Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ringer? I barely know 'er

Week 1: Nine Couples Perform - 24 September 2016

Last night: six couples dazzled, delighted and delivered lots of ties on the leaderboard. Tonight! It's the turn of the other nine as they try to beat last night's high score of 27, which shouldn't be too difficult when you've got three pop stars and a West End Wendy on the books.

After the titles, we go into a group dance to 'What The World Needs Now Is Love' led by AJ and Chlo--wait, sorry, those are just two random actual children. They're then joined by a couple in their twilight years, then by Aljaž and Natalie, who are quickly followed by the real AJ and Chloe and the rest of the dancers for a waltz around the floor. As the judges arrive, Natalie dances with Len, Darcey dances with Aljaž, Joanne dances with Bruno, and Oti dances with Craig, and as confetti cannons erupt over the entire floor, Tess and Claudia are escorted out by Giovanni and Anton respectively, and you can see both of them desperately trying to dance as little as they can while still retaining plausible deniability. The dancefloor then floods with more minipops and older couples and the whole thing's generally lovely if you're into conspicuous heteronormativity, which lord knows I am.

Everyone exits, the stage is reset, runners are sent in to sweep the floor as quickly as possible and then we are Live From The BBC once more as Tess and Claudia enter. Tess is wearing a white/off-white dress with a lot of lumps and bumps in it which I think may secretly be the hieroglyphic key revealing which questions to pick in order to win Only Connect. I mean, it's the perfect place that you'd never think to look, isn't it? Claudia has gone for black and strapless, with a split up the side once again and some fringing at the bottom that I'm not entirely convinced works. Still, I'm giving them both a solid 7 for their weekend's work, respecting early promise but leaving room for improvement.

There's a little skit where Claudia attempts to thank each of the dancers from the opening number individually and Tess interrupts to tell her that they've only got an hour and a half to do the entire show, and it's one of the more successful punchlines I've seen Tess try to land. Tess reminds us that Judge Rinder's cha cha cha was the talk of the chambers last night, and the judges enter from behind the stairs; Darcey grabs Craig's hand and walks him in as if to say "look, have a night off from the bloody chaîné turns, darling". After that, it's time to meet our Strictly stars, who are the exact same ones as last night but just in case you've forgotten: TV presenter and singer Louise Redknapp and her partner Kevin Clifton, star of Judge Rinder Robert Rinder and his partner Oksana Platero, actress Lesley Joseph and her partner Anton Du Beke, TV presenter and radio DJ Melvin Odoom and his partner Janette Manrara, Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane and her partner AJ Pritchard, BBC sports presenter Ore Oduba and his partner Joanne Clifton, model Daisy Lowe and her partner Aljaž Skorjanec, actor and pop star Will Young and his partner Karen Clifton (not doing any funny business on the stairs tonight, thank goodness, but I fear the damage is already done), from BBC Breakfast Naga Munchetty and her partner Pasha Kovalev, world champion long jumper Greg Rutherford and his partner Natalie Lowe, EastEnders star Tameka Empson and her partner Gorka Marquez, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and his partner Katya Jones, TV host Laura Whitmore and her partner Giovanni Pernice, actor Danny Mac and his partner Oti Mabuse, and finally singer Anastacia and her partner Brendan Cole. Phew! I can feel my carpel tunnel returning.

Tess points out that one of these people will have a glitterball trophy in three months (and if this series is anything like last year's, we'll know who that person is in about three weeks). Claudia reminds us that there is no public vote this weekend, and nobody is going home, but Killjoy Tess adds that the judges will still be scoring each dance out of 10 and these will be added up to next week's to create an overall leaderboard which we then get to ruin with our blinkered, biased votes. Hooray!

At last, we get to the first couple out on the floor tonight: Louise and Kevin. Tess informs us that they will be doing a jive wherein Louise will play a woman waiting for her man to return from sea, so it will be "nautical but nice". I groan inwardly at the prospect of another twee Clifton timewarp (and I like Kevin), but here we go. Roll VT! Tess's voiceover tells us that Louise has gone "from megastar to megamum" (ugh ugh ugh), and Louise admits that she's worried she won't be able to keep up, because she's not as fit as she was 20 years ago. Well, neither is Anton, and he's still clinging on in there somehow. Kevin opines that Louise thinks she's danced in the past, but he's seen some of her videos and she hasn't. Now, this seems to have split opinion as to whether he meant a) "I'm going to show that Louise Redknapp what real dancing looks like, none of yer pop nonsense" or b) "I definitely haven't just landed my fourth consecutive ringer, honest". Based on delivery alone I lean more toward the former, and Kevin's comments on It Takes Two the following Tuesday would seem to support that, but both interpretations seem perfectly valid so just go with your heart. Anyway, speaking of megaringers, Louise is feeling the pressure of Kevin having made the final three years in a row. Remember last year when Tess pointed out to Kellie that Kevin had never been in the bottom two before, and how well that worked out? Yeah, I can't help feeling this is heading the same way. [On the other hand, just let him win already and be done with it, I guess? - Rad]

