Monday, 28 November 2016

Balls to the wall

Week 10: Top 6 Results - 27 November 2016

We open with a sports-day themed group routine from the pro dancers, and because everything on this show has to be viewed through some sort of rose-tinted nostalgic timewarp, we don't get to see everyone in lycra or short shorts because this particular sports day appears to be taking place at Butlins in 1938. The good news, however, is that back in those days everyone wore their crispest cricket whites for just such an occasion, which means we get to ogle Gorka's magnificent arse in his white trousers as he plays the role of the officiator. Craig and Len do a spoken-word intro as sheepskin-jacketed commentators declaring "Gorka's got his whistle out" and guys, you already had my undivided attention, there's no need to go overboard. What follows is a charleston/callisthenics hybrid to 'You Gotta Have Pep', which is pretty flaily but also features Neil and Pasha sticking their heads between each other's legs for a series of assisted cartwheels and well let's just say I'm not hating it. Gorka is unimpressed, however, and scores them a 2. Janette then wins a tug of war single-handedly (lucky Aljaž) and Chloe, Karen and Natalie provide a hula hoop tunnel for Pasha to dive through, which Gorka scores a 7 (I never said any of this had to make sense), then Pasha and Neil have a bizarre rematch in a sack race which they (both?) score an 8 for even though it doesn't look like either of them actually wins, and it all ends with a race where Gorka cheats and declares himself the winner. Sure, why not? (Seriously though, full marks to whoever chose the costumes for this routine. In fact just make all the men wear white trousers for everything from now on. As I have just demonstrated, I am more than willing to overlook narrative shortcomings if there are butts on display.)

(PS Welcome back Gorka, I'm very glad you're okay after all of the horribleness of last week.)

As the pros troop off (I like how some of them are pointedly staying in character until they're off stage and some of them, mentioning no names ANTON, are already yukking it up the second the music stops), Tess and Claudia walk on. Tess is wearing a hideously unflattering jumpsuit with a slash right down her cleavage and seriously flared trousers, and Claudia is wearing all of the lace. No really, all of it. Tess reminds us that Saturday's show was a night of firsts: the first ever Cha Cha Challenge, and the first ever perfect score awarded for a samba. One of these is slightly more momentous than the other. The pair point out that next week is Musicals Week, but one couple will not get a callback for it. Coming up, Ellie Goulding will be doing a thing and we'll get a Len's Lens, but first it's time to look back at what happened on the performance show.

Everyone is very excited about having made it to week 10, and Ed can't quite believe he's in the top six. Louise tries to persuade us that the cha cha is "everybody's toughest dance". It is a week one dance, Louise. [But, to be fair, it's a week one dance most people do terribly - Rad] Judge Rinder thinks it adds a level of extra pressure to have to do two dances, and Danny says that they're all dancing for a place in the quarter finals. Everyone rehearses in the corridor, Ed does Blue Steel again (such a total dad, just learning the one joke and running it into the ground because it's all he knows), and Darcey renames the upcoming danceathon "the cha cha cha challenge", because wordplay is lost on her. Backstage after performing, Ore celebrates getting a 10 from Bruno, AJ tells Claudia she was amazing, Ed tells Katya he really liked being taught the tango by her, Judge Rinder had a wonderful time doing his rumba and it meant the world to dance with his teacher (I half-expect him to interrupt Alan Dedicoat at the top of the show, yelling "teacher! Robert Rinder and his teacher, Oksana Platero!" next week at this rate), Louise is the happiest she's ever been, and Danny can't put into words how amazing it feels to get the first ever perfect score for a samba.

Back in the studio, Tess is toting those Cue Cards Of Doom, and these segments are getting shorter and shorter as the herd thins, so the two couples who are safe and guaranteed a spot in the quarter-final are Louise and Kevin, and Danny and Oti. The first couple in the dance-off is...Judge Rinder and Oksana. They don't look overly surprised by this development. Judge Rinder tells Tess that he just wants to do his very best for "this excellent lady here", and Darcey tells him that he needs to develop the story between the two of them in the steps, it will read so much better. Len's opinion is also sought, and he says that Judge Rinder was unlucky to get a tough dance on a tough week, and he advises them to "just glance at each other" and get a bit more chemistry going. Glances, eh? Phwoar! Are people allowed to glance before the watershed these days? Won't somebody think of the children? [And romantic glances between student and teacher are surely very much frowned upon - Rad]

The Clauditorium looks very deserted these days as Claudia asks Danny if people are yelling "show us your charleston!" at him on the street nowdays. ("Charleston", yes, that's what they're asking him to whip out for them.) Danny jokes that he's rarely allowed out of the rehearsal room, but that when he does see people who aren't Oti, they're very supportive. Claudia asks Louise if she's going to get competitive now, and Louise provides the obligatory story about how they're all Such Good Friends, and that if they start looking at each other as competitors, then it won't all just be about The Joy Of Dance any more. Boooooo! We paid for bloooood!

Next: Ellie Goulding sings 'Still Falling For You' while dressed as Cavegirl with Kevin and Karen contempowafting aggressively in front of her.

After that, the judges join Claudia on the balcony for another unmissable Len's Lens. Len gets overexcited about Ore's bodyshaping in his paso doble and then demonstrates paso shaping for us with his hanky. Darcey wants to admire Claudia F's upper body and her core strength in her Argentine tango again, and Claudia W asks on behalf of "Planet Earth" what Claudia F has to do to get a 10. The audience noisily applaud at this, and I feel very much on my own in believing that nothing I've seen Claudia F do yet has had enough wow factor to merit a 10? [I'm with you - Rad] I mean yes there were some lovely lifts in there, but she's a gymnast, I already know she can be chucked about in the air, I want to be moved by her dancing. Darcey says that Claudia F needs to connect more with AJ to get a 10, so I assume she'll be coming out dressed as a mirror next week. Craig revisits Louise's raised shoulders, and the other judges try to convince him that this was just Louise expressing herself, but Craig is having none of it. Finally, Bruno weighs in on Danny's samba, and Bruno thinks the secret is Danny making it look so natural and believable before declaring it "probably the best male samba we've ever seen". I love that it's the only samba ever to get a perfect score, but Bruno still won't give it a superlative without adding two qualifiers into the same clause.

Back over to Tess for the final set of results, and Ore and Joanne are given the all-clear into next week, leaving Claudia and Ed waiting to see which of them is about to get the red light. It's Ed, at long last, which means Claudia and AJ are also through to next week, though from the look on Claudia's face I think she was expecting the worst. Ed walks over to Tess who tells him it's his first time here in the dance-off (lol at the very idea that Ed was ever going to get more than one appearance in the dance-off) and tells her that it was a fabulous dance and he's looking forward to doing it again. Bruno advises Ed to "keep the entertainment value going, because that is your ace". In other words, "don't try and dance now, there's no point". Tess asks Craig if he can give Ed a boost and Craig says no, but then adds he's "secretly enjoyed your dancing". Which I'm sure is easy to say when you know it's about to stop forever in the next ten minutes.

In The Abandoned Clauditorium, we spend a bit more time railing at the injustice of Claudia F not having a ten yet (*shrug*) [I was more invested in Ashley Taylor Dawson being trapped in a rut of 35s if we're talking boring scoring storylines - Rad], and Ore talks a little bit about how they all started out as a family, and that's why it's so hard to see people go each week. Joanne reveals that next week they're doing a foxtrot and Ore's going to be Willy Wonka. Because it went so well the last time he had to do a candy-themed dance?

There follows a trailer for Musicals Week, and for an alleged West End Wendy Ringer, Danny doesn't appear to have the strongest singing voice. Also, Tess and Claudia sing, and it's every bit as magical as you might think.

Afterwards, Claudia asks Judge Rinder how much he wants to stay in, and he says that he really wants to stay in for Oksana, but he's having a wonderful, joyous time. Oksana says that this is a very special dance for both of them, and she just wants him to enjoy it. They are dispatched to the dancefloor while Ed says that Katya has never compromised on teaching him to dance, but they've always tried to make it fun too. Katya says she's pushed Ed really hard, but he always delivered and she's his number one fan. It's either very sweet or Stockholm syndrome.

Judge Rinder and Oksana go first, reprising the Rinderumba - it's not vastly changed from the first time we saw it, but I think he is trying to be a little softer and smoother in his steps, and to look as tenderly at Oksana as possible. Then Ed and Katya try their tango again, and if anything it's a little more bumpy this time, though Ed does switch things up a bit this time by handing the rose that he was clenching in his teeth to Darcey instead of Craig. It's very sweet to see Judge Rinder jumping up and down and clapping heartily for him when it finishes, too.

The outcome here is unlikely to be a surprise, but let's hear from the judges anyway. Craig votes for Judge Rinder and Oksana "on a more technical performance", Darcey saves them too "on their better technical ability", and Bruno doesn't even bother to dress it up by saying that he's saving the better dancers - Judge Rinder and Oksana. Len makes it unanimous, and everyone gets to their feet in tribute to Ed. Tess asks Ed if he thinks he might carry on dancing. I thought we were still waiting for him to start dancing? Ed runs through a long list of all the wonderful people on the show who've made his time here so enjoyable, but of course none more so than Katya, who he thinks is going to go on to be a "total dynamount [sic] knockout Strictly star". That is genuinely lovely of him, I have no sarcasm here. Tess of course ruins it by patronising the living shit out of Katya, who's crying and telling us she couldn't have wished for a better partner.

Tess sends them off for their last dance and Katya sob-giggles that they "haven't practised that". Well no, I imagine it was enough of a struggle just getting him to learn the main routine each week. They dance to 'That's What Friends Are For' and it's mostly just hugging, but I'm okay with that. I know I've been harsh on Ed (and I think not undeservedly so), but you can tell from the way that everyone runs out to tacklehug him that he was clearly very well-liked by his other contestants.

Post-mortem reactions: Danny says that if you ask people about Strictly 2016, they will say two words: "Ed Balls". (Oti goes along with this, though through slightly gritted teeth, as if to say that she senses her upcoming glitterball triumph will forever be overshadowed by a man who did a Gangnam style one time.) Judge Rinder calls him "decent and funny and passionate and authentic", and Louise says he was "such a big personality around here" and they looked forward to watching him each week. The grieving ends as Claudia expresses her glee at being in the quarter finals, and Ore thinks next week will be magical.

Ed Balls.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cha cha squeals

Week 10: Top 6 Perform - 26 November 2016

Last week! Everybody went to BLACKPOOL, where the gulf between the frontrunners and the "just here for the experience" contestants seemed to grow ever-wider, admittedly with Claudia forming something of an outlier, being scored and praised highly by the judges for a jive that was, frankly, all over the place. This left us with a BATTLE OF THE OLYMPIANS dance-off between Greg and Claudia, and even though Greg was arguably the better performer on the night, the judges saved Claudia because of her better long-term potential, meaning that for the second year in a row, the Blackpool dance-off was a decent quickstep versus a sub-par jive, and the judges ignored the actual problems in front of them in favour of the long-term narrative of the series. All I'm saying is that whoever draws the quickstep in Blackpool next year should be worried.

