Sunday, 28 September 2014

Bridge over troubled waters

Week 1: Nine Couples Perform - 27 September 2014

Last night: the first six celebrities performed - the good, the bad and the Scott Mills. (Not that I'm implying he's ugly, just that he really is a category in his own right.) Tonight, the remaining nine contestants show us what they've got. Will anybody be able to knock Jake Wood off the top of the leaderboard? And will anybody be able to knock Scott off the bottom of it? Neither seems impossible, which is all part of the fun. To the ballroom!

Titles. In retrospect, Thom's frozen smile that doesn't reach his eyes should have been a warning sign, shouldn't it?

We open with what I hope is a promising sign of things to come from the pro-choreography team: a routine to Bastille's 'Pompeii' (with a bit of 'The Rhythm Of The Night' thrown in) featuring a shitload of fancy graphics that the pros seem to be producing out of the palms of their hands, as well as Anton smashing Aljaž in the chest and turning him into butterflies and an entire army of Karens and Kevins [and multiple Alionas pulling bitchface <3 - Rad]. It's just such a joyful and energetic piece. Honestly, the only way I would've liked it better is if they'd all been dressed as octopuses. But I can see where that would've been problematic from a logistics point of view, so I'll let them off. It all ends with Janette laying her hands on that glitterball trophy, which does seem a distinct possibility after last night's strong opening, but all the same, it's a bit premature, Jan.

Tess and Claudia arrive in a more traditional fashion (from the wings, in other words) and things are very much back to normal for Claudia tonight: she's back in black and eyeliner, so somebody obviously paid the ransom since Friday. Daly Dresswatch: a black vest top and a red wraparound skirt. It's simple, but it works. Tess and Claudia thank the pros for that spectacular opening, and Claudia warns the contestants that this is the standard they're looking for in this series. There's a shot of the audience, and all of The Saturdays are here tonight to support Frankie, which is sweet. (*narrows eyes at Girls Aloud*) The judges arrive in the same comically overblown way that they did last night, and I hope that is just going to be an opening weekend thing because it might be a bit much on a weekly basis. [Darcey was very half-arsed about it all.  I mean, I know she's ballet, not ballroom/Latin, but a plié or something could have sufficed - Rad]

The celebrities and their partners parade in: Jake and Janette, Pixie and Trent, Steve and Ola, Judy and Anton, Mark and Karen, Alison and Aljaž, Gregg and Aliona, Frankie and Kevin, Tim and Natalie, Caroline and Pasha, Simon and Kristina, Jennifer and Tristan, Scott and Joanne, Sunetra and Brendan, and Thom and Iveta.

Claudia and Tess remind us about the scoring, and the no-one-going-home-ness, and then we get straight down to business with our first couple, Mark and Karen. Tess's intro runs as follows: "Before the series started, Mark's friends called him 'Marky No-Mates', 'Marky No-Moves'. Slip of the tongue, Mark!" And to think we all assumed failed autocue readings would be a thing of the past after Bruce retired. In his VT, Mark explains that Essex boys have this image of being too cool to dance (do they?), but it's not true at all. He's thinking that once this is all over, he'll be able to dance rings around Kirk, Bobby, Dan, Mario, Dave, Dave 2, Joey Joe-Joe, Ethelred The Unready and anyone else from TOWIE that I might have forgotten. Mark tells us that several of the other lads wanted Karen (although as we discovered last night, Scott wasn't one of them), but he got her, so he's feeling pretty good right now. Karen says that she sees a lot of potential in Mark, so she'll be working hard. In what I hope is really not an attempt to launch a catchphrase, Mark concludes that "this could go terribly wrong or terribly (W)right, all I need to do is hit my Mark on the night." Oh lawd. [I wonder what Tess and Claudia, who are actually TV presenters, think when they have to describe the likes of Mark Wright and Abbey Clancy as such - Rad]

In training for the cha cha cha, Karen explains that their dance is NYC-themed, so she's trying to get Mark to channel his "inner New Yorker". In turn, Mark attempts to get Karen to channel her inner Essex girl, and I'm reasonably certain we went through all of this two years ago with Nicole Scherzinger on The X Factor, so let's just keep it moving.