Their training begins, and Louise is clearly Quite Good At This to the extent that I don't think they could have wrung much drama out of training alone, so instead Kevin decides that Louise needs to understand more of the 1940s theme he's created, so he takes her to a ship in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. You may question the point of this little day trip, but personally I'm always ready to admire Kevin's poop deck. The captain explains to Kevin and Louise that sailors might go away for up to three years, and Louise is all "and then you get back and you just want to jive? Weirdo." Fun fact: my dad was a sailor and used to go all over the world for months at a time and then he married my mum and they had me and she was all "lol you're not going anywhere now matey, I need you here" and then he got a job driving for Mr Kipling instead and eventually became a coastguard. Some tips for Louise there, and they also could have been potential song/theming tips for Kevin in future weeks if Oti hadn't already nabbed 'Cake By The Ocean' for use later in this episode. Anyway, they jive on the ship, and Louise hopes she can capture a small bit of the excitement the sailors felt when they came home after a long spell away.

Their music is 'Jump, Jive And Wail' and their jive is a fantastic start to the show: it's lively, it's technically challenging, and more to the point Louise is very, very good at it. I think her main challenge based on this is going to be conveying the same energy in her face that she's channeling in the rest of her body because her expression is a little fixed throughout, but I imagine first night nerves are playing a considerable part in that. It really is a very strong opening effort, both for the show and Louise herself, and I think it's a pretty decent rejoinder to the argument that the jive isn't a week one dance because the contestants aren't skilful enough to pull it off yet. You just need someone with, you know, a fair bit of dance experience. BRING ON THE RINGERS, that's what I say. Also, I know it's a 1940s theme, but why god why do they keep putting Louise in dowdy, shapeless sacks? [Spoiler alert: wait until next week - Rad] Is it to make her seem somehow less threatening given her status as a former FHM Sexiest Woman of the Decade? I'm desperate for her to get something at least vaguely flattering to wear next week before I start to go completely mad with conspiracy theories.

Len says that there was definitely enough content in it for him, and it "floated his boat". It was high energy, high performance level, and he has high expectations for her. Bruno tells her that "true to family tradition, you score big time first time out". Bruno, please: what happens between a woman and her husband on date night is no business of ours. He loved the accuracy of the period detail within the dance itself, and Louise's dainty footwork, but there was one minor slip. Craig says it was very clean, precise and crisp, but she needs to retract her kicks a bit more and there was a messy turn near the end - but overall it was outstanding for a first dance. Darcey was very impressed, and thinks Kevin's got a great student to work with yet again. I'm sure James Jordan agreed with that on Twitter. Heartily. (Don't tell me what he actually said, I have blocked the humourless trashbag for a reason.)

They head up to the Clauditorium and I think Louise reaches out to steady herself against Claudia in a kind of "oof, I'm so tired" way but Claudia's "do not hug me ever" instincts kick in and she retreats ever so slightly. Claudia reveals that Louise really didn't want to go on first, but Louise says she's just going to dine out on Craig's comments for the rest of her life. We see Jamie in the audience, looking like he's caught the sun - like, literally caught it USING HIS FACE - and he squirms a little bit with the camera on him and the entire Clauditorium laughs at him, so that's Jamie never coming back then. Claudia gives us a quick refresher of last night's leaderboard, and asks Kevin if he would score them 40, and Kevin is all "um, yes?" and then Claudia asks him if he would like to top that, meaning the leaderboard, and Kevin is all "would I like to top 40?" and everything gets very muddled. Shall we just go to the scores? Craig 8, Darcey 7, Len 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Kevin loses his shit at each and every eight, and Louise barely reacts to any of it. I think reacting to scores for the pros is much the same as dancing itself: you should try to pitch yourself at the approximate level of your partner, otherwise it just looks weird.

The couple with the unenviable task of following that are Melvin and Janette. Melvin says that the whole experience so far has been brilliant, and that when he was partnered with Janette she jumped on him and said "I wanted you, I wanted you!" This seems nice, but remember back in 2013 Janette was going round telling anyone who would listen that she'd been desperate to get Julien Macdonald as a partner because he was the most famous one. I'm just saying Janette's instincts have been known to steer her wrongly, occasionally. Janette, for her part, says Melvin is the cutest and the funnest and they're going to go crazy on the dancefloor. And how, as we're about to see. They've got the cha cha cha first, and because their music is 'Loco In Acapulco' by the Four Tops, Janette has gone for some very literal theming involving her and Melvin going crazy in Mexico. This somehow leads to Melvin taking her to meet his family (in week one!) [well, it's not like he'll be with us for long - Rad] where Janette is promptly welcomed into the clan, and his mum tells her that the best way to get Melvin to do stuff is just to push him really hard, which I hope she does not mean literally. The Odooms look like a fun bunch of people to have a barbecue with, I will say that much, and Janette's clearly having a whale of a time, but...