This week! The contestants will have to perform two competitive dances in the same night for the first time in the competition, with their individual performances being supplemented by the Cha Cha Challenge. This is foreshadowed with some grainy "home video" footage of everyone rehearsing, and why exactly is Danny only ever shown in his bathroom at home? Does he have a weak bladder? Is the rest of his house desperately untidy? Does he just stay in there all day because there are mirrors on every surface? I can't rest until I know.

Titles. I really miss Anastacia, guys. Or should I say DANCEASTACIA.

Back in boring old Elstree, Tess and Claudia step onto the stage escorted by Pasha and Aljaž respectively. Pasha is wearing a shirt that is slashed right to the navel, which gives me hope that whatever else might happen this evening, at least there's a higher than average chance of a nip slip from our Pash. Daly Dresswatch: a long white gown that's cut out over both shoulders and slashed right to the upper thigh on her right leg and has such an unwieldy train that Tess has to wrap it around the bannister as she descends the staircase. What Winkleman's Wearing: a deep purple off-the-shouder jumpsuit with a v-shaped décolletage. A bit of a misfire from wardrobe on both counts, sadly. Tess informs us that all of tonight's celebrities will have to raise their game tonight, which should be a bit of a problem for Danny who, after all, achieved actual perfection last week. She's referring, of course, to the addition of the Cha Cha Challenge, and it's a bit unfortunate that as the audience dutifully gives us a "woooo!", the camera cuts to three women in the front row who couldn't look less enthused if you'd told them that this was Agadoo Week. [I swear I've seen several dances incorporate moves from 'Agadoo' this series - Rad]

Tess introduces the judges as "four people who literally never miss a trick", which might have sat a little better if they hadn't spent last week's show trying to convince us that Claudia's jive was near-perfect and hampered only by a small slip-up. Or if they hadn't saved Peter Andre over Jamelia last year. Or...well, you get the general idea. The judges dance on, and just once I wish they would let Darcey start anywhere other than on the stairs, because she always looks so terrified that she's going to fall flat on her arse. Wasting no time, we then get straight into meeting our remaining contestants: Louise and Kevin, Judge Rinder and Oksana, Claudia and AJ, Ore and Joanne, Ed and Katya, and Danny and Oti. Kevin's end-of-sting high kick is a little off-the-beat this week, which concerns me.

Danny and Oti are up first tonight, and naturally their VT opens with Danny reflecting on getting the first perfect score of the series for his charleston last week. Danny says that words can't possibly describe the feeling, and with the best will in the world, I suspect that is true of most situations that Danny finds himself in. Danny says that he just wants to entertain people, and he's so glad that he's got another chance to do it this week. This week they've got the samba, and Oti has decided to do something a little different with it: instead of making it "carnival", she wants to make it "jungle, ethnic and tribal". Frankly you can do what you like with it as long as you don't make it "disco". Oti spends most of the rehearsal period laughing herself inside out at Danny's attempts to do a tribal jungle samba, though by his account, she claimed she was "celebrating the movement of my body". As part of their training, Oti takes Danny out to the London School of Samba, which - from the brief glimpse we get of it - seems to be very much of the "carnival samba" persuasion, though Oti tells us that it's fine because it's more about soaking up the atmosphere and just embracing the dance. Some of the students (teachers?) from the School of Samba tell us that Danny "can really shake his hips", so that's good.

Their samba is to 'Magalenha', and it opens with Danny standing on the floor with Oti directly behind him, and really all you can see of her at this point is her hair spilling out to the side, basically making Danny look like Wolf from Gladiators. Important plot point: Danny's shirt is entirely open, so I guess we've now reached the point where he is not above trading abs and nips for votes. It starts slowly but with the sense that something big is coming, and then as soon as the drum beats kick in, the routine erupts into life - Danny and Oti are rolling their way around the floor, pawing at each other, all extended arms and swaying hips. It's almost hypnotic. What I really like about the routine is the way it looks like wild abandon, but the two of them are clearly in control of every movement. I've perhaps been a little harsh on Danny before because I've found his routines - while technically excellent - to feel a little passionless and clinical, but here I think the atmosphere is electric and the chemistry fantastic. And as for the choreography: Oti is a treasure and the show should pay whatever is necessary to keep her around for a long time.

Hilariously, as they walk over to Tess, it looks like Danny has a massive bruise on his cheek, though I think - I hope - it's just where Oti's contouring appears to have rubbed off on him. Tess thanks the singers and Dave Arch's Wunnerful Orchestra for their fine work there, and Len opens for the judges by saying that Danny is a tease, starting slow and then erupting into those promenade runs. He thinks Danny was fierce like a puma, and other things Len remembers from watching Bravestarr with the kids back in the 80s. Bruno says he's palpitating and hyperventilating, and he doesn't know if he needs a doctor, a pill, a drink or a cold shower. I don't know about you, but I'm not sensing anything unusual from Bruno here. He says it was like watching a pagan mating ritual, and that every sinew was stretched and a slave to the rhythm. Craig says that he found the open shirt "a slight distraction", but Danny's hip action from the voltas was unprecedented for a male celebrity, the isolation was excellent and he loved the tribal theming. Darcey is impressed that Danny achieved that in one week, and it was like watching a perfect samba masterclass.

Everyone is throwing celebratory shapes up in the Clauditorium, and Claudia congratulates Oti on her inventive choreography, saying that normally "a samba's just like, a small parrot, and people just go like that" (bobbing up and down in a disinterested fashion) and she loved that Danny looked so surprised to get such good comments. Danny responds diplomatically, saying that they work hard all week but you never know what the judges are going to say. Scores: 10s all round again for a perfect score of 40. This is the first time anybody has got a perfect score for a samba in Strictly history, breaking the current record of 39 jointly held by Abbey Clancy and Frankie Bridge. As you can imagine, I'm very much in favour of any development that means no longer having to pretend that Abbey Clancy was the best at anything. Anyway, Oti's a little bit overcome by all of this and collapses onto Danny's chest, as would any right-thinking person at this moment. There are no special guests for the terms and conditions this week, just some cha cha music in the background to help everyone get in the mood for the cha cha challenge. Everyone grabs the nearest available partner, which ends up leaving Janette dancing with Karen, and Neil and Giovanni twirling each other around. I have to admit: into it.

As if to cement Ore's role in this series as Danny's beta, he and Joanne are the unfortunate couple who have to follow that barnstorming start. Ore also has fond memories of last week, getting three tens and being in Blackpool, and says he wouldn't change a single moment. In training, Ore tells Joanne that there have been a lot of incredible pasos so far this series, so they really need to make theirs stand out. And, with the benefit of hindsight, I can't help thinking that telling Joanne to do something striking with the paso may have been a mistake. Anyway, Ore and Joanne giggle about how they're not angry people, so this is going to be difficult for them, though we do also see Joanne basically explaining for the uninitiated what the key elements of the paso are, and what the posture is supposed to look like, which is quite good. Informative VTs: who knew?

They're dancing to Lorde's cover of 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' and there's a table in between them. Really, have we not learned the lesson about tables yet? Apparently not, because quite a lot of this routine is taken up by one or other of them crawling on/across/under the table. Even taking the table sections out of consideration (please), this is quite a strange paso doble. There are a lot of choreographical flourishes which don't really make a lot of sense to me, and the whole thing is happening at breakneck speed. There is a slight air of panic about it, a feel of rushing through each section in order to get to the next bit on time, and I wish they'd just paused for breath and impact a little bit more, because I feel like this could actually have been quite good? But as it is now, it's a bit of a mess. Still: Ore looks great in eyeliner, more of that please. [There were aspects of this that I really liked but it definitely didn't all pull together-it might have made for a more spectacular showdance than a Paso.  With more rehearsal - Rad]

Tess tells Ore that he's "normally such a pussycat", and Ore says that he hasn't got much to be angry about on this show. Really? Not being in the dance-off when you were seven points clear of Ed Balls? I'd have been quite angry about that, personally. Bruno says that he's got goosebumps, and that the routine was "achingly stylish and original", like the film Nocturnal Animals as a paso doble. I haven't seen that film, so I shall just take his word for it. [I have and I'm not sure I see the connection - Rad] He liked how modern it was, and "it captured the zeitgeist of now". I think Bruno can take the rest of the series off, he's never going to top this moment. Craig says that there was an unsure moment where he looked a bit lost, and he needs to watch his port de bras, but he loved the grand jete en tournant, and he loved the power and the engaging story. Darcey says it was dramatic and intense, and Ore has a very supple upper body which really helps with the posture in this dance. Len says it was full of mood and atmosphere, and he doesn't think he's ever seen anyone get that level of shaping in the twist turns - but there was a little incident that he thought he spotted in there.

They report to Claudia, who calls Ore "the friendliest boy in the whole world" and Ore says that it was difficult because whenever Joanne made angry face at him, it made him feel like he'd done something wrong, and Joanne says she had to bite her lip to stop herself from smiling. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 36.

Next up are Louise and Kevin. Tess tells us that Louise has undergone a "Strictly transformation" and "really gained in confidence", which is not really what I've taken away from this series, and I say this as someone who has essentially transferred my allegiance to Louise now that Greg's gone. Anyway, Louise was pleased with how Blackpool went, particularly getting a 10 from Len, who it seems is the judge she most wants to impress. This week they have the waltz, and Kevin's hair is getting increasingly dead-spider-like in the training room. Seriously, what is going on there? Kevin tells her that it's a romantic dance and Louise confesses to not being very romantic (poor Jamie) and demonstrates this by burping banana in Kevin's face. To get Louise in the mood, Jamie comes to join them in training and Kevin shows them how to waltz together, though this just ends up with Louise feeling self-conscious and giggly again. Honestly, it's a miracle they ever conceived any children, isn't it? Still, Louise is very pleased to have her husband dancing with her, even if it was mostly giggling. Jamie tells Louise how proud he is of her, and that he and the boys will be supporting her on Saturday. Awww. They might be a rather dull couple, but they are very sweet together.

They're dancing to Michael Bublé's cover of 'At This Moment', and it's one of the more dramatic waltzes I've seen on this show in a while - perhaps Kevin was wary of doing another low-key one after what happened to Kellie last year. This one is all about a couple apparently close to breaking point, and him desperately pleading for another chance. I'm actually pleasantly surprised by Louise's commitment to this performance - the expression on her face reads as genuine emotion for once. It's typically elegantly and cleanly performed by Louise, although there is one moment where I have to pause and consider whether it's an assisted jump or an illegal lift (I think it's the former, although who even knows with this show any more?). Still, I'm just grateful to have a waltz that was actually fun and engaging to watch, because you don't get too many of those in a series.

