Last week was officially jetlag week, as everyone flagged somewhat following the excesses of BLACKPOOL, an actually quite good BLACKPOOL hangover week and the nonsense that was AROUND THE WORLD WEEK. Dancing was mediocre, scores were mediocre, and we got a genuine SHOCK! BOOT! as the Len and Trent mini hatemance concluded in Len saving Simon despite his addiction to dance-offs and Pixie being sent packing.
This week! Semi-finals week! Or, as it’s better known, TWO-DANCE WEEK. Oh joy of joys, I am recapping all the classics this year. [You saw what I had to recap last week, right? - Steve]
We open with a VT about how much everyone wants to get to the final and how sad they are about the death of poor Pixie. Oh well, onwards.
Credits. With hindsight, Judy’s stiffness in the titles should have been a sign of things to come.
Tess and Claud enter on the arms of Aljaž and Trent. Daly dresswatch: white, Grecian. What Winkleman’s wearing: Black, short, off the shoulder. They look a bit like a bride and her slightly embarrassingly drunk naughty bridesmaid, especially as Tess’s hair and make-up are all styled glamour and Claudia’s are a bit quick-fumble-with-a-brush-and-red-lippy-in-Wetherspoon’s toilets.
The judges’ entrance features Len sweeping the stairs in penance for killing Pixie last week and Craig sporting a tiny, presumably panto-inspired, beard. The stars enter and ye Gods what is Kevin wearing? Some sort of possessed toy soldier thing? Caroline is the only one dancing to the theme tune. Spoilsports.
The first couple of the evening are Jake and Janette. Janette’s wearing crystals round her eyes that make her look like a generic Star Trek alien of the week. Last week they had a good Charleston and Jake was pleased to have had a(nother) comeback. He says their technique for the cha cha needs to be good and clean. Shame no-one told Janette to choreograph that. His kids and their school mates all wish him good luck via a not-product-placement tablet from their school assembly. Then weirdly-not-yet-been-a-contestant Barbara Windsor turns up and dances with him a bit.
Their cha cha is to ‘Boogie Shoes’ and involves Jake wearing sparkly silver shoes and dancing in the ‘Queen Stric’. [That doesn't work at all as a pun. Not even a little bit. - Steve] The dance is generic disco Latin and I think Janette and Jake both basically peaked with the salsa and she’s really struggled to choreograph anything more original since then (although I did like their Charleston and jive). Jake then ends by dancing on a podium with sparks flying from his shoes. He does a lot of shuffling and swivelling and it has at least got some energy about it but whether or not you could identify it as a cha cha without being told that’s what it was is somewhat debatable. I blame Abbey and Aljaž (and the judges with their stupid scoring) for all this disco Latin shit.
Tess thanks Dave Arch, the band and the singers before we go over to the judges. Len calls it bright and lively with a nice mix of disco and cha cha cha. Bruno wishes Kylie and Robbie Williams had been there so it could have been a proper party and his hips were like salsa hips rather than cha cha ones. Craig says it was a bit forced and lacking in finesse and subtlety but at least they have a second chance. Tess burbles about Jake’s hips because: Tess. Darcey says she was impressed with the hips but it needed better leg action. She says it had great attitude.
Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia says the semi-final is when the judges sometimes sort of bother to get strict. Jake is glad to get the first dance out of the way. Scores: 6 (which background commenter Pasha does NOT approve of), 8 (which he is unsure about), 8 (which he approves of), 8 for a total of 30. Claudia reminds us not to vote yet whilst everyone grins in the background and Tristan appears to be a very tall floating bright pink head grinning behind everyone else. It’s eerie.
Frankie and Kevin are next. She’s nervous about the rumba as if you couldn’t guess that. Random members of the public, including a couple of kids playing up to Kevin by saying they’re from Lincolnshire (get away with you, Grimsby isn’t really in Lincolnshire proper), wish them luck on a different not-product-placement tablet. Frankie wants to work harder because of their public support. Wayne and cute baby Bridge, Parker, then come to cheer Frankie up in rehearsals and Parker steals the show again, especially when he makes Kevin do cute faces (*ovaries asplode*).