...I really think that time would have been more profitably spent in the training room because this routine is a hot mess. Melvin is wearing a loud floral-print shirt and horrible bright pink trousers, staring at a map while Janette stands beneath a "Tour Starts Here" (don't count on it) sign across the room. The music kicks in and it appears that Janette hasn't actually bothered to choreograph much of a routine for Melvin, who is standing around an awful lot of the time, and even when he's moving, his hips don't. It's a dull routine, danced poorly and overburdened with props - as much as I hate to be so negative without offering at least some small counterpoint of optimism, there really isn't much I can say to recommend it. I actually found myself wondering what on earth what Melvin was doing on this show: since he's not exactly a household name, and I'm not sure there's that much of a crossover between the Kiss FM and heartland Strictly Come Dancing audiences, I assumed he'd been cast because he was a secret ringer, but looking at this...I suspect I was mistaken. [Maybe they ran out of cash, or someone dropped out at the last minute? - Rad]

Bruno tells Melvin that he "captured the festive mood of the dance", but he forgot the hips - they can't be stiff in the cha cha cha. Speaking of which, Tess asks Craig if Melvin's dance put him in a holiday mood and Craig replies "it's put me in a wooden mood, darling". I don't know about you, but I'm really thankful he's sitting behind a desk right now. Craig clarifies that it was very square, and this wasn't Melvin's dance. Darcey calls Melvin "a natural cheeky chappy" and tells him that his hips worked when he was standing still, seemingly not realising that this will not get you far in a dance competition. Len thinks Craig was being too harsh, especially considering how positive he was last night (to be fair, nobody last night was this bad), but Melvin came ahhht and gave it us a cheeky fun dance, and if anything Len thinks it was too loose rather than too stiff. So there.

Melvin seems undaunted as he and Janette holler their way up to the Clauditorium and Claudia tells them that they were loving it up there. Melvin says that they put in a lot of work this week and he's happy with how it went. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 6, Bruno 6 for a total of 22. Melvin shows us that the hot pink trousers are actually concealing lime-green socks and I find myself wondering if Vicky Gill sustained any serious head injuries this week.

Hopefully bringing an air of calm and serenity after...all that, we have Daisy and Aljaž. In her VT, Daisy is rather charmingly brimming with excitement about getting properly glittered up for Strictly, and says that she's been having lots of fun in the bubble until she realises that she hasn't actually done a live show yet. Things take an unexpectedly sombre turn as we get to the training part of the package and Daisy tells us that she's dancing the waltz to 'Unforgettable' by Nat King Cole, who was one of her grandfather's favourite singers. She had expected her granddad to watch her on Strictly, but he died on her first day of training, and understandably she's been quite upset about it. Daisy and Aljaž go on a picnic and she shares her memories of her grandfather, and Aljaž tells us that they haven't been practising with the music too much because he can see how emotional it makes Daisy. Daisy says she just wants to do her best so she can believe she made her grandfather proud.

Sidebar: I've seen some complaints that this whole VT was a sign of the increasing X Factorisation of Strictly, that having dances dedicated to grandparents is the thin end of the wedge, etc etc. My response to that is: her grandfather literally died on her first day of training. I think we can let this one go.

So they start sitting on the floor and they're both dressed in white (and regular readers will know I have always been an admirer of Aljaž in white trousers, particularly certain parts of him) playing a loved-up couple having a waltz together (presumably after the picnic they were having in the VT?) and it's soft and sweet and lyrical and it just all feels very easy, not in the sense that Aljaž hasn't given her anything complicated to do but just in the sense that everything feels right and fitting. They have lovely chemistry together too. Really my only concern is that it feels slightly too much of a carbon copy of Abbey's first dance, but I already find Daisy far more agreeable than I ever found Abbey, so that's only a minor gripe.

