is to 'Les Toreadors' from Bizet's Carmen, aka that piece of music that everyone had as their ringtone around the time that polyphonic phones first came into existence. Along with Patrick and Anya's samba, this is the only other dance of the night not to prominently feature props or backing dancers - all they have is a couple of naked flames behind Kevin (let's hope he didn't have the chilli for lunch) which are quickly dispensed with. It soon turns out that additional help would've been entirely surplus to requirements anyway, because Susanna and Kevin have got paso face FOR DAYS. I've seen a few grumbles on the internets that this routine was all about Kevin and that Susanna was an afterthought, and I'm not sure I agree. For starters, the paso kind of inherently favours the man (in much the same way that women get a lot more to do in the rumba), and while it starts with a bit of dramatic tapping from Kevin, as soon as he and Susanna come together, they just create such a sense of drama and occasion that clearly requires input from both of them, and Susanna's giving as good as she gets. It's extremely sharp and staccato and there's some genuinely impressively nimble footwork from Susanna throughout. As disgustingly pretentious as this sounds, I just feel like this is one of those dances that really rewards you for looking at the details. SORRY BOUT IT.

Darcey says it was a wonderfully traditional paso, adding that Susanna "ate up that dancefloor" and calling her a "beautiful gypsy girl". "Lovely gypsy," echoes Bruce, a little bit seedily. Len says it was like a buffet of Spanish tapas, "full of tasty morsels all the way through". Bruno agrees that the flavour of Spain was definitely there. Craig thinks she was "channelling Chita Rivera tonight", adding that he means Anita from West Side Story for anyone who didn't get that reference, and chucking a "FAB-U-LOUS!" on the end for good measure.

They trudge through to the Tess Circle, with Susanna apparently feeling a little embarrassed by just how much she threw herself into that paso. She says that it's very inspiring to be here in BLACKPOOL, especially looking over and seeing a matador in front of her. Kevin says he just wanted Susanna to experience BLACKPOOL the way he experienced it as a boy, and that's why he took her to that house of bawdily dressed ladies last night. Or something. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Susanna has a full-on meltdown over getting three 10s and just starts thanking Kevin repeatedly. Tess congratulates her on "the highest score of the series so far", and a shaking Susanna says that she's kept saying to Kevin "I'm not a 10-sort of person." Hee. Susanna starts crying as Tess reads out the numbers, and Ben, Sophie and Ashley (who are standing behind her) all start rubbing her shoulders, while Karen gives Kevin a kiss. Awww. [I know I'm a bit of a Susanna/Kevin stan but that was pretty much the only dance (other than Sophie's 7 - I would have given 8) I thought was just a tiny bit overmarked - if not marked right - rather than vastly inflated - Rad]

Closing the show tonight, it's Natalie and Artem. Bruce reminds us of Natalie's near-death experience last week, as does the VT, in which we watch the wobbly-cam footage again and Natalie explains that she fainted in rehearsals on Saturday morning, then again in the dress run. Did we know she'd fainted twice? I knew about the one in the dress run, obviously, but I don't think I knew she'd already fainted once that morning. Anyway, on Monday morning Natalie went back to the doctor, who confirmed a diagnosis of exhaustion and declared her fit to dance this week. Natalie says that she's just really glad to still be here, and she's just going to enjoy herself whatever happens. She tells Artem that she feels like she's let him down by not being around to do the jive, and Artem tells her not to be silly, he was just concerned about her. This week they've got the charleston, which includes a couple of tricks that they've had to practice on crash-mats and Natalie's a bit nervous of them. She reminds us that she's a Lancashire lass and looking forward to coming home, via BLACKPOOL.

Their charleston is to 'Bang Bang' by William, and Natalie's in full-on gurning flapper mode. I don't know whether it's the band struggling with the song or if it's a problem with the dancing, but after an encouraging start, Natalie and Artem fall out of time with each other a little bit. I know it's the charleston, which is arguably the least precise of all the dances, but I just feel like it could benefit from being a little sharper, and also maybe from having fewer acrobatics and a bit more actual dancing. It was good, and it's going to get 10s, but it feels like a BLACKPOOL 10 dance rather than an actual 10 dance, which is a shame. [I feel like they're giving Natalie excellent scores now for dances that don't really merit them rather than giving her lower scores for excellent dances at the start, because Strictly scoring generally seems to go off which week they're at in the "journey" than the actual dancing.  This was so overmarked - and I say this as a fan of Natalie, of at least 50% of Artem's choreography AND of charleston.  I mean, I enjoyed it, but it was scrappy as all hell and their timing was rubbish - Rad]

Len calls it "spectacular". Bruno says it was "like watching Josephine Baker doing William at a Great Gatsby party". Well, there's a mental image to keep you awake at night. He declares that performance a suitable finale to a fantastic night in BLACKPOOL. Craig liked the modern twist on the dance (indeed, something tells me that Artem isn't really a big fan of period-appropriate charlestons) and says it was sensational. Darcey finishes by saying that Natalie always gives brilliant details, but this time she added character and personality. Wow, character AND personality!

They zip into the Tess Circle where Tess mews that she was ever so worried about Natalie last week, and Natalie says that she's "very sorry to scare everyone", but she's back and there'll be no more drama: "no more fainting, no more epidurals, no more broken noses". Talk is cheap - with this pair's track record, I give it a fortnight tops before one of them is in traction. Artem says he's very proud of Natalie for that performance. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

There we are, then. Here's the BLACKPOOL leaderboard:

Susanna & Kevin - 39
Natalie & Artem - 39
Abbey & Aljaž - 37
Patrick & Anya - 35
Ashley & Ola - 35
Sophie & Brendan - 34
Ben & Kristina - 32
Fiona & Anton - 29
Mark & Iveta - 29

Tess declares the BLACKPOOL phone lines open, and we see that all-important reminder: Sophie's ROBBED UNDERSCORED quickstep, Patrick and Anya's samba (minus wardrobe malfunction), the bits of Ben's American smooth where he was actually dancing, Ashley's gay-cowboy-eating-pudding paso, Fiona's American smooth experiencing a bumpy lift-off, Abbey's SO GAPPY IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SELLING CHINOS quickstep, Mark and Iveta's paying tribute to his day job, Susanna and Kevin's dramarama of a paso, and Natalie's pretty-good-but-not-quite-as-good-as-I-hoped charleston.

So it's been fun in BLACKPOOL, but one couple will be getting BLACKPOOLIMINATED on Sunday. (I'm so sorry.) If Sophie is in the Dread Dance Off, believe me, I will be KICKING. OFF. Won't that be fun for everyone?


Scott Willison said...

BBC LIES! Bits of that "Strictly is coming to BLACKPOOL and we're all excited!" segment at the start were filmed in Liverpool. LICENCE FEE REFUND PLEASE.

Steve said...

I don't believe in romeos or heroes any more. :(

funkycow said...

Natalie was quite obviously out of time ay the start - three 10s? RABBISH!