Their rumba is to the John Lewis version of ‘Somewhere Only We Know) and involves Frankie as a ballerina doll and Kevin as an awkward toy soldier and the music is all plinky plonky and twee and right now I could throttle Brendan Cole with my bare hands. All I want is some filthy dirty rumbas and this series has been a complete disaster on that score. The storyline seems to be that Kevin makes Frankie lose her stiffness through his touch and then she… points into space? And dies? And then lives again? Who knows, nothing about this makes any sense and then he sort of drops her on the floor and then drags her around by her foot and it ends. Not. A. Clue. [I think choreographing Frankie to be deliberately stiff was kind of clever given her problems in Latin, but everything else about this dance did not work for me at all. - Steve]
Tess calls it magical and then calls Kevin a Mexican soldier. Her comments make about as much sense as what we just watched. Bruno says he felt like a child on Christmas morning because it had so much innocence and purity. I dunno, surely a child on Christmas morning is more a waking-up-in-the-small-hours-giddy-and-ripping-through-paper-like-a-thing-possessed or maybe that was just in our household. He says he loves it when people do new things and it wasn’t your usual rumba but he found it refreshing and stunning. Craig says it was a bit sterile as a rumba but it did have an innocence and a beauty. He thought it was quite heavy in places and Tess Brucies about them being in character. STOP LETTING THE PRESENTERS COMMENT. Darcey says the interpretation was different and it was sweet and not FILTHY AND DIRTY like we expect at which Len snarks ‘no we don’t’ because he’s also apparently been baptised in the church of St Brendan of Blessed Purity. He says you have to choreograph with the music they got, which begs the question yet again of who the fuck is choosing the music this series. Rumbas, Tangos and Waltzes – a whole cacophony of wrong song choices (on the other hand, Charlestons have had a more original set of tunes than in the last couple of series).
Brendan gives them a big pat on the back in the Clauditorium for preaching the message. Kevin says their partners are watching so they couldn’t be DIRTY FILTHY and Frankie says they’re happy to still be there. Scores: 7, 8, 9, 10 for a total of 34 and a bemused crowd of pros and celebs in the background trying to figure out how to respond to that.
The third couple of the evening are Mark and Karen. Last week Mark was under pressure and the underdog and under my skin like the irritant he is and he would quite like to win thanks. (No thanks.) Their non-product-placement tablet yet again features members of the public wishing them well and then his family turn up. These VTs are SO BORING. I am not recapping the other two if they’re exactly the same as the first three.
Their Viennese Waltz is to ‘I Got You Babe’ and starts on the overused swing of twee dances. Mark’s wearing his usual trying-to-be-romantic-but-hitting-cheeseball-instead grin along with a pale grey suit (Karen is in a pukey pink taffeta thing) and actually looks quite nervous throughout. It’s a very boring, kind-of-competent in the feet but with flappy arms kind of affair and as thoroughly average as the majority of his routines with the added ick of twee musical arrangements and lighting. We’re only three dances in and I feel like I’ve been force-fed candy floss to the point that my teeth are squeaking. Still, this show is relentless in its attempts to MAKE MARK WRIGHT HAPPEN so it gets a sort of standing ovation and Tess tells us how much the crowd love Mark Wright.
Craig says it lacked some grace within the transitions and it needed to be smoother. He says he can see Mark’s worked on his hands but they’re a little over floral. He says it was endearing and the chocolate box thing would normally make him feel sick but he liked it. Tess asks Darcey if Mark has improved. He has? Shocker. Darcey says it was sweet and charming but it could have had more glide and smoothness, using his supporting thigh to push through but Mark has worked really hard. Len reminds us that Mark has had NO DANCE EXPERIENCE but thinks he might be in the final and he had drive throughout. Bruno says he likes his dainty hands and it’s hard to change pace in the dance, even for pros, and he did his best. Tess reminds us about MARK’S FUCKING JOURNEY some more. In the Clauditorium, Claudia says she loves it when Mark cries. He says it’s not going to happen and she says ‘we’ll see about that’. Heh. Scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 for a total of 33. Claudia points out Craig gave Mark his highest score of the night so far.