At the end, Daisy's clearly a bit emotional and Aljaž gives her a big hug before leading her over to Tess who tells her that her grandfather would have been very proud of her. Aljaž adds that he's very proud of her for doing a terrific job of a difficult routine. Craig says he found it a bit saccharine, sickly and mawkish (none of which is untrue, to be fair), but she danced it beautifully. Darcey says that Daisy instantly set a romantic atmosphere, and she'd like to see her making the most of those long limbs in her extensions. Len calls her "an English rose" and says that he doesn't think he can remember a better dance in week one, ever. I suppose that's the joy of being in your final series - you can say "best opening dance ever" and not have to worry about leaving yourself nowhere to go next year. Bruno tells Daisy that she is dazzling and her dance combined old-school glamour with high fashion. He says that the slower a waltz is, the harder it is to maintain, and he's surprised and delighted with her performance. A still-slightly-tearful Daisy says she's just lucky to have such a wonderful partner, and Tess ushers her off upstairs.

Daisy's not much more coherent when she gets to the Clauditorium: she's just pleased to have finished, and we see her mum Pearl Lowe in the audience next to Daisy's stepfather Danny from Supergrass. Aljaž tells us a second time what a hard waltz this was to do because of the slow tempo, and that Daisy controlled it perfectly. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 32, sending Daisy to the top of the leaderboard. Daisy still has no words. Claudia enlists Tameka to join her in a hackneyed joke which is totally made worth it by the very end where Tameka mimes holding in an earpiece and she and Claudia both throw to Tess in perfect synchronisation.

No doubt thrilled to be following Len's Favourite Week One Dance In The History Of Forever are Danny and Oti. Claudia's introductory VT tells us that Danny will be stepping out of his comfort zone on the show, which I understand to mean "he will be wearing clothes". Oh no wait, Danny's one of those "I'm an actor, I play characters, I've never had to be meeeee on the telly" types. This sort of thing always sounds less convincing when coming from someone whose main claim to fame is as nipples for hire on Hollyoaks. We relive the moment where Danny and Oti were united on the launch show, where Oti looked as though she'd won the lottery in five different countries at once, all of which had extremely lenient tax laws. Seriously, Oti's glee at having her patience with the...difficult hand she was dealt last year being rewarded with Hunky McRinger is such a thing to behold. They're starting with the cha cha cha, and Danny's finding that his brain registers the choreography perfectly well, but is unwilling to pass the message on to his legs. Oti's all "let me remind you that my partner from last year couldn't go to the bathroom without needing me to help refasten his trousers, this is nothing" and sure enough Danny starts to believe in himself.

They're dancing to DNCE's 'Cake By The Ocean', which was the music choice for a week one cha cha cha from the eventual winner on Dancing With The Stars recently, so no pressure or anything. The theme appears to be "Danny is a man who dresses a bit like Michael Jackson and walks into Oti's bar and then they dance", and keeping it simple is a very good idea because Danny's dancing is all the statement that they need: he's really good, folks. Everything is neat and clean and precise and he keeps up with Oti pretty much all the time. Also, Oti deserves credit for turning out a week one cha cha cha that's genuinely fun to watch with interesting choreography - I know she had the advantage of Danny being such a good dancer, but even the simple steps are done in such a way that really grabs your attention. I'm so excited to see what she can do with a real contender this year. And judging from the squeal of delight she gives at the end: so is she.

Danny tells Tess that this is the most incredible feeling he's ever had, and it's all thanks to Oti. Darcey opens by delivering possibly the best thing she has ever said during her entire tenure as a judge (a low bar to clear, but just go with me here): "Oti, do you think he actually nailed it, possibly?" Dry, sarky Darcey is my new lowkey fave. Darcey's in awe, and very impressed with Danny's hips. Len tells Danny that he is definitely a contender, but after whacking out his nine for Daisy has to justify why he's only going to give this an eight, and that reason is: "there was too much stagey dancing". I can't wait for his thoughts on Magnolia ("too much filmy watching") and the summit of Kilimanjaro ("too much mountainy climbing"). He then tells everyone not to boo that, even though nobody did. Bruno calls it an "arena spectacular" (Bruno, do not give Louise Rainbow any funny ideas about going back to Wembley because I swear if you do we are going to fall out) and he thought all the Michael Jackson moves were woven into the cha cha cha well. Craig is not called upon to speak, because I guess we're running a little over at this point.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia expresses her condolences for Danny's obvious lack of dance talent. Danny tells us that Oti has been "the boss of me" for three weeks, and Oti is all "yes I have" and gives him a big hug for working so hard. Claudia asks Danny if he's going to be this good at the Viennese waltz next week and Oti's like "Claudia, we haven't even had our scores yet, one thing at a time please". Scores, then: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 8 for a total of 31. Danny is over the moon. Oti is somewhere over Saturn.