Tess says that Louise is the highest scoring female of the series (and likely to remain that way, considering there are only two of them left) and asks Craig if she's maintained that standard. Craig says that Louise always maintains standards (way to make her sound like the dormitory mistress of a 1920s boarding school, Craig) but she needs to watch her shoulders raising in the jazz section. The movement around the floor was incredible though, and he could watch her all night. Darcey loves the two of them together and the way they tell a story through their steps. She loves the artistry of how they play with the music. Len says that we've been treated to three fantastic dances to open the show, and tells Louise not to listen to Craig's comments, which were...almost entirely positive? Bruno loved the interpretation of the music and Louise's impeccable phrasing.

They phrase their way up to the Clauditorium impeccably, and Louise says this felt like the hardest week for her - she isn't sure why, but having to be so controlled was difficult, and she worries that she drove Kevin slightly mad. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Everyone claps, and I'm distracted by the fact that someone just out of shot keeps trying to push Neil over. Normally I would suspect Brendan or Anton, but they're both over the other side of the balcony. Curious indeed.

After a brief preview of what's coming up (do we really need this when we only have six couples performing?) and the standard halfway comedy interlude (involving Claudia trying to take a selfie with the camera that Ed will be using for his tango later), it's over to Judge Rinder and Oksana for their rumba. Judge Rinder tells us that he will never forget his Blackpool experience - even though he forgot the steps a bit, he felt like he was having a party. He admits to being apprehensive about the rumba, what with it being A Difficult Dance For The Men and all that, but he's genuinely moved by the routine that Oksana has choreographed for him, which is all about how a teacher can come into your life and make you a dancer. I guess the people who like dirtyfilthyrumbas are going to be quite disappointed by this one. Inspired by the routine, Judge Rinder invites one of his old teachers - the one who did all the school plays - in to meet Oksana, and Wendy (for that is her name) says that she's so proud of "Rob", seeing him dance. They look back at some photos of Diddy Rinder in school plays (one of which looks like Bugsy Malone) and Judge Rinder says that when a teacher believes in you, you can pretty much do anything. So, that's grandparents, war heroes and teachers all checked off the tribute list. I look forward to next week's Argentine tango dedicated to the enduring support shown to him by his make-up artist.

They're dancing to 'Lean On Me', and the routine begins with Judge Rinder leaning on a ballet beam before being encouraged onto the floor by Oksana. It's a sweet and tender routine, sensitively danced, although a little heavy in the feet in places. The rumba clearly isn't a dance where he's naturally strong, but I like his commitment to the mood of the piece, and it's actually a very creditable effort. Honestly, I think his biggest problem here is going to be the fact that this falls at a point in the series where the field is narrow, which makes him vulnerable with a comparatively low-impact dance like this, but we'll see.

His teacher is in the audience and looks on approvingly. Judge Rinder tells Tess that he's definitely not the best dancer here, but he's got the best teacher. Tess asks Darcey if Judge Rinder embraced the character in the story, and Darcey replies "it's difficult, isn't it?" Oof. She didn't think the story gave a purpose to all of those moves, and it is Very Difficult For A Man to have that fluidity that's needed for the rumba. She liked how he used the floor, but she didn't feel he looked comfortable and felt his weight was too far back at times. Len says it wasn't his dance, but it certainly wasn't his worst! He liked the hip action and the arm movement, but he thought it looked a bit taut and lacking in naturalness. Bruno: "Don't worry darling, everything is beautiful at the ballet" - and then goes on to say that Judge Rinder was taking the ballet seriously by acting the dying swan, and develops this thought further by saying there was an element of the funky chicken as well, though somehow this adds up to "it was a brave attempt". Craig finishes by saying it was a bit too spiky and awkward - he thought his body parts were moving independently of his core. But he loved the "earnest" quality of the dance and finds that commendable. This whole section did all feel a bit "you've done well to get this far but we're ready for you to go now", didn't it?

Claudia tells him not to be disheartened and Judge Rinder chirps "I'm not!" Heh, fair enough. Claudia says that his teacher "Wendy" is here, and Rinder replies "no, not Wendy, she's 'Miss'!" That's a whole chunk of backstory right there, isn't it? Judge Rinder says that he hates the word "journey", but that this routine was about their journey, and the teachers on the show are amazing. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 29 - sadly bringing Judge Rinder's "your scores have never gone down!" narrative, though given that they also hadn't gone up for the last two weeks either, it was perhaps time. Judge Rinder remains not-disheartened and says that they will just have to win the Cha Cha Challenge now.

Ed and Katya next, and Ed attempts to do Blue Steel straight down the camera. Tess lists Ed's many accomplishments so far this series: rescuing a damsel in distress, flying a flaming piano, and doing a salsa Gangnam style - and now he's going to be a Male Model Activate Ur Lolz Immediately. Ed says that it was a great honour to play a flaming piano in Blackpool, though Katya points out that they have yet to impress Craig. She thinks they need to work harder to prove they deserve to be here. In rehearsals, Katya is wearing some excellent shoes with a lipstick print design all over them as she explains to Ed that she's going to play a male model this week, and Ed does another Spontaneous Reaction Face that looks exactly like every other Spontaneous Reaction Face he's ever done. Apparently Ed bugging his eyes out is just that funny that we need to see it every week. Katya brings in male model Paul Sculfor to show Ed what he needs to be doing, and we approach Maximum Lolz as Ed sashays down an imaginary catwalk and does a series of sexy poses and says that he hopes he can put all of this into practice on Saturday night. Well, I don't know about you guys, but after this VT I am now fully convinced that Ed is dedicated to the craft of dance and deserves to be here.

They're dancing to '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction', and Katya plays the photographer as Ed lies on a chaise longue and attempts to evoke Derek Zoolander. Positives: while there is still a fair bit of faffing in there, there is also a decent amount of tango content. Negatives: the tango is danced badly throughout. It's leaden and sloppy, and for all that Ed's fans keep trying to push this narrative that he "really is improving", there's absolutely nothing in this routine to back that up. In fact, I went back to look at his week one waltz where he had some basic grasp of the technique but little finesse or flair, and that's exactly what I'm seeing here. It even feels like the comedic aspects of the Ed Balls engine are running on fumes at this point and I dare to hope that this might be the routine that marks his departure from the show, since it's not really memorable for either good or bad reasons. It's just sort of 'there'. [Also, it's a tango, which has been a bit of a dance of death this series - Rad]

Tess hoots that it's "always a joy" to watch Ed and compliments him on his pout. Len snorts that Ed was dancing to "Craig's signature song", and says that there was plenty of content in the routine, and while he's not always the judges' number one choice (he has literally never been the judges' number one choice), he's the people's champion. Remember when they started saying this to Lisa Riley right before she went home? *hugs self hopefully* Bruno says that Ed is like junk food - you shouldn't have it, but you can't help wanting more. Craig, on the other hand, feels overfull and says that Ed's frame was completely hunched over, he had splayed hands, sloppy feet on the kick ball changes and it was very stompy. Darcey loved his focus at the beginning, but then he started to lose it. She thinks it was too bouncy, and that Ed maybe got a bit lost in the character.

Claudia reiterates that Ed works really hard every week, and Ed chuckles that "being a male model, it's not really me, is it?" Yes Ed, that was the joke. I think you were supposed to be in on it. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. The exact same score as last week, in the exact same format. Ed chuckles that he thinks he's going to win the Cha Cha Challenge.

In the pimp slot for the third time this series (statswatch: Louise has had it twice, while Danny, Greg, Judge Rinder, Ed, Ore and Will have each had it once), it's Claudia and AJ. They reflect on last week's Blackpool jive, where AJ applauds her for carrying on after the mistake and picking up the routine, and Claudia says that being in the dance-off was horrible, but she's so grateful to be here for another week. In our weekly trip to Bad Acting Corner, AJ shouts at Claudia that the Argentine tango is full of speed, quick turns and fast footwork, so he's taking her go-karting (?????), and Claudia responds that she can't actually drive. Honestly, I've seen better line-readings on The Only Way Is Essex. Anyway, it turns out that Claudia is crap at go-karting and AJ beat her soundly, so that was an excellent way to waste valuable training time, well done everyone.

They're dancing to a truly ghastly arrangement of Justin Timberlake's 'Cry Me A River', and Claudia spends a lot of time in the air. Truly she is our champion of Strictly Come Lifting. Overall it's pretty impressive: very sharp and staccato with quick, snappy movements, but the section where they hook their legs around each other is a little sloppy, and also in the running jumps they look a little more like show ponies than I would personally prefer them to. [I would have liked more of her feet touching the ground, to be honest, again it felt more showdancey - but a vast improvement on last week - Rad]

Tess squeals that their routine was "breathtaking! breathtaking!" Bruno calls the routine a "tour de force", as opposed to last week's jive, which was a tour de farce. He loved the aerial displays and thought that she was never going to land. I must admit I thought the same at one point, though I don't quite mean it as complimentarily as Bruno does. He did think she was strong, controlled and precise, and he liked that she developed a dramatic persona. Craig would've liked her legs to be looser for the ganchos and it was a little placed, but he loved it and thought it was incredible. Darcey loved her balance, control and upper body strength to produce those lifts while keeping her body so calm. She echoes Bruno in saying that it's great to see her playing a sultry, moody character. Len says that she had total control over what she was doing - a mixture of frisky movement and risky lifts.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia W tells us that the pros were very excited about the choreography and that Natalie in particular was blown away by it. Claudia F says that she loved being moody and that she went for the performance so much that her toe popped out of her shoe. AJ says that it was his favourite routine of the series too. Scores: unanimous nines for a total of 36. I've seen people say this was undermarked, and I'm not sure I agree - I think 36 is about what it deserved, but what's clearly wrong here is that it scored the same as her terrible jive from last week, so if someone could just get hold of a time machine and go back and get that corrected, that'd just be super. Claudia W ushers them off to get changed for the Cha Cha Challenge, since they only have about three minutes to do so.

Pre Cha Cha Challenge leaderboard:
1. Danny & Oti - 40
2. Louise & Kevin - 39
3. Ore & Joanne - 36
4. Claudia & AJ - 36
5. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 29
6. Ed & Katya - 23

Here's Len with a VT to explain how it's all going to work and also to give Claudia a bit longer to get changed. The rules are as follows: the professionals have drawn positions on the dancefloor from a hat, so it's all above board (I love it when things happen off-camera and we are assured they were DEFINITELY NOT RIGGED, that doesn't ring any alarm bells at all) - they must keep dancing for the duration of the music, and halfway through they will switch positions so everyone gets equal time close to the judges. There are to be no lifts, and if anyone tries a lift, they will get zero points. And everyone will get their scores at the end - the weakest couple will get one point, and the strongest couple will get six - and this will be added to their overall score. Len says that this has the opportunity to "well and truly shake up the leaderboard", and I appreciate that this VT was pre-recorded, but Judge Rinder and Ed are going to be fifth and sixth whatever happens, because there aren't enough points available to change that (unless Ed wins the whole thing and Rinder is disqualified, but that seems fairly unlikely).