Simon and Kristina are fourth after killing Pixie, the monsters. I’m not recapping the VT (shock horror Blue turn up at the end) so on with the dancing. Their samba to ‘I Like to Move It’ opens with a cartwheel that starts well until Simon fluffs the landing and stagger around a bit. They’re dancing faster than the music, so presumably they danced to the original, which bears little resemblance to this version. Bless the singers because we know they don’t get long to rehearse and they do get a rough ride round these parts, but this is dire – too slow, the singer is over-exaggerating the accent like he’s a comedian in the 1970s and he has not the tiniest sense of the rhythm of the track. After the mauling they gave to Love Shack last week as well. Did the 90s die in vain, show? The dance? Never really recovers from that opening fail, to be honest and is quite stilted and awkward and completely out of time with the song and they’re totally out of sync with each other and then Kristina runs around Simon really fast like she’s in the playground playing kiss chase and it’s just an embarrassment all round, really. Tonight is such a treat!
Tess says ‘What about that then?’ Careful, Daly, you’re one word away from invoking the spectre of Savile. Darcey says it started well (?) until they got out of sync but she liked the solo work and thought it had a good, relaxed vibe. Len says it was a shame they made a mistake because he likes watching Simon move it move it. Bruno says they lost the feel of the samba and the major cock-up meant they couldn’t get back into it. Craig basically repeats what everyone else said but unlike the others, gets booed for it. Len says to do that dance again if they’re in the dance-off because it was terrific. In the Clauditorium, the watching pros seem to have imbibed all the booze and are getting rowdy. Scores: 6, 9 (!), 8, 7 for a total of 30. Kristina tries to keep a lid on her personality by saying it’s the semi-final and they have to be picky and only a week to go and that glitterball might be yours Kristina keep it together girl you can do it.
The final couple are Caroline and Pasha. Last week they won the leaderboard but given their competition, that wasn’t so hard to do. Their VT revolves around Caroline finding ballroom harder than Latin and then stuff I’m not recapping. Their foxtrot is to ‘Diamonds’ and features a backdrop of both the jewel and the geometric shape in case you were in any doubt. Caroline is wearing a silver outfit, with fringing as a skirt because she can’t get away from it. The music seems somewhat slow and smooth for a foxtrot and might have worked better as a rumba, but at least they seem to be into the emotion of it. There’s a part where Caroline arches her back in a way that looks really uncomfortable, a bit where their legs get tangled up and a couple of messy spins but it’s probably the best of a bad bunch so far, even if nothing to really write home about.
Len says it was sparkly but not quite flawless and there was a little slip, but he enjoyed the whole thing. Bruno says she gave the most emotional intensity he’s seen in a foxtrot and she really feels the music, but the emotion sometimes meant she lost technique. She gets a bit teary and Pasha says she is still in character. Craig says her head placement is inconsistent and her back doesn’t arch properly but he loves watching her style it out and moving on from her mistakes. Darcey says it had a lot of emotion for a foxtrot but she needs to watch her eye-level and her frame.
In the Clauditorium, Claudia says it’s hard because the celebs have worked hard all week and they haven’t earned a million points. Pasha and Caroline say they loved the emotion of the song. Even if it would have been better in a rumba. Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a shit-someone-has-to-get-a-decent-score-in-the-semi total of 35. Natalie cheers and Claudia says she likes how supportive everyone is this series.
Mid-episode leaderboard check:
Caroline and Pasha 35
Frankie and Kevin 34
Mark and Karen 33
Jake and Janette 30
Simon and Kristina 30
The underwhelming set of scores gets a perfectly withering stare from Aliona in response.
Training VTs for the second dance? Everyone is finding it HARD. Not as hard as recapping these BORING BORING VTs, I’m telling you (god, to think we used to recap all 89 hours of The X Factor final. No stamina these days, we tellybitchers).
Claudia says we’re at the half-way point but have no oranges, so she’s brought beef. As long as it’s not Beefy Botham, we’re probably safe with that. Jake and Janette’s second dance of the evening now and it’s time for the annual judges’ holodeck slot where they comment on the celebs. They remember Jake’s hips and bum in his salsa and samba and say he is better at acting than technique but his ballroom is kind of rubbish all round. Jake says he prefers Latin (I quite like that this series has seen the white contestants more comfortable with Latin and the Black/Asian/Mixed-race contestants more comfortable with Ballroom. If nothing else, it seems to have slowed the NATURAL RHYTHM comments down).