They're dancing to Wham!'s 'I'm Your Man', and I'm pleasantly surprised by how it turns out. Mark's got a good sense of rhythm, he keeps up with Karen pretty much throughout, and he looks like he's enjoying himself. There's some work to be done as far as technical precision goes, and he's curiously camp in the way that red-blooded heterosexual Essex boys often are (we actually had a saying at my university: "he's not gay, he's just from Essex"), but on the basis of this first presentation, I'd say he's probably the most natural dancer that Karen's been given to work with since she started on the show. I realise that's extremely lukewarm praise considering her only other partners have been Nicky Byrne and Dave Myers, but hey, at least this guy has some potential. If the public like him enough to keep him in (and from what I'm told, he came across as a fairly nice guy on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, so there's hope on that front), I think Karen could get some good routines out of him. They will both, however, need to rein in the worst of their excesses, since Karen lets him do both a handstand and the worm as part of the routine, neither of which is a particularly great idea. (Although Darren Gough did the worm and won, so who knows?) [I thought this routine was really fun, although Wham! plus bright colours will always win me over.  Also, despite not ever being a huge Karen fan before, nor having any interest in the TOWIEs, I think I'm going to love these two, mainly because I can see them attracting a lot of hate on the internet which they won't give two shits about and that is always entertaining - Rad]

Mark gets a standing ovation, though we're going to see many of those over the course of the evening. Tess introduces the singers and the band, getting all the punctuation in the right place this time. Len thinks Mark started out very encouragingly, but then he got "overexcited" and started to go a bit quickly. Michelle Keegan boos him for this. Obviously Len didn't care for "the silly handstand" and "the Free Willy", so he tells Mark that he has fantastic potential, but he just needs to calm down, keep on time and "take out the Free Willy". Can't you get arrested for that? Bruno tells Mark that he has "chutzpah" and he likes the confidence of his performance, but he just needs to control his energy in future. Craig thought the walks were very stilted and Mark's hands were very flat, amongst other things, but he liked the caterpillar and thought the routine was cute and cheeky. Darcey warns Mark to watch his bouncing shoulders, but generally she thinks he's going to go far in the competition.

They make their way up to Casa Claudia (I'm sticking with that name, at least until Rad or I think of a better one), where Mark tells Claudia that he just wanted to get through it. Claudia asks him if he feels emotional, and Mark says that he does, "that's why I want to stop talking". Heh. He tells her that it's been hard work and he got through it, so he's pleased. Claudia squeals that he is JUST THE CUTEST and Karen says that she's very proud of him. After a quick look at the "leaderbird", or indeed the leaderboard, it's time for the scores: Craig 5, Darcey 7, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 24.

On second, we have Alison and Aljaž. Aljaž is wearing lopsided aviators and grinning like a loon and already I can sense that I'm going to love him this year. In her VT, Alison explains that as This Morning's roving reporter, she does everything from celebrity interviews to travelling the world. She tells us in no uncertain terms that she is entirely fearless where Strictly is concerned, and she was born ready to dance. As we might have noticed, Alison was thrilled to be paired with Aljaž on the launch show - and he seemed genuinely excited to get her as well, so I had a quiet confidence about these two. Aljaž says that he is "very fortunate to be the reigning champion of Strictly Come Dancing" (you can say that again, bloody Clancy) and says that he's going to do his best to keep hold of the trophy.

In training for their cha cha cha, we hear for the umpteenth time this weekend that the cha cha cha is a cheeky dance. Aljaž thinks this is a very good way for the two of them to start their competition. Alison, meanwhile, is focusing on other things, telling us that she is "so not getting bored of his beauty", and that she thinks it's very helpful that he's so gorgeous, because it makes her not want to disappoint him. She cackles that he's "the sort of teacher you want to marry". Alison explains that their routine is based on The Bodyguard, so she's Whitney Houston and he's "the security guy looking after me". Hmm, if only there were a way of describing that job in a single word. Alison says that she just hopes Aljaž is proud of her after they perform together on Saturday.