Before the dance begins, Claudia reveals that the couples won't know what song they're going to dance to, and Len explains that this is how it works in a professional ballroom competition - you have to make do with what you're given, stay on time and keep it rhythmic. Bruno warns us that the couples have to stand out for the right reasons, Ed, and they need to maintain the look of the dance throughout without getting carried away with the improvising.

The couples arrive on the floor and dance to 'I Like It Like That'. As ever with the -athons, it's pretty hard to keep track of what's going on and who's doing what, but Danny and Oti seem to be the clear standouts, with Louise and Kevin not too far behind (although she could do with straightening her legs a bit), then Ore and Claudia in the middle with not much to choose between them, then Rinder and Ed clearly at the back of the pack. Nobody seems to be expecting the music to end when it does, although Ed carries on for about an extra six beats, bless him. If I were ranking it, it'd be Danny, Louise, Ore, Claudia, Judge Rinder, Ed in declining order of skill, but I imagine the judges will have other ideas.

Bruno cackles that it was nerve-wracking for him, never mind anyone else, and he thinks everyone has improved very much since week one (note: Ed's cha cha cha happened in week six). He thought they all worked hard, and while not everyone had correct timing, they did a wonderful job. Claudia says that they all looked magnificent to her, and Craig says that they weren't, of course, but the judges are really struggling to agree on the ranking, and it was wonderful to see so much great hip action. Tess says that the results could turn the leaderboard on its head (not unless they're planning on offering Ed the 18 points he needs to overtake Danny, it won't), and Len reveals the verdict: Ed is in sixth place of course, Judge Rinder is fifth, Claudia and AJ are fourth, Ore and Joanne are third, Danny and Oti are second, which puts Louise and Kevin in first. I find that slightly hard to get my head around because Danny was clearly the best one out there to my eyes [and mine - Rad], but then there was a lot going on that the camera didn't capture, so I can't bring myself to feel too cheated by it - it is what it is. Let's see what that does to the leaderboard:

1=. Danny & Oti - 40+5=45
1=. Louise & Kevin - 39+6=45
3. Ore & Joanne - 36+4=40
4. Claudia & AJ - 36+3=39
5. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 29+2=31
6. Ed & Katya - 23+1=24

So that potentially earth-shattering Cha Cha Challenge has...broken the tie between Ore and Claudia and created a new one between Danny and Louise. And that's it. Well, it filled 10 minutes of airtime, didn't it? It's still possible for Ed to be saved by the public, though the tie happening right at the very top makes it harder for him to overtake Claudia, whose vote I would think is fairly strong this week after a) being in the bottom two last week and b) a dance that was widely perceived as being undermarked. We'll find out soon enough...

Saturday, 26 November 2016

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Greg's favourite dances were the American smooth, the rumba, the Viennese waltz and the quickstep.
- Greg wants us all to stop giving Ed such a hard time.
- There were some last-minute changes made to Danny's charleston.
- Natalie and Joanne got Greg and Ore pink fluffy cowboy hats for their birthdays.
- Judge Rinder pronounces floral as 'florral'.
- Judge Rinder was channeling Popeye when he had to lift Oksana over his head.
- If Judge Rinder can't get his steps right this weekend he's just going to rip his top off for votes instead.
- Zoe has offered to advise Judge Rinder on what to use to bribe the judges.
- We're moving into calling Judge Rinder 'Rob Rinder' now.  It'll be Robbiekins by the time he leaves, at this rate.  If he can hurry up and get to just 'Rob' soon, that'd be much better for my voice software.
- Oksana thinks Judge Rinder will claw points back from the rumba during the rigathon.  Bless.
- Gorka and Karen are the two pros who eat the most, while Oti and Katya are the bossiest.
- Natalie's favourite dance is ALL OF THEM, THEY'RE ALL AMAZING. Bless her.
- The pro dancers learn their group dances in August initially, then have a refresher on the Monday before the live show.
- Oksana has been dancing since she was six, and BOY ARE HER LEGS TIRED etc.  She also became a dancer to live out her mum's dreams, which makes me feel sad. Aljaž has been dancing since he was three-and-a-half and competing since he was five, and Natalie started when she was three.
- If Oksana wasn't a dancer, she'd like to work with animals. Aljaž and Natalie think they might have been professional athletes instead.
- Karen Hardy seems to have made a skirt from brown parcel tape.
- In open dancing competitions, people just go into the middle and fleckerl until they're the last pair standing like some sick game of endurance.
- According to Janette and Melvin's silly chart thing, Susanna Reid had the best faceography in Strictly history.
- Bill Withers wrote 'Lean on Me' because he was homesick after moving town.
- 'Lean on Me' is also, apparently, rumba music now.
- Lisa the make-up designer gets asked about contouring a lot.
- Chloe has a great jawline that doesn't need contouring.
- Claudia has an olympic rings necklace.
- Claudia just bounced up and down in the jive when she forgot what she was meant to be doing.
- Both AJ and Karen think that the mistake in Claudia's jive was so subtle that no one at home would even have noticed it. Both AJ and Karen are deeply mistaken.
- Claudia is still in love with her prop dancers.
- Ian missed out on watching BLACKPOOL live because he was at a wedding.
- Ian thinks Oti and Danny might get the first perfect samba score.
- Neil has a Nice Coat.
- Neil's Cossack dancing teacher is the most Mancunian Cossack dancer you could imagine.
- Cossack dancing started out as a way of celebrating your victory in battle.
- Harvey the Runner's attempt at Cossack dancing looks very much like a frog jumping.  In a good way.  If that's possible.
- Kevin has gone back to wearing dodgy hats indoors.
- Frankie Bridge thinks Louise should have got 40 for her paso.
- Off-brand Zoe has been watching Kevin Bridge in the jungle.
- Kevin always casts himself as the irresistible romantic hero of all of his dances. Louise seems unmoved.
- It was Zoe's turn to have a birthday this week.  Johnny Ball brought her a cake with an adorable candleabra of birthday candles on.
- Judge Rinder has taken to wearing Oksana's knee supports in training.
- Everything about Ore in a navy vest and shorts, ankle socks and heeled black shoes flouncing about in paso training is hilarious.
- The pro challenge is back! But only 13 pros are taking part. They will have to do as many jive flicks and kicks as possible in 30 seconds.
- Joanne likes a long skirt.
- The show's mannequins are too 'big boned' for Oti's outfits.
- Vicky Gill does occasionally get people telling her they hate their outfits and having a flounce.
- Jo's office looking a bit 'officey' and mention of a table makes me fear her paso will have echoes of Robin and Deborah's desk dance from series 11.
- Aljaž likes to eat squid.
- Aljaž has developed Kevin's taste in dodgy hats.
- The pro challenge has opened, with Aljaž scoring 52 jive kicks in 30 seconds.
- Pasha thinks he can beat Neil in a sack race. PASHA CAN RACE INTO MY SA--[yes, THANK you - Ed.]
- Pasha is the pro who's the most addicted to his phone, while Karen and Brendan are the grumpiest pros first thing in the morning.
- Ore hasn't spoken to his mum all week. Guess he really took those comments about his figure-of-eight in the salsa badly.
- There are only six points separating Ore and Louise (i.e. Joanne and Kevin) on the cumulative scoreboard.
- Ed and Danny doing samba rolls together is perhaps the least erotic thing you will ever see.
- Karen C just casually hangs around with her leg on Neil's shoulder.
- Anton will be trampolining in the group dance.
- Katy Brand is happy with the final six, but she misses Daisy and her “huge megawatt smile”.
- Dan Walker used to be a Tameka supporter, then he was behind Greg, and now he’s supporting Louise.
- Miranda Hart wants Judge Rinder to be her friend.
- Katy Brand worries that Danny might be too good.
- Dan Walker thinks that if you put a tea towel over the top of the screen when Danny and Oti are on, you can’t tell which one the professional dancer is. Except you can, because Oti is shorter than he is, and also a black woman.
- Oti and Danny changed their final lift for the charleston right at the end because they couldn't get it right.
- Danny doesn't think you can compare any two different dances.  I'm not sure he's got the point of this show, to be honest.
- Oti prefers a more tribal-themed samba.
- Danny’s rehearsals for the Cha Cha Challenge have not been going so great so far, according to Oti.
- Ed is very proud of that one week he wasn't bottom of the leaderboard.
- Ed has been wearing Katya's cardigan in rehearsals.
- Ed is playing a Zoolander-type character in their tango.  (Also: Ed is (justover a year) younger than Ben Stiller, think of that what you will)
- If Craig had a 9.9 paddle, he would've given Danny's charleston a 9.9.
- Craig gets annoyed by the other judges not using their full range of paddles, especially as he thinks the paddles below 4 are the 'most interesting'.
- If Craig could've partnered one of the celebs, he would've liked to do a jive with Jill Halfpenny, or anything at all with Gethin. (Careful, Craig, maybe Gorka's the jealous type.)
- AJ has never done an Argentine tango before.
- Oti has never tried to break a record before. Apart from that time Danny Mac TRIED TO MAKE HER LISTEN TO COLDPLAY, RARRRRGGHH.
- The secret to controlling your arms and legs if you're lanky is to strengthen your core.
- Oti did 57 kicks and flicks in the pro challenge, but had eight disqualified, so her total stands at 49.
- Miranda Hart misses Vincent and Flavia.
- Katy Brand and Dan Walker think Claudia (Winkleman, judging by the pronunciation) is going home this weekend, and Miranda Hart thinks it's either Judge Rinder or Danny.
- Katy Brand's head wants Danny to win but her heart wants Ed to win, Dan Walker wants Louise to win, Miranda Hart wants Ed to win.
- Natalie prefers Zoe to Gethin.
- Gethin seemed a bit lost without Gorka this week.  Sending you our best wishes, Gorka!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Greg's baked

Top 7 Results: Sunday 20 November 2016

Last night!  We returned to BLACKPOOL for an evening of overstuffed dances with some (Louise, Danny) rising to the challenge, others (Claudia, Greg, Ed) struggling and plenty of overscoring! Tonight! Will we be down to the last woman standing as the brofest that is 2016 carries on apace, or will one of the middle-bottom pack men be sent on their way?