Their Viennese Waltz is to ‘When A Man Loves a Woman’ and it’s slightly less twee than Marks, more to do with the better staging, costuming (Jake in black, Janette in blue – although there’s a flesh coloured panel over her bosom that looks somewhat… odd) and song choice than the dancing – and a bit to do with Jake not grinning his way through it like a CERTAIN SOMEONE. The routine isn’t particularly ambitious but it doesn’t seem particularly error-ridden either.
Bruno says it was dignified and elegant and a stiff upper lip is fine for the VW but you shouldn’t have a stiff neck and Jake was tense in his neck and head throughout. Craig says he enjoyed it more but it was his weakest dance. Contradiction much? He says Jake is better in the informal romantic hold than the Viennese ‘proper’. Tess asks Darcey if Jake’s ballroom is as good as his Latin and she says maybe not but his frame has improved and Janette gave him a complicated routine. She doesn’t want him to doubt himself and if he goes into the final he needs to believe he is a good ballroom dancer. Len does a ‘from Albert Square to Berkley Square’ that gets the silence of disdain it deserves and says he thinks Jake’s head is too full of what he needs to remember that he isn’t letting himself really dance.
Claudia asks Jake which of tonight’s routines he preferred. He says he liked doing his VW… in rehearsals. Heh. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31 and one more than his cha cha score.
Kevin and Frankie now. Their jouney has been lovely ballroom, ropey Latin and triumphing over terrible tango song choices. Darcey says she is great at character – cut to Frankie worrying about getting into character. Hey ho.
Their Argentine Tango is to an extract from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which is… different. It works though, as it means they can get into the mood of the dance. There’s some nice leg work from Frankie in the opening and many of the static bits are good although some of the moving across the floor seems a little uncomfortable. There’s a bit at the end where her legs buckle when it seems that they should be straight but it ends with her dramatically falling onto Kevin’s shoulder and it’s the best of the night so far, although that’s faint praise, I know. (I did enjoy it for the most part) [Me too - on the whole I found the second half of the show much more enjoyable than the first. Anyone would think they front-loaded all the shit dances to get them out of the way or something. - Steve]
Craig says it brought some drama and excitement to proceedings but the transitions weren’t entirely seamless and her free leg wasn’t whipping enough and she sometimes looked in control rather than Kevin, but he still loved it and it was a-ma-zing. Darcey says it was superb although notes there were a couple of places where technique slipped. Len loved the mood and Bruno says it is difficult to interpret such well-known music but it was brilliant.
In the Clauditorium Frankie says she loves Bruno this week and the Argentine Tango is her father’s favourite dance. Claudia reminds us Frankie hasn’t been in the dance-off and Frankie isn’t especially keen on going there. Scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 for a total of 38.
Mark and Karen next and they’re wearing pastels oh joy and Tess trots out the old ‘Marky no-moves is Marky all-the-moves’ line which I think we’ve heard some iteration of every single bloody week so far. The judges remind us that he’s ever so nice and he works ever so hard although they say his timing is a bit shit. Craig eulogises about Mark’s Charleston and then Len says the public will like him because he’s gone from zero to hero. I had no opinion about Mark Wright before he was on this show. He has gone on a ‘journey’ for me alright, but not in the way the judges say. Apparently Mark and Karen’s rumba will be ‘different’. Oh goody I can’t wait.
The storyline of their routine to ‘Fields of Gold’ is that they’re just two innocent kids lying barefoot in a cornfield, and then by the magic of a pair of Nicky Westlife cast-off trousers that leave nothing to the imagination, Karen seduces Mark into performing a slightly stuttering contemporary dance and sticking his tongue out intermittently and clutching his side like he’s got a stitch. Ugh. I hated every moment of that. [Me too. It's not that I dislike contemporary dance, because I enjoy So You Think You Can Dance as much as the next person, but this sort of thing has no place on Strictly. - Steve]
Tess says it was lovely because she’s a sap/liked the tight trousers a bit too much (delete as appropriate). Darcey says it was unbelievably emotional but she’d have liked more actual rumba. Seriously. Stop fucking with the dance of, er, fucking. Len says if it was a school report, he’d say good effort, at which he gets resoundingly booed and he says it needed more rumba content but he liked the romance of the dance. Bruno says it was a like a nice roll in the hay which we all like and he played the storyline well and he loves contemporary dance (me too, Bruno, but not in a dance that isn’t actually supposed to be one). Tess reminds us that RUMBA IS HARD FOR MEN and that they’re terribly exposed. In those trousers, yes. Craig says it was better than the previous dance and he’s happy that they upset Len and he liked Karen’s choreography and he’s up for breaking all the traditions and seeing rumba in a different way hallelujah praise the Lord Brendan for showing me the light about the evils of the DIRTY FILTHY rumba and enabling me to see that it can be REDEEMED.
Up in the Clauditorium Karen cries that she’s sorry for letting Mark down and Kevin shouts that it was brilliant choreography and Claudia instructs him to come over and hug her. Pro final meltdowns are here. Scores: 9, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 33. Oh Craig, you weirdo.
I was so excited that it was time for the final couple and then I remembered Simon and Kristina are still to come. Sorry, Simon and Kristina!
Tess reminds us they were the first couple to score three 10s because that’s a thing now. The judges talk about his journey and all the times he’s been in the bottom two but been saved. Simon says he’s had mixed experiences with Ballroom. And also Latin, although he doesn’t say that.
Their foxtrot is to ‘My Guy’, which is much more the kind of music I’d expect. The styling and routine are straight from Kristina’s book of Hollywood classics, but as she does this thing well, it works. It’s steady, sweet and smiley and a million times better than their samba. It isn’t the kind of thing that will set the world on fire, but it’s perfectly decent and should give Kristina a good chance of reaching another final and giving us another exciting showdance
Len says they have probably booked a ticket to the final and Kristina screams ‘oh my God’. Bruno says Simon has a natural affinity with ballroom although there was a slight hesitation but neither Simon or Kristina seem to know what he means. Craig says simply ‘you’re back’ and Darcey says it would be crazy if he wasn’t in the final. Scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 for a total of 38 and a very happy Kristina.
ALMOST THERE. Fucking two dance night. Claudia asks Tess if the last couple is ‘finally us?’ Tess says ‘thankfully not’. And just when we thought she’d gotten over her ‘ooh, icky lesbian vibes’ reaction to that.
The judges think Caroline was a bit rubbish in week one but has then been great and they try to make the mistake in the American Smooth look like a disaster rather than something she actually recovered well from. They want her to improve her frame in ballroom but think the salsa will show her personality well. Caroline is excited because Pasha’s thrown everything into the routine. She talks about the dance getting her into the final because she’s so used to X Factor and its 'songs to get you to the final' theme.
Their salsa is to ‘Maria’ by Ricky Martin and sees them both in hot pink sparkles and Caroline’s hair looking very Caroline Diaz in There’s Something About Mary. It’s fast, energetic and joyous and whilst it may not be perfect, it certainly livened up a dull evening of dance. [Definitely. It almost made everything we'd sat through to get to this point worthwhile. Almost. - Steve] Bruno sings the lyrics to ‘She bangs’ and says Caroline is a super-charged engine running on sex appeal. Craig says it was very good in a total fakeout I’m so giving it a 10 way. Darcey says it was one hot salsa and Len says it was full of rhythm.
They shimmy up on the Clauditorium and Caroline’s hair falls out and looks even worse. There’s always something in the fashion stakes out to scupper you, huh, Caroline? Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 40 because they had to give at least one out before the final, let’s face it.
Caroline and Pasha 35 + 40 =75
Frankie and Kevin 34 + 38 = 72
Simon and Kristina 30 + 38 = 68
Mark and Karen 33 + 33 = 66
Jake and Janette 30 + 31 = 61
Shall we recap? Jake and Janette’s disco cha-cha hitting a bum note and their steady but unremarkable Viennese Waltz; Frankie and Kevin’s weird rumba-John-Lewis-thing and their much better Argentine Tango; Mark and Karen’s two dances full of vomit; Simon and Kristina’s samba shambles and their Kristina-classic-by-numbers foxtrot; Caroline and Pasha’s moody foxtrot and exuberant salsa and it getting a 40 because something had to.
Tess deigns to let Claudia dance with her after all, they remind us to vote, and we're outta there. Tomorrow night! Paloma Faith and more emoting about the final! Join me then!