And here they go! Their routine is to 'I'm Every Woman', and it's impossible to put into words how much fun it is. However, I shall try, because that's what I'm here for. First of all, Alison is having the time of her life right here. But I was kind of prepared for that. What I was not prepared for is that so is Aljaž. This routine is basically Aljaž camped up to 11, and I had no idea just how entertaining that would be. It actually makes me even more annoyed with Abbey Clancy in retrospect for being so bland that we never really got to see this side of him. For those of you interested in whether it's any good technically, I imagine that's not really the point of this routine but even so, Alison is impressive: she moves well and hits the beats, even if her footwork is a little bit slow at times. It goes a little bit wrong in the last 20 seconds or so as the energy level that Alison was showing at the beginning starts to subside a little bit, but it's so much fun that it's hard to care about that. There are some obvious parallels to Lisa Riley to be drawn here, and I wonder if Alison might suffer a little bit from the "been-there-seen-that" effect, but one of the things I was always sad about with Lisa was that she just plateaued after an amazing start, so I hope that Aljaž turns out to be a better teacher than Robin and that this is just the beginning for Alison.

"Viva la diva!" exclaims Bruno. He liked Alison's "wholesome, uplifting radiance", but advises her to work on getting on the balls of her feet a bit more. Craig says that's one of the most confident first-time performances he's ever seen (and Alison is thrilled by this) - he agrees with Bruno that it was a bit flat-footed and suspects that's due to Alison wearing slightly lower heels, but he thinks she has an "instinctive gift for music and rhythm". [NATURAL RHYTHM KLAXON - Rad] Darcey agrees that Alison is "infectious" and thinks she's never going to get bored watching her. Len says that Alison is his kind of girl: "big, bold and bouncy". Well, I think we all know Len's been looking at the top shelf in the newsagents. He finishes by saying that Alison is good in the mornings, but fantastic at night.

They run up the stairs, Aljaž positively beaming with pride, and Alison is mobbed by the other contestants. This cast does seem to get along well, at least at first glance. [The ones I follow on Twitter all tweet pics of each other which is sweet and Mrs Mrs Brown got them all some sort of picture thingy made from Max Spielmann or whatever like the cast mam she so clearly is - Rad] (I swear this is the first time I've seen Aliona smile all weekend.) Alison says that she feels like she's in a dream and this is all not real. Aljaž taps her on the shoulder and says "it is!", because he is just absolutely precious. Claudia reveals that all anyone can hear backstage is Alison laughing and Aljaž trying to coax her back into training. I have a feeling that their backstage VTs on It Takes Two are going to be quite something. Alison says that she's loved every minute of it, and Aljaž has been a brilliant trainer. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Alison tells Claudia she was just hoping to get above fives, so she's very happy.

Next we have Steve and Ola, and Ola is quite clearly dressed for another patented Ola Jordan Rock Tango, so I'm already excited. Tess intros that Steve has faced some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, blah blah blah we all know that the punchline is going to be Craig. In his VT, Steve talks about being wee and going out and catching snakes and spiders. He tells us that he once spent an entire summer in the Arctic (I spent four years living in the Outer Hebrides, so I know how that feels) and didn't change his clothes the entire time, and now suddenly he's got people throwing glitter and hair product at him. Steve adds that when he was told he was dancing with Ola, his "fear factor" went through the roof - presumably because he knew this meant he'd have to make social niceties with James at some point. Ola calls him Steven (<3) and says that she hopes he's ready for her honesty.

Ola works him very hard in training, ordering him around and Steve says that it's an awful lot of information to take in at once. They do a bit of business where he decides to treat it like an expedition and is showing Ola everything he's packed, and she chases after him with "glitter spray". Is it not a bit early for the comedy VTs?

They're dancing the tango to 'Born To Be Wild' (of course): Steve starts it sitting on a motorbike which he then cartwheels over, and Ola is dressed like Vampyra The Strange. It's everything that you'd expect from one of Ola's tangos and more, including a few bits of random paso shaping thrown in for good measure. I think Steve's having the problem that burly men get on this show sometimes where it's harder for him to get the posture right because his muscles are in the way, but his energy is good, his attitude is good, his footwork shows potential and if he can sort out his hands he could do very well.

Tess gets all giddy over Steve's shoulders, as does Craig. He liked the cartwheel, but scolds Steve for not pointing his feet in that cartwheel. He thinks Steve dances a bit with his left elbow which loses his frame a bit, but he thinks it was a strong performance. Darcey says that Steve's focus and strength were kept up all the way through, adding "you did not die". O...kay. She was similarly distracted by Steve's arms, and tells him to make sure he stretches his arms to avoid them looking bent. Len thought it was "not quite a Triumph, but definitely not a moped". He thinks it was clean and precise and well-danced, although he got over-aggressive at one stage. Bruno calls him "somewhere between Popeye and Marlon Brando", actually quite a good summary of Steve. He sees a lot of great potential there for Steve to work on, but he just needs to "release the bulk a little bit more". Hey, Steve can release his bulk for me any time.