Our opening group number is a rock’n’roll jigathon to ‘The Nicest Kids in Town’ from Hairspray, which, perhaps unwisely, involves the celebrities having roles and not really executing them very well, although Claudia in particular is hampered by a Princess Leia-meets Anne Boleyn style hairdo that means her face is screaming ‘KILL ME NOW’ the whole time.  The male celebs are in clashing pink suits (so THAT was what Greg was referring to the other day) and green shirts, but that clash is nothing compared to Anton in a bright orange suit dancing with Natalie in a salmon pink dress. Judge Rinder is referred to as ‘Rob’ (or maybe Bob?) in the roll call – presumably Judge Rinder just wouldn’t have scanned well? [It would've been a bit of an odd fit for the theme as well. - Steve] It’s a lot of fun, but chaotic and it ends with everyone falling over and being covered in silly string, like a work Christmas party (not my work, you understand. Our green sidebar of printer and photocopier use SHAME would be glowing bright red were anyone to get up to bum-xeroxing. Unless they work in Fine Art, obviously).

Tess and Claudia enter, in unusually complementary silver and navy dresses, Tess’s with silver fringing, Claudia’s with silver stars, several of which have been chopped off where bits of fabric join so they look like they’ve been executed. It must be a metaphor for the dance-off. (I can also imagine poor slighted May Martin sighing at this poor pattern-work about how it wouldn’t have happened in her day. Do we have a health check on the Sewing Bee and the Crying Pottery Thing in these post Brexoff times?) [I gather relations between the BBC and Love Productions are basically unsalvageable, so I wouldn't hold your breath. Though I think there might be a series already in the can that hasn't aired yet? - Steve]

Recap time, in which we discover: 1) that the judges have taken to capering round in that carriage what Jordan got married in that time and Craig says he’ll probably whack his 10 out for BLACKPOOL; 2) The Tower Ballroom backstage looks like a health and safety nightmare, all stacked tables and props – I bet you some of them were blocking fire exits; 3) Ed’s jive looks better than Claudia’s in recaps; 4) Greg’s as sick of being on 32 as poor old Ashley Taylor Dawson was about 35 way back when.

Tess reveals the first batch of safe couples: Danny and Oti; Ore and Joanne; with the first couple in the dance-off being Claudia and AJ. That segment flies by when there are so few couples, doesn’t it?  Tess helpfully reminds Claudia that it’s her first time in BLACKPOOL and her first time in the dance-off and doesn’t that dampen all that build-up of your first visit here, doesn’t it, eh, eh? [I mean, as unwelcome surprises on your first trip to Blackpool go, it pales in comparison to Gorka's... - Steve] She turns to Craig and says he would have given it a 10 without the mistake (only if by ‘the mistake’ he means the whole routine) and asks him how important it is that she is perfect in the dance-off. He says really important, with the silent caveat of ‘unless you’re against Ed or Greg or probably Judge Rinder as well unless we’re having a funny turn’. Len says to just do everything in the same way with a silent ‘because we’re judging on your status in the overall scheme of things and also probably the fact that we maybe want to keep a second woman around for at least another week or two, rather than on anything you’ll actually do in the dance-off.’

In the Clauditorium, Claudia and Danny note how soon it’s happened that so few of them are left and the producers do shaky fist motions at Will. Claudia congratulates him on getting a 40 and Ore on having the highest VW score of the series, telling him he can just ‘forget’ Craig’s 8. Ore says he won’t because it’s useful criticism.

Time for our first very special guests of the evening, Simple Minds. Or rather, Jim Kerr and maybe one or two remnants of Simple Minds and a bunch of people drafted in to make up the numbers. They’re performing ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and I presume they have another reissue of their Greatest Hits to shill, but their official website hasn’t been updated since July, so who knows? Poor Jim’s voice is past its best, sadly, and we don’t get any pro dancers to watch, though he does cover pretty much the whole dancefloor himself. He’s dressed for the occasion, anyway, in a flock jacket that looks like one of Vicky Gill’s spare paso jackets for Anton (she must have several by now).

Len’s Lens time and the intro clip features Len being clocked in the head with a beach ball. I laughed for once. Well, tittered. We ask Len about the magic of a paso at BLACKPOOL and we look at Louise’s paso as an example, but we’re just told it was a brilliant paso, without any actual reasons, so if you’re looking for any secrets to a great paso other than ‘the floor at Blackpool is springy’ you’re shit out of luck. We then revisit Ore’s never-ending fleckerl and Darcey calling it ‘cute’ when his top line veers a little bit. Give me strength (and I like Ore). We then interrogate Craig on his score and he says to Darcey ‘you just showed it’ and she snaps that it was a tiny little mistake and Craig takes the moral high ground on not giving 10s for mistakes… which would be fine, except we come to Danny and Oti and, as is customary on Len’s Lens, the clip they’ve chosen to demonstrate his perfection and synchronicity with Oti is one in which they go a bit out of sync with each other. Oh and Darcey was fake shocked at Craig giving a 10 even though he said he was going to do that before the show. And Claudia pretends a 10 from Craig is a super-rare thing, rather than something he’ll start flinging out with wild abandon at any old random tat that takes his fancy from now on.

Back with Tess to hear the remaining results. Safe are Louise and Kevin and Judge Rinder and Oksana leaving the two bottom of the leaderboard couples in danger, and of those, it’s Greg and Natalie who are dancing off again, and in all likelihood, going home. Greg says he’s quite relaxed and he’ll just try and nail everything he got wrong before. Bruno says he should keep the lighthearted, fun feeling and try to smooth the footwork out rather than putting pressure on the feet. Darcey says he needs to cut down his ‘natural power’ and to go out and enjoy it.

In the Clauditorium, Judge Rinder is reminded he’s the only contestant whose score hasn’t gone down [it hasn't bloody gone anywhere for the last two weeks - Steve]; Louise is asked if she’ll be glad to get away from being ‘grr’ in the paso to be happy in the, er, waltz, because apparently that’s still on their to-do-list.  Ed says he’s glad people can see that they’re working hard and he doesn’t want to go home yet.

Our second special guest of the evening is Dick Spastley as Ver Hits used to call him and he isn’t singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ or even ‘Together Forever’ but some new song and ain’t nobody got time for that even if its lyrics are about dancing and he has giant DANCE signs everywhere to demonstrate the relevance.It’s not very good, although still better than that thing Alfie Boe and Michael Ball did (I bought their CD for a relative the other day and freaked out when it appeared in my downloads before I realised what had happened. THANKS AUTO-RIP [oh, THAT old excuse is it - Steve]). We get triple pro-dancing though, with Neil and Katya, Janette and Gorka and AJ and Karen [WHERE THE HELL IS CHLOE - Steve] doing their best slut-Latin (The women are wearing short pleather skirt things that look like binbags and the men tops with see through panels). I actually really appreciate Janette here as she is going full-force and making it vaguely watchable. She’s never been my ultimate favourite pro but I do feel for her after some duff celebs in several series, yet she still seems quite chirpy and enthusiastic and comes across as quite a nice person, so I’m definitely softening. 

In the danger zone, Claudia F says the other dancers and the band were brilliant so she’ll try and enjoy herself doing the dance again. Tess reminds us that Greg is a dance novice, unlike the rest of the ringers, and he says he’s had a great time and he’d love to carry on with what’s been a special experience. Natalie says it’s been a dream dancing with him and calls him the best a lot, which is clearly a goodbye speech if ever there was one.

Claudia’s dance is, if anything, worse this time than before – so flat-footed, leaden and clumpy, with her grimacing the whole time. There’s a bit in the middle where they seem to forget what they’re doing and it falls apart pretty much entirely after that. Now let us never have to see that dance again.
Greg seems a lot more comfortable this time than before (except in the hand jive section where he looks completely lost again) and even if it’s not my favourite quickstep in a series that’s had some crackers, it’s a thousand percent better than Claudia’s jive – there’s a lovely leap this time, his footwork is mostly OK and his performance value greater. If there’s any justice, he’d be saved for comprehensively outdancing Claudia, but I still think she’ll be saved for a combination of being a woman, generally performing better in other weeks and not having been in the bottom two before. Not that the judges will say that, obviously.

Craig says both couples improved enormously but ‘closer to perfection’ were Claudia and AJ; Darcey says it’s tough to see both couples down there despite the judges putting Greg there themselves and saves Claudia and AJ ‘for better technique’. Bruno says it was fun watching both couples but he’s picking the couple who were stronger technically and in terms of performance and content – Claudia and AJ. And I’m not a DS conspiracy theorist, but it’s been a while since their critiques have sounded quite so pre-scripted rather than a response to what just happened. Oh, and Len agreed.  Eh. #justiceforjamelia #justiceforgreg [Also, second Blackpool in a row that a crap jive has been saved over a decent quickstep in the dance-off because it suited the overall narrative of the series better, what a load of old shit. - Steve]

Greg cries and says it’s been a really special experience and Tess babyvoices him a lot. Natalie cries as well, but not as much as him, and apologises for not getting him further. Aww, I’m going to miss these two. [Me too, although my phone bill will breathe a sigh of relief. - Steve] Tess asks them to get ready for their last dance and Natalie says ‘No!  I’m not ready!’ Claudia tells us that next week’s iteration of the rigathon will be the ‘cha cha challenge’ and doesn’t that sound like a laugh riot? *prays for Charleston carnage week one day where the only couple with no broken limbs wins. But only in a series where I don’t like anyone left, obviously*

Natalie and Greg hug everyone to the strains of ‘Bye Bye Love’ and in our post-exit interviews, Claudia cries about how she’s going to miss him and Louise says she’ll miss their cups of tea and chats. I kind of want to join Louise and Greg for teas and chats, I bet you get a warm fuzzy feeling from them. Judge Rinder sighs about no longer being able to hold Greg’s hand and I feel that’s something we should have seen more of in the backstage footage. [YES. - Steve]

So, next week is BLACKPOOL HANGOVER WEEK! Join Steve then!

Back to Black(pool)

Top 7 perform aka BLACKPOOL Week: Saturday 19 November 2016

LastWeek! Another man hit the dance-off, as Greg dropped there following a problematic paso.  However, he was up against Daisy and she was obviously getting put out of her misery against anyone but Ed, and Greg’s dance off performance was thankfully good enough to justify the save, so we’re now down to two women and five men, but who cares about that when there’s only one story in town: BLACKPOOL!!!

We open with a bell ringer (not the only ringer on this show, eh? EH?) and the traditional string of locals welcoming the show and then we see all the celebrities and pro dancers taking a seafront train. It looks super cold and if you look closely, you can hear their teeth chattering. BLACKPOOL! When they finally get inside the tower ballroom (which also seemed cold from the fact most of them were wearing coats inside there on It Takes Two), Ed pulls a lever to make the BLACKPOOL tower light up in rainbow lights – and that’s not even remotely the most gay thing to happen tonight… but more on all of that later – to the credits! Poor Oksana, trying in vain to shut Judge Rinder up even before they’d begun their training.