Next up we have Tameka and Gorka who will be doing our first ever week one paso doble. No, I don't know why the paso is suddenly a week one dance either, but I'm not necessarily opposed to it. In her VT Tameka tells us that she's always wanted to be on Strictly (but leaves out the part where she was already cast once but had to pull out because she was pregnant), and that all she remembers of the launch show is being borne aloft by Gorka. Gorka tells us that he is 25, from Spain, doing Strictly for the first time and very excited to be partnering Tameka. Crucial information thus imparted, Gorka will not be speaking again for the rest of the series because his accent is quite strong. Tameka says that she's feeling the pressure of the long and mostly accomplished history of EastEnders stars on Strictly, please do not mention Phil Daniels, Gillian Taylforth or Jessie Wallace thank you please. Gorka conveys that they will be doing the paso doble by wearing a matador's cape. I can't wait to see what he'll wear to tell her they'll be doing the rumba - just a condom, probably. Tameka spends quite a lot of her rehearsal time cackling despite Gorka's protests that this is a serious, dramatic dance. We'll see.

They're dancing to 'Y Viva España', which is probably a bit too light-hearted to be proper dramatic paso music, but the good news is that it's obvious very early on in the routine that Gorka has a healthy sense of camp that will no doubt serve him well in partnering Tameka. (It's also obvious very early in the routine that Gorka's trousers are eye-wateringly tight and his arse is RIDICULOUS. I'm sorry, but it's right there and I can't not comment on it.) Tameka, for her part, really commits to the routine and gives it more drama than I expected her too, but is still slightly too flamboyant for me to take her entirely seriously. There's a bit where she's required to go plank-like as Gorka drops her to the floor which is rather inelegantly-handled, but otherwise she acquits herself well for a first dance. She's not the strongest dancer here by a long shot, but I think we can expect her to get quite far on personality and show(wo)manship at the very least.

When it's over, she leaps onto Gorka in triumph (get it girl) and they head over to Tess, by which point Tameka is gasping for breath. Hmm. That doesn't bode well. If she's that knackered after a week one paso, I think the quickstep might actually kill her. Len pays tribute to the series' most overused running gag (already) by calling it a "corka" and tells Tameka that she attacked it, but also made it fun. Bruno says she was chewing the scenery (not untrue) and tells Tameka that she needs to extend her shaping a bit more to get the correct lines, but he loved it. Craig tells her she owned the stage, but he felt she was a bit more the matador than the cape. Darcey thinks she was the most dramatic and moody señorita she has ever seen, which I can only assume means she doesn't hang out with Tess at the wrap party. She asks Tameka to really exaggerate those moves (yes, Darcey told Tameka to exaggerate more, what have we unleashed) and fill the space.

Tameka cackles her way up the stairs to the Clauditorium (I suspect I may be writing that sentence quite a lot) and asks Claudia to fan her. Gorka is permitted to say that he is happy to be here. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. Claudia tells us that Tameka will be doing a charleston next week and Tameka clarifies that she is definitely doing a charleston next week, not tonight. Heh. Tameka steals Claudia's cue cards and continues to fan herself. Maybe this could be Laura's job as this year's designated superfan?

After a quick preview of the sort of things we can expect from Anastacia, Ed, Claudia and Will, Claudia dons an elf costume and joins Tess down on the dancefloor for a hilarious misunderstanding about Ed dancing to an "elfish" song later. I genuinely can't tell why this bit works, because everyone involved - scriptwriters, performers, audience - is completely aware that this is a terrible joke, but it lands. 98% of it is Claudia's delivery as ever, but surely even that has its limits? Sooner or later they're just going to start stealing things from those "jokes by children" Twitter accounts and seeing if it still works. Actually I kind of want them to do exactly that.

Anastacia and Brendan are next, both giving us duckface straight down the lens. Sometimes a pairing just works, doesn't it? Anastacia tells us in her VT that she feels like she's been having an out-of-body experience (which is, coincidentally, what Anton's been having since about midway through series seven). Apparently the first thing Anastacia said to Brendan was "we're winning this thing" and Brendan's all "well if Aliona can win twice anyone can". Brendan describes Anastacia as "ridiculously famous throughout the world". To paraphrase Tony Hancock: "not in her own country, but throughout the world". They begin training for their cha cha cha, and Anastacia's birthday happens, so Brendan takes her on a sightseeing tour of London. Anastacia declares Downing Street "so cute" and Brendan provides some London "facts" that he learned off a bit of paper he picked up off the floor of the bus, last seen in the possession of Liz Locke, Stella English and Stuart Baggs (RIP). They get off again and Anastacia harasses a Beefeater to show her the crown jewels, and then Brendan takes her for tea at the Ritz. Not shown: afterwards they steal all the stale scones from the kitchen bins and spend all night throwing them at Bloody Lulu's windows and a marvellous time was you you are jobless you are a lobster tail claw and a you are a and you just had by all.