Steve and Ola head up to Casa Claudia, and Steve says he's really pleased to get lots of constructive criticism because he knows there's still a lot to be worked on at this stage, and he was even happier that the comments were more good than bad. Bless him, he is such a kids' TV presenter. He also points out that with Ola in that barely-there dress, everyone will be looking at her and not at his feet. Claudia: "They're not looking at your feet, love." Ha! Scores are in: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Claudia tells us that they've got the cha cha cha next week. Who knows what Ola won't be wearing for that? In the meantime, Claudia and Tess have some suggestions for more animal-themed bands for Steve to dance to: Arctic Monkeys, the Beatles, Def Leppard, Seal, Llama Del Ray and Swan Direction. Don't call us, etc.

Jennifer and Tristan (and Tristan's Chest Hair, hello there) are next. Jennifer tells us that her character in Mrs Brown's Boys, Cathy, is not known for her dance moves. Is she known for anything? I mean, I don't really watch it so I'm probably not best-placed to judge, but I assume the characters were basically known as "man in a dress" and "everyone else". After being paired with Tristan on the launch show, Jennifer noticed that they are both Irish, and therefore hopes that they will indeed have the luck of the Irish. Tristan is also happy with this partnership, as Jennifer has a "super personality" and "seems really determined". Jennifer likens the relationship to "dancing with your little brother", so that's at least two out of a potential 15 showmances well and truly scotched, unless you happen to like incest.

In training, Jennifer gets frustrated easily, but Tristan thinks that's good because it means she cares. Jennifer admits to being "a bit of a perfectionist". Looking for some guidance in these early days, she goes to talk to series 10's Nicky Byrne. I mean, I realise he is also Irish, but surely there must have been someone better she could've asked? Someone who can actually dance? Nicky advises her to take some deep breaths, and to do it for Ireland. Thanks Nicky!

They're doing the jive to 'Happy', which came out just long enough ago for most of us to be completely sick of it by now. They have a bit of a theme of a front room, complete with sofa, table and telly (fun fact: the table was originally meant for Alison until someone showed the producers a clip from Big Brother 3), which sort of gets in the way a little bit. Jennifer's legs don't really have the necessary swiftness, but for a week one jive from a tall 50-year-old woman it's fairly decent overall. [JIVE IS HARD FOR TALL PEOPLE - Rad]

Jennifer tells Tess that she's relieved because she made it from start to finish without falling. Tess asks Darcey if she was happy with it, and Darcey replies that she is "happily exhausted". Is that a thing? Darcey says it's a very difficult first dance, and Tristan gave her lots of dance content. She needs to watch that her shoulders don't lift, but it was good that she was enjoying it. Len says there was a touch of Riverdance included, but "the problem was, as you did the jive, your feet were still in the river". So the kicks and flicks needed to be sharper, but he thought the spirit was there. Bruno says that Tristan was a hard act to keep up with, and Jennifer managed to do all the steps, but next time she just needs a bit more energy and attention to her presentation. Craig says that her arms were all over the place, and she was a little hunched of back. He thinks she flagged towards the end and lacked the stamina that she needed.

They get another great reception on their arrival in Casa Claudia, and Jennifer says that she loved every second of the routine. Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. Next week they have the waltz, which should be a little easier. Tristan hopes they'll get four fives next week. Bless him and his carefully-managed expectations. [I love Tristan so far.  Even if he seems a bit short to be Jennifer's partner as if they just cast on nationality like they would ever do such a thing - Rad]

Thom and Iveta are next, and Thom is still staring down the camera as though he thinks there may be an assassin hiding behind it. He says that as a former rugby type, he's clearly going to be quite competitive. He also mentions that he's been known to take his top off (it'd be more honest if he said he'd been known to occasionally put some clothes on), so he's not particularly uncomfortable in the revealing outfits. Iveta says that she thinks all the girls wanted to dance with Thom. Thom thinks Iveta will be "pushy, but in a good way", and Iveta declares that they'll work so hard that they'll go straight to the final.