Because it’s a special event, we open with an American Smooth-style group dance, this time to ‘One’ from A Chorus Line. We have moments of Natalie showboating marvellously before the celebs enter.  It is worth noting that Greg and Ed don’t get to actually dance [to be fair to Greg, he does have a little brief skippy-step section to do, we can't really lump him in the same category as Ed who spends the whole thing glued to a chair - Steve]; Danny dances lots, Louise has another fan, which she might need to watch doesn’t become a repetitive motif, because she’s better than that. Judge Rinder descends on a very shaky, very cardboard looking star – this thing makes that rickety moon on Over the Rainbow look stable. Brave, brave man. Oh, and Ore and Claudia are there, too. Speaking of just being there, Darcey is brought out of a door in a grand entrance moment, whilst the other judges just appear. Then there’s some awesome business with all the women wafting great big fans, which also prove to be useful umbrellas when a glitter explosion occurs. That was a lot of fun! [Agreed - the whole thing came together really well and made for a fantastic opening to the show. Much better than if we'd just gone straight into Claudia's jive, yeesh. - Steve]

Tess ‘kiss me quick’ Daly and Claudia ‘squeeze me slowly’ Winkleman arrive.  I can’t help think that there’s something amiss there – Tess is clearly the squeezer, albeit mostly of the unwanted harassment variety. Daly Dresswatch: raspberry with yet another asymmetrical neckline. Does she get these from a special store? What Winkleman’s Wearing: navy, quite cute.

The judges dance on again despite being on already – one of the weird consequences of having a group dance upfront, I guess, but surely that could have just meant no judge introductions? Maybe they’re still dealing with the scheduling consequences of Will’s early exit. Craig has only the middle button done up on his jacket, and when he spins in, it really makes his belly stick out and he looks pretty unkempt. Sorry Craig, but it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d pick up on if it were one of the celebrities.

After what is either a very quick costume change or some shenanigans with the ‘liveness’ of the show, our celebrities and pros emerge: Louise and Kevin; Judge Rinder and Oksana; Claudia and AJ; Ore and Jo; Greg and Natalie; Ed and Katya; Danny – who looks like a circus ringmaster, not a waiter, as was trailed on ITT – and Oti.

First on tonight are Claudia and AJ, both dressed in black and gold as a jock and a cheerleader, as this show continues its weird obsession with presenting them as belonging to an American High School. Their VT focuses on how BLACKPOOL is special and she’s never been – although we can’t get the promised footage of her on the Big Dipper because the Pleasure Beach is closed. AJ takes her to the Winter Gardens. She declares it “amazing” and we’re shown some photos of younger AJ and Chloe winning competitions here. So which is the sacredest of the sacred sites in BLACKPOOL, the Winter Gardens, or the Tower Ballroom? And why does that sound exactly like a metaphor for a battle of the sexes? Also: Claudia rides a donkey, is infantilised some more, yadda yadda.

They are jiving to ‘Mickey’ and, as all dances will have tonight, there’s a bunch of prop dancers supporting them. Other than one really neat move where she twirls under the arms of one of them and then AJ, the extra dancers mostly serve to highlight the difference between her skills and those of professionals, as she seems super nervous throughout and seems to make quite a few little mistakes. It’s all a bit clumpy, especially in the leg work, which may be due to her legs being on the short side, and there’s this really ugly side hold where the height difference between them is incredibly pronounced. You know, what guys, although it goes against all received Strictly wisdom, I think her (lack of) height really hindered her here. [Bloody hell, next you'll be telling me the rumba isn't hard for men or something. - Steve] The dance ends by her waving pom-poms for a bit and looking like she wants to die. WELCOME TO BLACKPOOL!!

We welcome our singers and orchestra and we’re over to the judges.

Len calls it full on, crisp and sharp (LOL in what universe) but notes that there was “a” mistake early on. He gets booed and snarks that he is only telling truth, and will ‘speak to Judge Rinder about you lot’. That lot who are almost definitely going to go wild for the Judge. Who isn’t an actual Judge. Bruno stands up and sings the lyrics back at her, which is always welcome in a critique. He says it had the spectacle of a Busby Barclay production (I was thinking more an off-episode of Glee in one of those later series where it somehow kept going and going despite all its story arcs having been concluded and everyone clearly hating every contractually obliged second. Which is basically every series after the first one, let’s be honest). Craig says the routine could have scored a 10 (really?) without the mistakes but he loved the kicks and flicks and really and truly loved it (Craig always falls for the weirdest routines, doesn’t he?). Darcey calls them ‘fast pumping jumping magic beans’ FFS and says it was dynamic throughout with ‘one tiny mistake’. That mistake being… the whole routine? [That was the same conclusion I came to, yes. - Steve] And, as Claudia hasn’t been patronised enough, Tess calls her a cheeky little cheerleader.  Le sigh.

In the Clauditorium, we are reminded that BLACKPOOL is amazing - and let’s just assume this said for everyone from here onwards. Scores 9, 9, 9, 9 for a BLACKPOOL inflated 36. Please tell me I’m not the only person who hated that routine? [No, it was a bad routine, danced poorly. I don't know what the hell the judges were on. - Steve]

T&C time – and for some reason, this comes with a dose of Unexpected! Peter! Kay! in a hi-vis jacket and weird hat. Natalie’s reaction is amazing – she has a total fangirl meltdown – although it’s Natalie, she’d probably even react like that to, let’s say, Michael McIntyre. Peter reads the terms and conditions out wrong and Claudia frantically waves to correct him and then bursts into hysterical laughter. The teleprompter goes too fast and the whole thing descends into chaos. At one point, Peter pretends to be groped/bummed by Judge Rinder (who later pinches his bottom) and I know people were offended at the implicit homophobia there, but as I’m not a gay man, I’ll leave it to Steve to decide how outraged to be – personally, as distasteful as it was, (and I wasn't keen), I didn’t find it quite as troubling as what Len’s about to say (twice). [I'll be perfectly honest - I've never found Peter Kay that funny so I just kind of tuned out the moment he appeared and didn't even know he'd said anything until I saw complaints on Twitter later, so I'm hardly the best judge either. - Steve]

Ore and Jo are the second couple – she in bright cerise, looking like a neon-rendering of Madonna circa ‘Material Girl’; he with cerise tie. Tess makes a mention of BLACKPOOL being the Vegas of the North and the look of utter disdain on Jo’s face is lifegiving.

In the VT, Jo says ‘it’s the first time I’m gonna dance… in BLACKPOOL… in Strictly… with a celeb’, just to emphasise how ‘special’ it all is. They go to the BBC props store which looks scruffy and a bit murdery, where she spins him in one of those gravitron things they’ve presumably had left over from one of the many dead-family-entertainment-Saturday-spectaculars in the broadcasting graveyard (poor Ore, at least Greg got to go to a space wind-tunnel) and he says now he’s done the time-honoured make you sick exercise, he’s ready for the Viennese Waltz and Jo’s like ‘LOL no, that was just for comedy VT purposes, you still have to learn the actual technique and steps and stuff.’ I don’t know how I feel about this show finally being self-aware about the pointlessness of its VTs.

They are dancing to ‘That’s Life’. And it has a spectacular opening involving a card game with Jo, Neil, Janette and two prop dancers, where they keep freezing in tableau and then unfreezing into dramatic poses, which they continue throughout much of the routine. It looks amazing but it is probably the kind of thing that should have been saved for a pro dance, as it means we are watching them, not Ore, who is pretty much lost in the mix – something that’s only enhanced when one of the women puts her hand into Jo’s cleavage (makes a change from all the male-centred homoeroticism, huh?). Given all the shenanigans, there’s not much time for actual Viennese Waltz content, bar a never-ending, super-fast fleckerl at one point. When they do move about, his legs seem a bit stuttery – but I guess that’s possibly the pace of the song. There is a good end moment where he pulls out an ace and then spins Jo off into a cool end pose, but it feels very much a dance of spectacle over content, and I am not sure if that’s down to Jo or the production team, but it just doesn’t really work as a VW – an American Smooth, possibly. So we’re two down and both have underwhelmed, drowning the celebs in a sea of better dancers. Yay, BLACKPOOL!

Bruno calls it ‘a jazz Viennese Waltz out of Ocean's 11’ (I don’t remember that scene myself, but it is many years since I saw that film – the remake one, anyway - and I’ve only watched it the once). Craig says the top line in the fleckerl bothered him and he was a bit skippy at the end, but he loved the double jumps and calls him an amazing showman. Darcey says it was the longest lasting fleckerl ever (in these post-Record Breakers times is there any way we can verify these things or not?) and no one could hold it that well (again, I’d like some verification). Len says it was a mix of flair and care.  He’s just sticking together words that rhyme as critiques, now isn’t he?

In the Clauditorium, Claudia reckons there were 12 spins in a row and Ore says there were ‘a few sicks in the week’. Mainly after everyone celebrated his and Greg’s birthdays, I expect. Scores 8, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 38 and Jo is somewhat baffled and hysterical at that score.  I mean, I concede it was worth a couple more marks than what Claudia did, so… Yay, BLACKPOOOOOOL!! That hangover is gonna hit haaaard next week, good luck with that Steve.

Louise and Kevin now and I’m kind of looking forward to this but also kind of nervous given the BLACKPOOL paso history (well, the history of the previous three BLACKPOOLs anyway with Susanna and Kevin, Pixie and Trent and Anita and Gleb. Also – 10 women have scored 37 or more in a paso, compared to two men – Jay and Austin - and yet the show still thinks rumba is the hard dance for blokes). In their VT, they go to a rock factory and have the message ‘L&K BLACKPOOL’ inscribed in it, which is about as EDGY as you’d expect from these two. Why not ‘DANNY MAC RINGER’ or ‘ED BALLS IS CRAP?’ or the evergreen classic ‘MY SISTER IS A POOHEAD’? They dance around in the rock factory and get given a few sticks from their batch of rock. I bet the show sold the rest of them at an inflated ‘SUPER STRICTLY SPECIAL PRICE’ like all those shops that get ‘duped’ into buying useless crap on The Apprentice do.

Their paso is to something called ‘Explosive’ and it seems to be set in an alt-universe Game of Thrones, and I bet there are already a ton of crossover fics on AO3. Louise descends the stairs dramatically as a bad-ass matriarch in a huge capey skirt that gets removed. [I'm sure I can't be the only person who feared some sort of Madonna-at-the-Brits moment happening here. - Steve] The prop dancers are used more effectively here to lift Louise and mostly support the routine – other than one point towards the start where they full on obscure both Louise and Kevin, though that may just be bad camerawork. There’s lots to like here – amazing dramatic lighting, high-intensity strings, fantasy-medieval staging – all of which add to the drama, but her footwork is lacking in a couple of places and she keeps grinning, which dilutes the mood a bit. Her arms and posturing look good, especially as it’s fast. I love it –  it probably feels a bit performance over technique, but it is BLACKPOOL and putting the celebrity both at the centre and in a routine where they actually seem too be able to do the dance they’ve been given is a welcome turn of events. [I loved it too. I agree with you that it wasn't perfect, but it was just so much FUN (and so very camp) that I didn't care. - Steve]

Craig says he loved the skirt work, the arabesque and the flamenco hop, and calls it ‘full of gorge’. Darcey says she loved how Louise kept control and that the routine was dynamic and strong, with beautiful arms. Len says he was blown away (enough about your private life etc). Bruno loved the Game of Thrones style and her being a killer queen commanding her turf – with beauty, artistry and power.  So GoT works better for a paso than Harry Potter, what a surprise.