They're dancing to 'Lady Marmalade' (the Moulin Rouge version) and it starts out well enough as Anastacia shows good timing and chemistry with Brendan, and even manages to work in the splits, but it all goes a bit wrong about 30 seconds into the routine when she stumbles during a spin, almost falls right over (until Brendan pulls her back) and from that point onwards it loses something. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good recovery from Anastacia but the fall clearly affects her confidence and focus so the rest of the dance is a bit subdued, which is not ideal when you're supposed to be slinking about to a song about a sex worker.

Afterwards Anastacia makes her way over to Tess with a whole series of "welp" faces at the ready. Tess tells Anastacia that she looks like she's in her element and immediately wishes she hadn't as Anastacia tells her at length that being in her element would be singing with Andrea and the band, and she's really humbled by the dancers. Everyone applauds this sentiment very Britishly, which is to say: awkwardly. Bruno calls Anastacia "a hot and sexy mama" and tells her that he thinks she cracked Len's Lens doing that. He thinks it was good, but she went wrong a few times because of the nerves. However, he thinks she's good and he's expecting a fantastic dance next week. Craig declares it "absolute filth, bordering on indecency", which he loved, "mistakes and all". Darcey was impressed by the box split, and says that even with the mistakes, it was a clean performance. Not according to Craig. Anyway, given how sexually-charged the cha cha cha was, Darcey's very excited to see Anastacia do an Argentine tango. Len, missing the point of the song entirely, says that it was like marmalade: "tangy and slightly fruity" and makes an allusion to seeing Anastacia's genitals. Then again, Tess finishes the section by telling Anastacia to "go see Lady Winkleman", which I think might mean much the same thing.

Lady Winkleman herself tells Anastacia that she loved the way she screamed during Craig's comments, and Anastacia reveals that she was expecting Craig to say "horrible things" so it was a very pleasant surprise. She reiterates that this whole thing is "so not my wheelhouse", but she's very excited to be a part of it. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 7, Len 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 28. Claudia points out that they're used to seeing those numbers the other way around. Anastacia vows to improve on her shortcomings in time for next week, and one of those shortcomings at this point seems to be "knowing which camera to look into".

Ed Balls.

Sorry, that should have read "The next couple is Ed and Katya." (That's the last "Ed Balls" joke I will make, I promise.) Ed tells us that he's walked up many red carpets before, but being on the Strictly launch show was the first time the press wanted to take pictures of him. You should've tried awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich, Ed, they'd have been all over you. Katya introduces herself as the four-time undefeated British National Champion ( what?) and the World Latin Showdance Champion. She's also going to shake up Strictly, apparently. Ed looks over his shoulder into the camera and tells Katya that she's got her work cut out, and I realise at this point that Ed and Will have the exact same face, ten years apart, and I don't really know what to do with that information. Training begins, and Katya barks at Ed to hold his frame up, lift his elbows, get on the right foot etc, but as an ex-politician Ed probably finds shouty people quite motivating. Indeed, he says as much and invites Katya to come and visit the House of Commons chamber. I hope visits to a contestant's former place of work become a thing in this year's VT, because I can't wait for Laura to take Giovanni to hang out with Joe Swash in the Australian outback. Or Louise to take Kevin to meet Easther and Vernie. Ed and Katya do a rehearsed bit of banter over the dispatch boxes, and it probably won't come as a surprise to you that the one who seems the least comfortable is not the one for whom English is a second language. Then they waltz a bit on Westminster Bridge, the end.

The theme of their waltz (to 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?') is that it takes place on a windy day where Ed's brolly has blown inside out and Katya's hat has been swept off into the sky, so...they waltz. I'm quite pleasantly surprised because it's not the disaster many predicted - yes, he's a little bit stiff, he's clearly concentrating very hard and the whole thing is very pedestrian, but he moves around the floor well enough and it looks reasonably smooth. However: as much as I don't want to be Captain Pessimism, the waltz is a gentle, week one dance for a reason and everything he's asked to do beyond this point will be significantly more challenging, and I'm not seeing a lot here to convince me he'll be up to the task. Basically, his best hope is to be comedically shit at everything hereafter rather than just shit-shit, because that's probably his clearest route to longevity.

Katya is very proud of him when they're finished, and Ed tells Tess he's relieved to have it over with, though it was better in rehearsal. Craig calls it "a little ex-council" which is, I think, needlessly snobbish above and beyond Craig's usual standards. (Full disclosure: my flat is ex-council.) Less socially divisive comments include that Ed needs to get up onto the (Ed) balls of his feet to create more rise-and-fall and he needs to work on his hand shaping. Darcey says that she knows how nerve-wracking it can be to dance here, but there were glimmers of an elegant gentleman there and he was really finding himself by the end (jesus, Ed, wait until you're off-camera). Len tells him that he didn't think Ed was going to be any good, but he's what Strictly is all about because he's someone who doesn't dance who's finding his way bit by bit and surprising us all. Bruno calls the performance "surprisingly conservative" - he tells Ed not to let Katya do all the work at the end, which I imagine is Katya's call to make rather than Ed's, but overall he thought it was very "politically correct". I thought so. Bloody pinko BBC, paying for its liberal whitewashing with my taxes etc etc bring back hanging.

On the way up the stairs to the Clauditorium Ed's still harping on about how it was better in rehearsals and Katy's all "no it wasn't!" and I know she means that reassuringly but I like the implication that no, it was still kind of lumpen in rehearsals as well. Claudia points out that it's the Labour party conference this weekend and Ed's here in a sparkly shirt rather than in Liverpool being called a BLAIRITE SECRET TORY or whatever the latest Labour infighting is. Scores: Craig 5, Darcey 5, Len 6, Bruno 5 for a total of 21. Katya says that Ed was really trying to impress Len, and he was pleasantly surprised so that's good. Ed describes it as a "place to build from", much as I imagine the Liberal Democrats were doing on 8 May last year. Claudia tries to get Ed involved in her next joke before she hands back to Tess, and it does not go well. Oh, Ed. [I'm kind of finding his awkwardness endearing - I am beginning to see why he tweeted his name now - Rad]

Our penultimate couple for the evening is Claudia and AJ. First of all, a bit of housekeeping: obviously it's going to be a bit confusing having Claudia Winkleman and Claudia Frangapane on the same show, so whenever contestant Claudia is in the Clauditorium I will refer to them as "Claudia W" and "Claudia F" respectively, which is not especially original but should at least keep confusion to a minimum.

Right, onward: Tess tells us that Claudia is this year's youngest contestant, and she's so young that Tess has got older things in her fridge. I did think Tristan had gone awfully quiet since leaving the show; I guess that's why. In her VT, Claudia announces that she's very excited to put on a pair of heels and get dancing, and she thinks she will need to work on being graceful and ladylike because apparently you don't do that so much in artistic gymnastics. AJ introduces himself and tells us that he's British Open and British Youth National Champion, he's very excited to be on Strictly this year, and when he grows up he wants to be a teacher like his dad, or maybe an earwig, he hasn't decided yet. Claudia turns up for training and says she feels "like Cinderella" as she gets a proper set of heels on. And then in the next sequence we see, she's wearing flat clompy trainers. Clearly the continuity fairy's on the gin again. Claudia tells AJ that now that they've been training for a week, he has to meet her family and impress her dad. Do they have a bet on with Laura and Giovanni over who can have the fastest showmance or something? AJ goes to Claudia's house, meets her dad, helps her mum toss a salad, looks at Claudia's trophy room (not a euphemism) and gives the family a sneak preview of their cha cha cha routine, which is apparently enough to win her father's approval. Not exactly Robert De Niro in Meet The Parents, was he?

They're dancing to 'What Makes You Beautiful' by One Direction, and AJ plays the role of a superfan of Claudia's who grabs her for a dance as she's leaving a gymnastics tournament or something. It's very much a dance of two halves, this: the cha cha cha content seems good, particularly for a first dance, but AJ has unfortunately gone for the "remember she's a GYMNAST!" approach by including as many of Claudia's tricks (one-armed cartwheel, butterfly kick, running jump into the splits, back handspring) as possible and the routine feels like it comes to a crashing halt every time she does. I think you can incorporate gymnastics into party Latin and have it feel organic, but I think less is more here: don't show us everything in week one, it looks desperate. Speaking of showing us everything: I can't be the only person with a working theory that AJ is Gleb's lovechild, can I? Especially since he ends the routine by doing a Gleb Special Flying Teabag at Claudia, meaning that she ends the routine bent over and hanging from his crotch, so I feel the spirit of Gleb is very much here in the room with us even if the flesh is sadly departed.

Mr Frangapane gives a thumbs-up from the audience, and Claudia tells Tess that she enjoyed every second of it - she can't even walk in heels and now she's doing backflips in them. Darcey tells them that they're adorable to watch (*infantilising language klaxon*), but she needs Claudia to put the same dynamics into the dance moves as she does into the gymnastics. Len pretends he's still upset about Zayn leaving One Direction and then gets all Len about the unnecessary intrusion of gymnastics in the ballroom, though he stresses that Claudia is a "nice little girl" (*infantilising language klaxon*) and she has great co-ordination and will go on to great things. Bruno says that she's so cute he just wants to take her home (*infantilising language klaxon*) before adding "and you" to AJ (*hopefully not infantilising language klaxon*). He thinks Claudia has great natural rhythm, but in gymnastics you prepare, and then you go, whereas in dancing every movement has to flow into the next one. Craig says he thought it was a bit square and stompy, but he loved all the acrobatics, and he was very impressed that she did them all in heels.

They run up to the Clauditorium, AJ screaming "YOU WERE SO GOOD!" en route, and I'm quite amused by how Greg has to hunch right over in order to greet her as she passes. Claudia W obviously wants to talk about Claudia F's dad, whose name is Paolo, apparently, and in terms of the judges' feedback, Claudia F says confidently that she takes criticism really well. Heh. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 26. I think slightly undermarked? But not massively, so I can live with it. Claudia W tells AJ that she wanted to give him a present to say well done, and hands him one of those Fisher Price-style ring-stacking toys. Poor AJ. I bet he thought "I'm going to be on Strictly Come Dancing, I am going to get so laiiiiiiiiiiid" [everyone knows that's just the winner of X Factor - Rad] and now here he is getting well and truly Dani Harmer-ed by absolutely everyone. Er, including me. Sorry AJ.

That just leaves Will and Karen, and then we're done. Will tells us that he's very excited to be here, and particularly excited to be partnered with Karen. He thinks that, comparative fitness level-wise, he's a clapped out Mini and she's a 1990s Ferrari. I know nothing about cars so I'm going to assume that he means she's old, powerful, and mostly lusted after by men who aren't old enough to handle her yet. Will turns up to training dressed like a garden gnome and then later like a go-go boy from a late 90s gay indie movie, and is thrilled to learn that they've got the tango first because he's always wanted to dance that. They then do a little bit about Will having to leave early for band practice and Karen saying that she wants to come with him and be the drummer, and then that leads into a second bit where Karen pretends not to recognise any of Will's songs, and I'm sorry, these two are just too schticky for me by quite some distance. It's nice that they find each other amusing, but it's just coming across as really glib at the moment and I don't like it.

They're dancing to 'Let's Dance' by David Bowie and the theme of the dance casts them as angry rival chess players (although Karen seems to think she's playing draughts, god love her) and it's a good start for them, I think. The chemistry between them is much more agreeable on the dancefloor than it is in their VTs, and I think we can say reasonably safely that Will's the most talented dance partner Karen's had on the show to date (by which I mean "he's better than Mark Wright"), though it does get quite skippy in a few places. Also, the high-waisted trousers they've put him in are very unflattering. Just putting that out there.

Will heads over to Tess and can't (or won't, who knows?) speak to her, but musters a thumbs up. Len tells him that the hold was a bit wide, but it was an excellent performance. Bruno liked the passion of the mood, but he warns Will to watch his frame. Craig thought the feet were turned out in places, but it was full of sharp, staccato moves that he loved. Darcey loved the attack and the power, but "the boys are right" (and we were doing so well!) because Will needs to fix his top line, but he has a lot of potential.

Up in the Clauditorium, there's not much time to chat other than to establish that Will is broadly happy with how it went, and then the scores are in: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 30. Will and Karen are happy with that result.

So let's have a look at the overall leaderboard so far:

1. Daisy & Aljaž - 32
2=. Louise & Kevin - 31
2=. Danny & Oti - 31
4. Will & Karen - 30
5. Anastacia & Brendan - 28
6=. Ore & Joanne - 27
6=. Greg & Natalie - 27
8=. Tameka & Gorka - 26
8=. Claudia & AJ - 26
10=. Laura & Giovanni - 25
10=. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 25
12=. Naga & Pasha - 23
12=. Lesley & Anton - 23
14. Melvin & Janette - 22
15. Ed & Katya - 21

Holy lots of ties, Batman! Still, a fairly successful opening week I would say. Unless I'm very much mistaken, this is the first opening weekend where everyone has scored higher than 20. I think the leaderboard is broadly as I expected it, with Daisy and Anastacia (and Greg, to be honest) higher than I expected and Laura, Naga and Melvin lower. Hopefully the second round of dances will break a load of those ties up, anyway.

There's a recap of all the dances we've seen over the course of the weekend, and there we have it - finally! Next weekend, all 15 couples will dance again and one of them will be going home, and Rad will be your guide while I go and soak my hands in some relaxing oils after this week's marathon. And thank you for bearing with me during the delay in getting this week's recaps posted. Keeeeep reading! (Please.)


F a t i m a said...

Regarding Daisy's grandfather I agree with you for now, but not if he gets mentioned at every opportunity

phoebephoebo .sydney said...

Great re-cap. But surely Len's comment about seeing Anastacia's Rocky Mountains was alluding to her boobs, not her genitals? Or am I completely naive and/or tone deaf to modern euphemisms?

Steven said...

PhoebePhoebo - ah, you may be right. Len was referring to Anastacia bending over, and I rather crudely assumed she was bending over facing away from him rather than facing towards him. I like your interpretation much better.

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