Iveta's first comment in training is that "social media has been going mad about Thom and how handsome he is". Nothing excites me more than the prospect of Iveta Lukosiute: Social Media Correspondent across this series. I can't wait until she discovers Tumblr. Iveta tells Thom that her mother told her never to trust a man with brown eyes. Thom asks why. Iveta doesn't know. Okay, I find these two hilarious already, possibly for the wrong reasons. Thom shows Iveta some of his own moves, and she declares them "quite interesting". (It does look like he might turn out to be quite good at the jive when that rolls around, but I reserve the right to entirely delete this comment if I'm wrong.) Thom says that he finds the waltz strange because it requires him to look away from his partner. He's looking forward to getting out there on the night and dancing.

So let's get to it: Iveta is going full-schmaltz and making him dance to 'You Raise Me Up'. [The singers aren't great tonight, but they're up against it with the dreaful re-imaginings of songs that don't suit 3/4 time at all to try and make them waltz music.  It's like a rash this weekend and it sounds bloody awful - Rad] To be honest, it's a bit of a let-down. His face is locked in the same grin-of-terror as it was up in Casa Claudia, and the whole thing is rather stilted and stumbly. There's one moment where he seems to go quite seriously wrong because there's suddenly a massive gap between him and Iveta that she's frantically trying to close up, like he led her somewhere she wasn't supposed to be going. It's decent, pleasant, inoffensive, but - and I never thought I'd say this about anything that involved staring at Thom Evans uninterrupted for 90 seconds - it's nothing to get excited about. If he wants to be in with a chance, he needs to either develop a personality or get much better at dancing very quickly. I don't think hotness alone is enough to see him through this. (Of course, personality is overrated. Let's not forget this competition has been won by Abbey Clancy and Louis Smith. And as much as I loved him, Harry's personality was about 70 per cent knitwear.)

Tess tells Thom "you raised all of us up, that's for sure". That one's too easy, I'm not going anywhere near that. Len thinks that Thom's waltz was a little bit careful - the frame was good, but there was a mistake that left him on the wrong foot for a while. Next week, apparently, Thom's got the salsa, so let's hope he'll get his cleavage out, shake that moneymaker and leave this routine as a distint and unfortunate memory. Bruno says that it was a very kind waltz, that he was treating Iveta like she was made of glass, and he was clearly trying very hard to get everything right. Next time, he wants more impetus, more drive and a bit more sex. Craig thinks Thom let Iveta down by overbalancing her on a promenade turn, and his hand-shaping is not good. He points out that Iveta got away from Thom "almost by a metre, I don't know how you got back together" - but he did love it. Darcey says she was expecting him to lead because he's tall and elegant, but he was being safe, so she wants him to open his shoulders, "stick those pecs out, and be proud". Amen, sister.

A rather subdued Thom and Iveta head up to Casa Claudia, where Iveta says that Thom definitely did not let her down. Claudia is shipping this partnership hard already and says that she was hoping they were going to kiss at the beginning, and she wants them to at least consider it for future. I think if we check Claudia's hard drive next week, we will find reams of Thometa fanfic on there. Thom mumbles something about needing to build up to a kiss, and I dissolve into helpless laughter about the guy who posed for this suddenly being hit by a debilitating attack of shyness. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. Tess asks if they're happy with that, and Thom mumbles that the judges are right, he did mess up on one particular step, and he'll try to take that all on board for next week. I really, really hope this is just a bad case of first night nerves rendering him so utterly dull, because otherwise his stint on this show is going to be such a bonershrinker.

After a midway preview of the four couples yet to come, we return to Tess and Claudia on the dancefloor, where Claudia has her arm in some greaseproof paper that I think is meant to suggest a sling. Claudia asks Tess if she can guess who's next from this subtle visual clue, and I'm not sure what it says about me that my initial response was "is James Jordan back?" Of course, it actually means that Casualty's Sunetra Sarker is next to dance. Sunetra tells us in her VT that she didn't realise how comfortable she was in a hospital until she first stepped onto the dancefloor. (She does know that she doesn't actually work in a hospital, right?) She was convinced that she wouldn't get Brendan because he's tall and legendary (it says here), but now that she's got him, she's feeling the pressure of having to be his partner. Sunetra frets that she's really unfit, but Brendan assures us that fitness will come if you have the right energy. Sunetra hopes she'll be a good student.