In the Clauditorium, Louise says she didn’t want to let Kevin down with his favourite dance. Scores: 9 (which is booed), Darcy scrambling for ‘a passionate’ 9 (which produces some laughs), 10, 10 for a total of 38.

Danny and Oti now, which… kind of means it’s likely to go downhill from here, doesn’t it? [Yes, the running order this week was a bit baffling, front-loading all the ringers and leaving Ed, Greg and Judge Rinder for the second half. - Steve] In their VT, we see him dropping her badly. Fortunately they have a crash mat in place, so she’s fine. They also go to a ‘restaurant’ for him to get into character as a waiter-dressed-as-a-ringmaster but lol it’s a chippy. God, I would really like some chips right now.

Their Charleston is soundtracked by ‘Putting on the Ritz’ and pretty much off the bat they go into a single handed (each!) joint cartwheel, holding hands. I literally shouted ‘WOAH’- I’ve never seen anything like it from a celebrity that I can recall, especially as they just naturally went in and out of it in time with the music – properly thrilling. There’s another spectacular lift but after that, it is a lovely, jazzy, well-danced and joyous routine, with some table-top tapping to boot. The problem is that having two spectacular moments early on meant it just needed one more spectacular moment at the end to be a truly shut-the-show-down routine, but I still wouldn’t like to be one of the dancers following that. The prop dancers were used as support here, rather than overshadowing the dance, which made it look like an excellent stage show routine, not that Danny’s ever been involved in anything like that, of course.

Darcey says it was impressive, especially the cartwheel and that it’s hard to distinguish who’s the professional dancer and who’s the West End Ringer. Len says it was a choreography overload and he likes dances on the edge where they could easily go wrong but don’t. That… doesn’t normally strike me as the kind of dance Len likes, but OK. Bruno calls it a table topping showstopper, like watching a Broadway show (which is obviously not West End, not at all, that’s a whole different thing which usually just involves sitting in a chair). Craig’s only comment is a ‘fab-u-lous’ so he’s presumably giving up his 10 like he said he would on ITT.  He’s made weirder choices for his first 10 in the past, to be fair.

Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for our first 40. The noise is deafening. Claudia says there’s some technical difficulties with the phone messages, and if you’re thinking no-one votes on the phone, you’re wrong. Ed Balls voters do – I heard one in a café last weekend – so maybe technical hitches are how they’re going to manage to get him into the dance-off. [I vote on the phone too. Three free votes are never enough. - Steve]

Time for our weekly dose of Claudia comedy – this week’s gag is cueing up Ed hanging 40ft up on a piano, and Claudia holding it by a rope.  Tess says Claudia dropped a prop last time she held it up, and Claudia makes a pinky promise not to… Kerrash. 

Ed and Katya’s VT opens with him playing a real piano (although not necessarily really playing a piano), then Katya decides to get him to play a poor plastic-sheet-like version of the floor piano from Big. Badly and half-heartedly.

As we have known since last week, they are jiving to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ one of those classic first week song choices somehow arriving late in the day. He descends with a piano, looking way more stable than Judge Rinder’s infant-school-nativity level star. The routine starts with Katya and the prop dancers dancing for a while before he comes on, which is probably for the best. This is not his dance - as much as anything could be his dance, and you can see him thinking about what move comes next rather than it feeling natural the whole time, leaving it disjointed and lumpen. The final line of the dance, as he leaps into the arms of five women dancers? ‘Goodness gracious Ed Balls of fire’ – just in case you hadn’t spotted the connection. [My patience has been running thin with Ed of late, and I think "Ed Balls of fire" might be the point where it snapped. - Steve]

Len says he’s getting better… as last week he was 8th and this week the worst he’ll be is 7th. Miaow.  Bruno says he’s booked a shrink, a chiroporactor and a trip to Himalayas to get over Ed’s dancing [but he's never been to me - Steve] – so Bruno is into alternative medicine, who’s surprised? Craig says it looked like playing hopscotch in a girls’ school (#everydaysexism) and he had very heavy feet, when a jive needs to be lighter but he likes that Ed keeps going. Darcey says he needs more retraction but she loved the end.  Cold.

In the Clauditorium, we hear that Ed went to the Winter Gardens yesterday to watch the professionals and this makes him want to keep dancing. For another week, two tops, before the bussing that began tonight starts to approach with the intensity of one that will blow up if it goes at less than 50mph. Scores: 4, 6, 7, 6 for a total of 23. 

Greg and Natalie are our penultimate couple. Their VT sees them perform in aisle of a packed train to lots of ‘happy’ customers who aren’t at all enraged at being stopped from getting to the buffet. First Corbyn starts blocking the aisles and now this? [I mean I'd be far happier to bump into Greg Rutherford on a Pendolino than to bump into Jeremy Corbyn but perhaps I'm biased. - Steve] Anyway, a random passenger asks him to ‘do it for the gingers’.  I’m thinking ‘the gingers’ are going to be out of luck until we eventually get MegaRinger Bonnie Langford competing. [NICOLA ROBERTS DOMINATION 2017 - Steve]

They are dancing the quickstep to ‘Born to Hand Jive’ and the setting, with its rainbow balloon arches and streamers suggests this is set at prom in that LGBT+ school Claudia and AJ go to with the rainbow lockers, and Nat and Greg are the youngish teachers who like to think they’re cool. Greg is wearing purple velvet, not the pink we were threatened with in the week. Not that this seems to have made him more comfortable because he looks completely terrified throughout, especially at the bit in the middle where they have a little sit down and do the hand jive.  It’s super quick and parts of it are reasonable, but there are several small mistakes and it’s not very ‘clean’ and I think it bodes ill for his chances. [Although I did laugh at how even when he clearly went wrong, he still had more body contact with Natalie than Abbey Clancy did with Aljaž in her 10-scoring Blackpool quickstep YES I AM STILL CROSS ABOUT THAT ACTUALLY. - Steve]

Afterwards, Greg says it was one of most incredible and fun moments. I’d advise him to tell his face, but he’s a professional athlete and looking miserable/terrified seems to be their idea of ‘fun’, if Louis Smith, Pendledrama and Andy Murray have taught me anything. Bruno says it was bubbly and bouncy like a springbok on the run and it was nice to see him having a good time but his footwork needs to be refined. Craig says there was too much power going into the floor, giving him too much height in the chasses which made it bouncy (I’m guessing the sprung floor maybe didn’t help?). Craig argues that Greg went off the wrong leg in the jeté and Natalie says not, but even she doesn’t quite have the energy for a full-on fight about it. Craig then says he did dance brilliantly. Hmmm, bokay then. Darcey says he has a natural spring in him, which I guess is like natural rhythm for white sportspeople? She liked that he was smiling all the way through. He was??! Len says he maintained speed and great movement throughout, but the queer thing was that he messed up the leap. I haven’t heard that term used in that particular way for a good couple of decades and it makes me feel super uneasy, especially given this show’s audience and many of its cast and crew. I dunno, to me snarling that something is ‘queer’ as an insult seems even worse than Peter Kay insinuating Judge Rinder was after his ass – but there’s not been any outrage about this so maybe I’m oversensitive. *shrug*. [With Len's general track record of distaste for anything effeminate I would prefer him not to use the word "queer" for anything, but I think he genuinely intended it for its stated meaning of "a bit peculiar", so I couldn't really bring myself to get aerated about it. - Steve] Greg says he’s been trying to calm down his athletics and Len is like ‘yeah but you’re supposed to be a world champion long jumper and you messed up the jump.’ Is Len’s love affair with SPORTSMEN officially dead and buried now?

In the Clauditorium, we learn that when Natalie and Greg were first paired up, Natalie said she was worried about doing the quickstep with ‘that man’ but that she loved it in the end. Scores: all 8s for a total of 32.

Our final dance of the evening (I love it when the numbers dwindle… although not the point where they dwindle so much that two-dance week is initiated, which must be fairly imminent) is from Judge Rinder and Oksana, and it seems odd that they put his salsa here rather than, say, his foxtrot. I could be wrong, of course, and maybe it’ll be a salsa for the ages. I'm sure that's what will occur.

We’re reminded that last week we met his amazing grandparents, but sadly there is no word on whether or not they’re in the audience tonight. I suspect Tess might have taken a restraining order out, which would be the first time she’d be the one needing protection rather than the one people need protecting from. Even though the Pleasure Beach is meant to be closed, Oksana and the producers have found somewhere with fairground rides and they send Judge Rinder up on one of those enormous tower type rides. The tenuous connection is training him to stop being scared of lifts and, in another knowing VT, he whines about how loose the connection is and sarky voices the ‘Oh, now I can do the lift.' I refer you to my earlier point about knowing VTs.

They are dancing to ‘Spice Up Your Life’ and this is really not a track that suits our generally-improved Strictly singers in the slightest, who not only struggle with the notes but sound so unimpressed with the whole thing that it feels less ‘party anthem’ and more ‘murder ballad’. The staging for the dance is a load of technicolor flowers and Judge Rinder’s in bright cobalt blue with Oksana in clashing lime. This dance plays to his theatrics, he has a big gaping gob throughout, to the extent that his previous facial expressions seem subtle. There are lots of wiggles and bum shakes and those arm rolls they have in ‘Agadoo’. He lifts her successfully, but looms scared the whole time, never more so than when her skirt falls in his face. STRAIGHT PANIC! There’s a lot of energy in this routine, but it’s lacking in timing and technique and I really wish we’d gone out on Louise or Danny’s dances because then BLACKPOOL would have gone out with a bang and not a whimper. [Oh, I thought this was a bang, personally. It was a mess, but it was a glorious mess and I loved it. - Steve]

Craig calls it hiptastic, and says he loved the booty shakes and wants to call him Judge Grind(e)r. Darcey says she’s never seen a guy shake his cheeks as well. I kind of feel we need a direct comparison with Aljaž and Greg here. Just for scientific research purposes, you understand. Len says he got excited and started rushing and then, again, ‘something queer happened’ – well, the whole routine could be classified that way, depending on the way you’re using the term, and, more importantly, who is using the term. People boo him saying this and he snaps and says he doesn’t hold a grudge for the Judge. Bruno calls it ‘spicier than a scotch bonnet’, despite the timing issues, it heated up the ballroom. Maybe they should have gone on first in that case, given the bracing BLACKPOOL weather.

