Saturday, 7 November 2009


Today, you will witness a small step for blogging kind, but a large step for my blog. Amid all the excitement of biscuits by post and found knitwear, there has been a rumbling of mild dissent from some of my oldest readers (and by this I mean two of my friends). 'Why don't you blog more about Strictly?' they said to me. The answer is that I feel like I don't have a lot to say about it.

'I feel like I don't have a lot to say about it,' I said to Miss W. She said, with her usual plain-speaking sagacity, 'Why don't you just write a review?'

So this is what I am doing. Do not blame Miss W, or my friends, for what is to follow.

What you are about to read was written in real time, sort of, apart from a bit of live Sky+ pausing in order for my fingers to catch up, or rewinding to make up for the instances of concentration fail that occur every 10 minutes or so when I watch television. Honestly, every hour-long episode of Andrew Marr's The Making Of Modern Britain is taking me roughly three hours to watch because my mind keeps wandering and then I don't know which bearded man in black and white is which.

I am slightly late starting because I am eating a Greek Lamb Burger from the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, which has no tzatziki or sweet chilli sauce on it, which is pretty much the whole point of the Greek Lamb Burger. I try not to let this prove in any way inauspicious for the evening's blogging.

For one week only, apart from the other times it has been there, Strictly is coming from the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. This provides the BBC with the opportunity to power up the pun generator (or for various script drones to brain-storm roller-coaster-related words on a flipchart). In Tess's intro she says, 'After last week's white-knuckle ride… who will give a towering performance? This is The Big One.' There is some talk about the atmosphere being electric, and I think of the Electric Ballroom, which is nothing to do with dancing in Blackpool, but is a tiny indie venue in Camden and then - mind-wandering alert! - I start thinking about what Indie Come Dancing would be like, where Bez and Shaun Ryder and Graham Coxon and Jarvis Cocker and Kim Deal learn the foxtrot and the rumba. Bez would dance the Viennese Waltz by taking enough mind-altering substances so that the room turned around him, while he just stood there, entirely stationary, his shouts of 'Let's 'ave it!' just audible over the orchestra

The ballroom is enormous, way bigger than the BBC studio. This affords Bruce even more space to do his excruciating opening-of-the-show dance solo, which is surely what the world of light entertainment has been missing until this point.

We begin with Ricky Whittle and Natalie. There has been a lot of tabloid talk this week about how Ricky has split up with his long-term girlfriend. I have felt for some weeks that Natalie has been carrying a torch of galactic proportions for Ricky, while he is politely and sweetly Not Feeling It. Natalie must be thrilled about the opportunity that may now be presenting itself to her, and sure enough, in their training footage, we see that she has come to the rehearsal studio in a boob tube ('What, this? Yeah, it's the only thing I had that was clean. I really need to do some laundry…'). During this short film, it is clear that the BBC is going out hard for the cheap, X Factor-style human interest angle. Which clearly involved the reporter repeatedly asking each of them how awesome it is training with the other one, and whether it truly is amazing, and do they really love dancing together, so they both end up saying, 'It is awesome training with Ricky/Natalie. It truly is amazing. I really love dancing together,' which would, to a simpleton, sound like there is Something Going On. Anyway, they dance a tango to the Kinks' You Really Got Me. On paper it should be amazing, yet it's strangely unappealing, despite the brilliantly sharp jerking-the-head-around bits. That is, indeed, the technical term for them. I decide it is so unmoving because Ricky is wearing a velvet jacket. I try really hard to think of someone who has been sexy while wearing a velvet jacket and I cannot. A velvet jacket is like a furry shield that repels the sexual urges of others. Backstage, Tess remarks on what a passionate dance the tango is and asks Ricky what it was like dancing it WITH NATALIE. He says it was good fun. Ouch! Sorry Natalie.

Next up are Natalie and Vincent, my second favourite couple. They are doing the quickstep, and in the training footage, we find out that Vincent has made the choreography much more difficult this week. 'Vincent seems to have changed,' Natalie says. Then Vincent turns his head to the side and says, somewhat mournfully, 'People change, bella.' In the film of Vincent's life story, this dialogue is post-shadowing (I am assuming that's what you call the opposite of foreshadowing), as this was exactly the line that Flavia said to Vincent when she broke the news to him that she was sleeping with Matt Di Angelo in Series 5.

Vincent explains his toughening up of tactics by saying 'This is the time when we say in Italy, "We are turning the frittata around."' I wonder then if this is the only dish Vincent can cook, which may have been another reason for Flavia to look elsewhere. Matt Di Angelo can cook two dishes - chilli con carne and spaghetti bolognese.

Len scores them an 8 for doing a brilliantly competent dance, shortly after giving a 9 to Ricky Whittle for quite clearly messing up, which highlights effortlessly why the problem with the judges is less to do with the Arlene/Alesha issue and more about him.

At this point, I pause for a while because I can hear fireworks going off outside my kitchen window. Fireworks and I perform our annual ritual where I turn my kitchen light off to see them better, and go over to the window, and they immediately stop. I wait for a few minutes, turn away and leave the room, and they immediately start up again. We repeat this perhaps six times until I glumly and metaphorically go back indoors.

There are few things I like better than fireworks, but one of them is Jade and Ian. IT'S TIME FOR JADE AND IAN.

At this point, I remember that I had a dream last night about getting my hair cut by Ian Waite. It was going to be very expensive, but during our lengthy period of consultation, Ian told me this was because I was having several one-off deep-conditioning treatments, which are very costly, as well as the haircut, which was relatively cheap. It was only when I got to the hairdressers for my appointment that I remembered that I usually got my hair cut by Matthew Cutler, and there was a very awkward moment when Matthew was really pleased to see me, and ushered me towards the basins, and I had to tell him that, hair-wise, I was dumping him for Ian.

Jade and Ian are awesome, obviously.

Next, Brian and Ali. Again, their 'love story' is shamelessly ramped up in the training film. After the Total Outrage of two strong couples being in the dance-off last week (one of whom was B&A, of course), rather than any of the weaker couples, I suspect the BBC are trying to construct a romance narrative for the competent but dull couples, in a bid to keep the viewers interested in them so they are not eliminated unjustly early (cf Ian and Emma Bunton, James and Gabby Logan, Rachel Stevens and Vincent, even) and the whole contest, and by implication the BBC, is branded A Total Farce. Brian and Ali are dancing the Viennese Waltz. It's hard to find good, contemporary music for either of the waltz dances. Very few modern songs are written in 3/4 time. Sometimes, you get a corker like this which Anton and Leila used this series, but sometimes they put non-3/4 songs in 3/4 time, and it is all messed up and off-balance, like you are wearing the wrong prescription in your glasses, or you have an inner-ear infection.

To all the hard-up musicians who are constantly asking me for advice, I would say write songs in 3/4 time so people on telly can waltz to them. Strictly Come Dancing is franchised in 30 different countries. Think of the royalties. Has anyone ever danced to Paul McCartney's Frog Chorus? I would choose that.

Brian and Ali get four 10s. Everyone hopes that they will fall into a Josh-and-Donna-style snog of momentarily-inhibition-free triumph and it almost, almost happens but doesn't quite. But all the other couples in the red green room go, 'Woooooooooooooo!' like it is primary school and someone has just clocked them holding hands under the desk.

Ricky Groves (or Ricky Grove as James Jordan calls him) and Erin do the salsa. It is clumsy, and Erin is wearing a dress that appears to have been decorated with screwed up toilet paper they have pulled off the shoes of women emerging from the ladies'.

Next, Anton and Laila. In the footage of them rehearsing, there is an image of Anton playing air guitar which we must file under 'Things That A Girl Ain't Supposed To See'. Their dance is surprisingly convincing, so much so that you almost forget it's Anton. Laila looks incredible. The judges are slightly underwhelmed and Anton, who these days is utterly conditioned to routine disappointment, resorts to his usual lame, audience-ingratiating jokes of self-flagellation, like a waiter who has been working for 25 years in the same family-friendly restaurant.

Phil and Katya do the rumba. I mostly look away.

In Tess's room, Katya talks about how her mom is coming over from the States next week to watch the show. This attempt at emotionally blackmailing the voting viewers is as nought, Katya, unless you are prepared to at least pretend you are interested in sleeping with Phil Tufnell and it is very plain that this is an option in which you have zero interest.

Ola and Chris. Chris does some face-acting at the start, which is sweet. Afterwards, Tess asks Chris whether he thinks he would be still be here without the help of Ola. Chris actually laughes in Tess's face at this idiotic question, and you wonder why more people don't do the same in response to her interviewing style. They get two 9s and it's ridiculously cute how pleased they are. They are third on the leader board, which obviously means that they will be in the dance-off, unless you believe certain tabloids who are claiming that it's Chris who is winning the public vote every week.

Craig Kelly and Flavia Cacace dance the cha-cha-cha. It is awful. Simply being in Queer As Folk is no longer providing sufficient incentive for me to keep forgiving Craig. The judges are scathing, particularly Alesha. Craig Kelly takes the piss out of Bruno a bit and Bruce tells Craig he's got a good sense of humour. It is a total pity compliment, the 'you've got a really good personality' of SCD judging.

Next, a professional Viennese Waltz, for which chandeliers have descended from the ceiling to the dancers' chest height. After all the palaver reported during the week about the health and safety issues around dancing with poppies pinned on, it seems incredible that it was considered perfectly OK to have pointy hot electrical lights in close proximity to people moving at high speed.

There is a group swing dance in which we are promised two special guests. Who is the first one? IT'S JILL HALFPENNY! She is dancing with her former Strictly partner Darren Bennett, which means that Lilia is dancing with Brendan, which is like the world has slightly slipped off its axis. Who will the other guest be? TomChambersTomChambersTomChambers. Oh, it's not Tom Chambers. It's Brucie. Great. He sings Almost Like Being In Love, from the end of Groundhog Day. He fluffs the words at the start, when he can't decide whether the first line or the second line comes first, so instead of 'What a day this has been' or 'What a rare mood I'm in', he sings, 'What a ray this has been.' My ears start to bleed, and then he does a bit more dancing and my eyes start bleeding as well.

Rod Stewart is singing. There is some issue with the sound as you can hear the rabbly chatter from the backstage area and it reminds me of when I used to do teen am-dram and the people in charge of us would come rushing backstage in a big flap from the front of house, hissing 'WE CAN HEAR EVERY WORD YOU'RE SAYING OUT THERE'.

Who will be dancing to Rod? The answer is his wife, Penny Lancaster (former Strictly contestant) who, it is safe to say, is no Jill Halfpenny. She is partnered by Matthew Cutler, who has been undisputed king of the pro dances this year, and I feel glad he was eliminated so early, because he seems to have blossomed in a way he couldn't if he was also having to heave a lumpen amateur partner around the rehearsal studios every working day.

Score time! Safe is: Ali 'n' Brian (another near Josh-and-Donna euphoria moment), Chris 'n' Ola, Jade 'n' Ian (YES! YES! Jade does an amazing 'surprised' face), Ricky 'n' Natalie (who have a really long hug during which Ricky very audibly and emphatically says 'Mmmmmmmmm', which causes me to review my earlier assertion that he is Totally Not Interested in Natalie), Natalie 'n' Vincent, Phil 'n' Katya and… Leila 'n' Anton.

Dancing off are Craig 'n' Flavia and Ricky 'n' Erin. In contrast to last week's tense, tortured ten minutes, the judges vote-off verdict has a near-party atmosphere. It is the party atmosphere that was missing from Ricky and Erin's salsa, but better late than never.

Flavia and Craig dance their final dance. No one cries.

That is the end of my inaugural Strictly real-time (almost – that adjective is not legally binding) 'review'. There is no punchline. I am exhausted.


Anonymous said...

Please, please do one of those every Saturday night! It's brilliant!

miss w said...

Yeah, this is basically the kind of thing I meant.

Jane said...

I love the idea of Indie Come Dancing, or Strictly Indie- Sindie. Instead of learning classic dance moves celebrities can learn to shoe gaze, chicken dance, embarrassedly look for their friend over your shoulder instead of making eye contact, go Björk bonkers or do strange Jarvis hand gestures.

I started reading your review and enjoyed it until I remembered that I don't watch the programme and have no idea who the people you're writing about are. I do try to catch Wallander if you fancied reviewing that?

Miss Jones said...

Anon, thank you, I will do my best.

Miss W, you are the Wind beneath my Wings. A bit. That is what the W stands for.

Jane, I think we could be on to something with this. Indie-oke is becoming kind of a big deal (karaoke, but with indie songs, and sung to a live band) in this town, so Indie Come Dancing is the logical next step. Knowing you as I believe I do, I am assuming you mean the original Scandinavian version of Wallander. What you are suggesting is me blogging something that involves subtitles. With my non-powers of concentration? I am afraid not. x

The Umbrellas of Sefibourg said...

Excellent review, Miss J.

As for Indie-Ballroom - I imagine Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore as the 'display couple' like the snotty couple, Barry and Yvonne from "Hi De Hi". Kim would wear a crazy Rodarte dress complete with Mad Max warrior make-up.

Jane has some excellent suggestions - I also add Bobby Gillespie fey hand-clapping, Katie Jayne Garside leaping/selfharm/puking and of course, the Brett Anderson sway-on-mike.

I went to Electric Ballroom once aged about 17. I think it was good. I was rather drunk.

Anonymous said...

O please do more of these, that was brilliant

Jaye said...

Brilliant review, I'll look forward to next weeks!