They have the tango first, and Sunetra is struggling with the pivots in training, constantly losing her balance. She asks Brendan what will happen if it turns out she can't do them; Brendan assures her that he will simplify things as he sees fit, but that he won't need to do it because Sunetra is going to learn how to pivot, dammit! The idea of having a routine simplified due to her own shitness does not sit well with Sunetra, so she stiffens her resolve and throws herself right back into it.

They're dancing to Robert Palmer's 'Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)' and for a second I worry that Brendan's gone off the theming deep-end as they start it in surgical gowns and tapping out rhythms on hospital beds, divided by a screen. Fortunately that gimmick doesn't last too long. Sunetra's dancing seems pretty good - her footwork is nicely staccato and she delivers some nice little flourishes that are very impressive for a first outing. I'd say her posture needs a little work, but other than that, this seems promising. (Worrying: the band appear to be singing "doctor, doctor, give me the noose". I know it's been a long evening, but things can't be that bad, can they?)

Bruno opens for the judges and tells Sunetra that it was a firecracker of a tango - he likes her bent back, but he thinks she goes a bit wobbly in hold, but he thinks that will all come together with experience. Craig says that she has great rhythm and she acted it very well, but she just didn't have the right frame for the tango. Darcey liked the attack and the story of the dance, and she liked the neck, but agrees with the others that some energy was lacking when in hold. Len thought there was far more right with it than wrong with it, but singles out Sunetra's left arm as an obvious problem area.

They make their way to Casa Claudia, where Sunetra likens the experience to "stepping up to take a penalty for England". "Doesn't that mean we're going to lose?" cracks Brendan, and then ducks upon realising that he may get a hostile reaction to that sort of observation. Claudia asks Sunetra what it's like working with Brendan, and she says that she thinks he may have met his match, because she's been bossing him around all week. And so the annual "has this woman finally tamed Brendan?" storyline rolls out once again. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 7 for a total of 24. Sunetra waves hello to her son Noah, and says she hopes he'll be going to bed soon. [Sunetra <3 - Rad]

Gregg and Aliona are our seventh couple of the evening. Tess's intro refers to Gregg as a "top chef" - surely no one in the UK with a pulse and an iota of interest in MasterChef thinks Gregg is a chef, do they? I mean, he does remind us all that he's a greengrocer fairly often. [In the last series of MasterChef: The Professionals, they didn't even call him a greengrover, but a 'diner'.  A 'diner'! - Rad] He even says this as his opening line in his VT. Gregg explains that he'll be filming the new series of MasterChef while he's on Strictly, which I'm sure has already started at least three threads on the Digital Spy forums entitled "IS GREGG GOING TO EAT ALIONA???!!!" Gregg says that he was very happy to be partnered with Aliona, because she has a reputation as a very good teacher. Aliona still seems...less enthused about the partnership, commenting that Gregg tells jokes all. the. time. Gregg resolves to train really hard and prove to Aliona that there's more to him than just being a joker.

In training, Aliona does her best to get Gregg to stop telling jokes and start focusing on his dancing instead, but she is just one solitary human being, so it's perhaps a limited success at best. Gregg asks Aliona if he can film her feet while she does the routine so he can practice at home, and Aliona says "absolutely" he can, but I'm sure she's half-expecting to find herself the star attraction on a foot fetishist website within 24 hours. True to his word, Gregg does indeed practice at home, though I didn't necessarily need the footage of him cha cha chaing around his house in a pair of shorts. I would've taken it on good faith. Aliona says that Gregg is putting a lot of hard work in, so she hopes it will all go well on the night.

They're dancing to 'Hot 'n' Cold' by Katy Perry, and there's a load of business involving a restaurant table and a dropped napkin before either of them does any dancing, which turns out to be a blessed relief considering what follows. Gregg really doesn't have much of a clue what he's doing, and I think Aliona's made the same mistake that Joanne did: she's sent him off to the other side of the dancefloor to cha cha all by himself, when she would've been much better off with him in hold where she can keep a closer eye on him and guide him into the right steps. (This is, of course, assuming that Aliona actually wants to advance in the competition, which is still to be determined.)

Craig, of course, is ecstatic to finally have the opportunity to turn the tables after his stint on Celebrity MasterChef ("you were really nasty about my pink peppercorns, darling, I recall"). He vows to be nice by telling the truth, which is one way of looking at what follows, I suppose: he likens Gregg to a wind-up toy, and like a pressure cooker about to explode. He also points out the double-bounce action which belongs in a samba, not the cha cha cha, and notes that Gregg's limp wrist and strutting very camp. "You need to iron that out, Aliona," scolds Craig. "You must have seen that in the mirror, darling!" Aliona nods wearily, as if to suggest that we really don't want to know what she's seen in the mirror over the last three weeks. However, on the other hand, Craig knows that Gregg has been practising really hard because they've all seen him rehearsing backstage wherever he goes, and Craig can only encourage that level of enthusiasm. Darcey says that she "weirdly liked that" - she points out that Gregg's bottom sticks out and his shoulder are all over the place, but there's "something okay" about it all, and she likes him without his glasses. [Gregg looks really really weird, like Dr Evil weird, without his specs, which I found quite unnerring.  Sorry Gregg - Rad] Faint praise, party of one! Len found it too small, neat and dainty, and worries if Gregg has been practising so much that he's lost the flair of the whole thing. Bruno says that Gregg's dancing brought to mind "a mince pie with a soggy bottom", but at least there was a lingering sweet aftertaste.

Up in Casa Claudia, Gregg says that he loved dancing and really enjoyed himself, but he's fairly certain he messed up a bit. A bit?!? Scores: Craig 3, Darcey 5, Len 5, Bruno 5 for a total of 18. Claudia gives Gregg a trifle to celebrate completing his first dance, and Gregg sticks his face straight in the whipped cream. I wonder if that's ruined custard for Aliona forever.

Our penultimate couple of the night is Frankie and Kevin. Tess is sitting in the audience with the rest of The Saturdays and explains that Frankie has been very busy of late, because as well as practising for her first dance, she's also been out on tour with the band. In her VT, Frankie says that she's used to getting nervous before going out to perform, but normally she has the rest of the band there to share it all with, whereas here the focus is all going to be on her. (If it's any consolation, Frankie, most of the focus on Twitter last night appeared to be on Kevin's arse, so that's some pressure off you.) She's looking forward to all the sparkly costumes, though. Frankie says that Kevin seems to have high hopes for her, and she doesn't want to let him down.

Kevin (complete with glasses <3) starts training Frankie for the waltz. Due to her touring schedule, Frankie's a bit tired, and Kevin is aghast that she's yawning during training. He goes to see her performing at Wembley and proudly sticks a VIP pass onto his jacket. We get a sample of Frankie's hectic touring schedule, but she promises us that she's trying to fit in some training wherever she can, with Una serving as the judge. Una does not seem to be particularly discerning as a critic. Frankie gives Kevin a shout-out during the Wembley show and Kevin throws his hands up in the air, waving them around like he just don't care. Kevin opines that if Frankie brings some of her tour energy to Strictly, they could go all the way to the final.

They're waltzing to a very slowed-down version of Adele's 'Someone Like You', which has had to be shoehorned into waltz-time a little bit. There's some business with an umbrella which I'm not sure is completely necessary, but other than that it's an excellent first dance. Frankie's arms are soft and lyrical, her posture is good, the chemistry with Kevin is coming along nicely, there are even some head-rolls in there. This girl's got potential.

There's another standing ovation for Frankie, and Darcey declares it a "major hit" for Frankie. She loved the arms, but would just like Frankie to pull out of the waist even more when she's in hold. Kevin shoots The Sats a big thumbs-up. Len declares it the best dance of week one. Bruno calls it "deliciously romantic" and says that Frankie gave meaning to what she did. He was particularly impressed by the extensions of her lines. Craig says that she danced a lot of it on her toes, but there were lovely arms, and it was graceful, elegant and romantic.

In Casa Claudia, we learn that Frankie didn't sleep at all last night because she was so nervous. Claudia asks Frankie if she enjoyed the performance, and Frankie replies that she doesn't know, because it feels a bit like the performance didn't actually happen. Kevin says that she did an amazing job, and he didn't sleep either because he was listening to The Saturdays' Greatest Hits all night. He's such a dork. Scores are in: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 30 - the highest score of the weekend. "The pressure's on now!" gulps Frankie.

Finally, we have Simon and Kristina. In his VT, Simon says that he's been to the gym a lot in the last month, mostly to do boxing which he seems to think will help with his footwork. It's not a strategy I've heard of before, but I won't knock it before I've seen the results. Simon jokes about teaching Kristina his famous shoulder pop, and Kristina tells us that Simon will need to work much harder than that to impress her, never mind the judges.

They're starting out with the jive, and Simon says that he's finding the whole thing very difficult, but he's glad that he has Kristina to show him how to do it all. Kristina tells Simon that because he's a musician (/has already done the Christmas special and therefore knows how this all works), she's going to give him a solo spot in the routine and allow him to choreograph it himself. Simon seems a little alarmed by this, but Kristina insists he's up to the challenge. Simon then suggests doing Gangnam Style, and Kristina begins to doubt her own judgement.

They're dancing to 'Good Golly Miss Molly', and the routine opens with Simon miming playing the piano before breaking Strictly Commandment No. 7 ("Thou shalt not play thy partner's body like a musical instrument"). That aside, it's a very slick performance - Simon's very energetic and his movements are very crisp and clean. He's a little bit stampy in his feet in certain sections, but he and Kristina are well-matched and he really sells the number. The crowd love it, and it's another standing ovation.

Len says that there were plenty of kicks, tricks and flicks - he liked the freedom that Simon danced with. Bruno says that Simon has a wonderful, frisky bounce, and he spotted some Michael Jackson steps in there, but Simon needs to remember to point his feet. Craig thinks Simon needs to be up on his toes a bit more, which is why the dance looked flat-footed. He loved the cross-legged turn, but there was a wobble in the middle, but all the same it was a great performance for week one. Darcey loved Kristina's detailed choreography, but advises Simon to keep it crisp all the way to the end.

They bounce all the way up to Casa Claudia, and Claudia's impressed with how quickly he went from only being able to do shoulder moves to being able to turn a jive out. Simon says that he's disappointed with himself and everyone else is positively scandalised - he explains that he knew what the judges meant flat-footedness. Kristina tells him to lighten up and enjoy it. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 27. Based on the comments, I'd been expecting the scores to be higher than that. It's still a good week one score, but I thought he'd get more.

That's everyone. Phew! Let's see the final week one leaderboard, then:

1. Frankie & Kevin - 30
2. Jake & Janette - 28
3=. Caroline & Pasha - 27
3=. Pixie & Trent - 27
3=. Simon & Kristina - 27
6=. Alison & Aljaž - 26
6=. Steve & Ola - 26
8=. Mark & Karen - 24
8=. Sunetra & Brendan - 24
10. Thom & Iveta - 23
11=. Tim & Natalie - 18
11=. Judy & Anton - 18
11=. Jennifer & Tristan - 18
11=. Gregg & Aliona - 18
15. Scott & Joanne - 16

Points of interest: a lot of people scoring 27, a lot of people scoring 18, and we have a Clifton at the top of the leaderboard and at the bottom.

We get a recap of all of this week's routines: Caroline's promising start, Tim's eccentric energy, Jake's moody tango, Judy's tortuous waltz, whatever the heck that thing was that Scott did, Pixie's hot pink jive, Mark's better-than-expected cha cha cha, Alison's effervescent cha cha cha, Steve pouting his way through our designated Ola Jordan rock tango of the year, Jennifer's scattered but enthusiastic jive, Thom's stuttery waltz, Sunetra's haughty tango, Gregg's hot mess, Frankie's charming waltz, and Simon's possibly-underscored jive.

So that's it for the weekend. Next week someone's going home, and also the performance show is 130 minutes long. Yikes. Rad will be here to guide you through that. I hope she's got a very comfortable sofa.


bojanglies said...

Gregg very happy to be paired with Aliona, eh? ...

Penny said...

Wow! Your keyboard must be smoking by now.
Thanks for getting this out so quickly - reading your opinions completes the Strictly experience for us.

DeltaBlues said...

"And as much as I loved him, Harry's personality was about 70 per cent knitwear."

BWAHAHAHAAAA! It's funny because it's true.