Not much of interest happens in the Clauditorium beyond dance being marvellous and BLACKPOOL likewise.  Scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 for a total of 33.

Shall we have a specially-inflated BLACKPOOL leaderboard?
Danny and Oti 40
Jo and Ore 38
Louise and Kevin 38
Claudia and AJ 36
Judge Rinder and Oksana 33
Greg and Natalie 32
Ed and Katya 23

I’d say the four bottom couples all look in danger, although I don’t think they’ve put the brakes on the Ed Express or Rinder Railways hard enough yet so a Greg vs Claudia dance-off with Greg going would be my prediction.

To open the vote, Peter Kay has been safely stashed out of sight, and instead, Ore has a neon ‘open’ sign of the style you get in shops and it doesn’t work. When he eventually gets it switched on, the light quality is so poor that he may as well not have bothered. And they say BLACKPOOL’s illuminations are world class. Tomorrow! We somehow fall through a wormhole and end up in 1988 and Simple Minds and Rick Astley perform!  Join us then to see if another man might actually leave the show at long last!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Daisy spent her first day off from training on a long walk with her dog, and then going for a pub lunch with her mate.
- Daisy and Aljaž always had porridge for breakfast and a jacket potato for lunch.
- Apart from their week one waltz, the salsa was the first time Aljaž felt like Daisy was giving her all.  Oof.
- As a feminist, Daisy would like Louise or Claudia to win.
- If Karen Hardy was scoring Ed, she would've given him 10 for 'Gangnam Style' and 1 for the salsa.
- Karen Hardy would like to remind the public that after BLACKPOOL we are supposed to stop focusing on 'entertainment' and focusing on technique.
- Karen Hardy doing lunges in a short, tight leather dress shouting EXPLODE is maybe not what we were looking for over our tea.
- The men are big fans of the tan.  I bet it's this show's version of a dick measuring contest.
- Daisy has been friends with Nick Grimshaw for 10 years, but please don't hold that against her.
- Louise's mum is a Strictly superfan.
- Len goes round shaking people's hands as they line up before him before a live show as if he's the Queen or something.  [I AM NOT A QUEEN LIKE WHAT THEM OTHER THREE JUDGES ARE - I'M A MANLY KINGLY MAN KING - Len]
- Tony Robinson tweeted a lot during Saturday's show.
- On Saturday, Greg got all the bits of the routine right that he'd been struggling with during the week, and then went wrong on a bit he'd always got right.
- Natalie thinks Greg is a better performer than anyone else she's danced with.
- Zoe thinks 31 is both a low score (Daisy) and a great score (Greg).
- Greg put literally everything he had into the dance-off.  It took the cleaners a while to sweep up the used bus tickets, 5p pieces and that weird perspex track trophy thing off the floor afterwards.
- Harry Judd thought Greg was undermarked on Saturday.
- Greg is turning 30 on Thursday. He's got big plans: training, then getting on a train to Blackpool.
- Claudia was thinking about her nephew during the Viennese waltz.
- BLACKPOOL Pleasure Beach is closed at this time of year so Claudia won't be able to go on the Big Dipper after all. Hopefully she can still have chips though.
- AJ thinks the difference between dancing with Chloe and Claudia is that it's serious with Chloe.
- AJ has changed a lot since he was a kid, remarkably.  Chloe has not.
- AJ and Claudia communicate primarily in sound effects.
- Claudia will be a head cheerleader in their dance on Saturday as this show continues its mission to pretend they're in a US High School (which they can't be, as TV and film have taught us all high school students in the US are at least 35).
- Neil and Joanne tell the worst jokes, while Aljaž and Janette are the most generous pros.
- Karen Hardy thinks dancing with apples under the arms is the key to a paso (?!).
- Karen Hardy thinks Ore's hips in his rumba were the best male hips she's ever seen. Ever.
- The key to getting figure 8 in your rumba hips is to imagine you're stamping cockroaches.  Sexy!
- Zoe is concerned for the welfare of Michael Bolton.
- Claudia was born the same week that 'Spice Up Your Life' was number one.
- The big group routine for BLACKPOOL is set in the 1930s.
- Louise and Claudia are sticking together now they're the last two girls standing.
- Katya would do anything for Ed (but she won't do that).
- Ed's 'voice of the viewer' brother couldn't even bear to look at him dancing for the first few weeks.
- Ed draws the line at being fired out of a cannon.
- It's a year since Neil and Katya won in the championships at Blackpool and they had to give up their title to do Strictly.
- Ed thinks BLACKPOOL is their Wembley.  Sssssh, let us never mention that word on this show ever again.
- Oti's shins are covered in bruises from Danny kicking her in their Argentine tango.
- Danny and Oti got so into their Argentine tango characters that they didn't even argue last week.
- The cast of 2016 group chat is still going on, and even the people who've been eliminated are still in it.
- Danny and Oti haven't developed their Charleston faces yet.
- Danny thought the Charleston would be easy, like the quickstep, but it isn't.  After Ore, I almost believe it.
- Danny's first job was as a waiter in Bognor Regis.
- Grease just does it for Ian.
- As do Kevin's tight paso pants from previous series.
- Ed has spent the last few months thinking "kick ball change" was "kick ball and chain", which possibly explains a lot.
- Joanne stopped herself from laughing during the rumba by looking at Ore's nose rather than into his eyes.
- Ore's mum was quite critical of his salsa.
- Ore struggles with counting, so Joanne has been teaching him rhythm using words and sounds.
- The celebrities think Blackpool is going to be like a school trip.  The rumours about the shenanigans previous years' groups have taken part in suggest that's an apt simile.
- Papa Clifton's top tip for nausea in the Viennese waltz is "project to the first balcony". Whether he means "look up there to avoid being sick" or "aim high with your projectile vomiting" is unclear.
- Vicky Gill and her team have made or bought 119 outfits for this weekend.
- Oti has a very tiny waist.
- Judge Rinder and Oksana play pat-a-cake backstage to help him control his nerves.
- Benedict Cumberbatch helped Judge Rinder contol his face for his paso.
- If Judge Rinder could be a Spice Girl, he'd be Sporty Spice "with a dash of Scary".
- Judge Rinder tells the producers to stop asking them 'stupid' questions about how nervous they are before each show.
- Ore and Greg both had a birthday on Thursday.  Seriously, is there anyone in the cast who hasn't had a birthday this series?!
- You shouldn't close your feet on a natural turn.
- Ian doesn't like 'Great Balls Of Fire' because it's the song that Jodie Kidd got eliminated on.
- Ian doesn't know the terms for some of the armography in the charleston.
- Ian thinks Danny will get Craig's first 10 this Saturday.
- The band were egging Louise on at the start of her American smooth.
- Louise was meant to snarl when she turned around at the start of her American smooth, but she grinned instead. Oh, Louise.
- Louise took her feather fans home with her when she was rehearsing last week, but she claims that's only because Kevin didn't want to take them on the train.
- Paso is Kevin's favourite dance.  I kind of want to see a Kevin vs AJ unlikely paso boys pro dance, now.
- Louise got her golden ticket to BLACKPOOL when it fell out of her Strictly annual ZOMG RIGGED FOR TEH CLIFTONS!!!1!!
- Tony Robinson is growing a Movember tache and it looks quite scary TBH.
- Zoe thinks Michael Fassbender should play Russell Watson in a biopic.  I think he's more Chris Pratt TBH.
- Tony Robinson used to be an 'other side' guy, but he's been converted to Strictly recently.
- Sara Cox think Danny is a dance bot and Joe Pasquale thinks he has looked like a professional dancer from the very beginning. *theatrical cough*
- Joe Pasquale thinks Ed Balls is half-man, half-duck and that Greg looked like Big Bird.  His ornothological comparisons for the rest are unknown.
- Russell Watson and his wife like Louise and Judge Rinder.
- Tony Robinson thinks Louise is like Philip Schofield.
- The Friday panel would like 'Bum in, stay in' to be a catchphrase.  BAN THIS SICK BBC FILTH ETC.
-It's so cold at BLACKPOOL that Danny and Ore are wearing coats indoors.
- Joanne didn't get Ore a birthday present, but she did get him a card with an egg on it.
- The blessed Jive of St Jill was the first ever 40 and started a tradition of BLACKPOOL being the place to break the 40 duck.
- Anton doesn't do his research because he (and whoever writes his scripts) thinks Harry Judd got 37 for an Argentine tango in week two in series nine.
- Brendan's BLACKPOOL highlight was his quickstep with Sophie and Anton's was his American Smooth with Katie.
- Craig's BLACKPOOL highlight was his exploding guitar entrance.
- Craig is usually the last judge standing on the dancefloor at the BLACKPOOL afterparty but last year it was Darcey.
- Craig had to restrain himself because there was some terrible dancing in the CiN special.
- Craig wants to be transported to another planet to give a 10... which goes some way to explaining why Bruno gives them out so liberally.
- Craig thinks Greg would need surgery on his legs and bottom to stand any chance of making the final.
- Craig has agreed to do Ed and Katya's lift in the bar after BLACKPOOL. Which role he will be playing is as yet unclear.
- There will be prop dancers this weekend.
- The show's official stance on last year's BLACKPOOL result is that Peter Andre was "luckily" saved in the dance-off. #justice4jamelia
- Kevin's lowest score at BLACKPOOL in all his time on the show is 37.
- Ed's impression of Katya is terrible.
- The costume room at BLACKPOOL is tiny.
- Greg doesn't think he can pull off a pink suit.
- Natalie bought Greg aftershave, M&Ms, a skiing voucher and some other things for his birthday.  I would like to be Natalie's friend even more than I already did now.
- Joe Pasquale thinks the only way Ore is going out of the competition is in a dance-off against Danny.
- Gravy is good for lubricating the vocal cords (according to Sara Cox and Russell Watson).
- Joe Pasquale thinks Judge Rinder looks like he's trying to keep a Trump in.  Bit political.
- Joe Pasquale, Judge Rinder and Tony Robinson think Judge Rinder is going home this week and Sara Cox thinks Greg.  Joe and Tony want Ed to win; Sara and Russell want Louise.
- Janette thinks Judge Rinder is the most improved celebrity.
- Karen's ideal partner is David Beckham. Janette would also like to be partnered with him. As would Aljaž, Gorka and Gethin.
- Aljaž's favourite routine of the series was 'Gangnam Style'. You can go off a person.
- If Gorka could dance with a judge, he'd pick Darcey.
- Karen and Janette are trying to get in on Gethin's homerotic backstage adventures but they can't pry  him and Gorka away from one another.
- Gorkin OTP 4eva: