Strictly Come Dancing is proving itself to be very easily led by its flashier US cousin, Dancing With The Stars. Levels of prop involvement this series are at an all-time high, and it is only week two. And it seems we have already embraced theming. Next week, it's Broadway night. This week, judging by many of the couples' performances, it's Wedding-Reception night. (Unless you're Aliona and Harry, or Brendan and Lulu, for whom it's apparently soft-rock soft-focus music-video night. I think every night is probably soft-rock soft-focus music-video night for Aliona. Sorry, Aliona fans. I don't like her choreography at all and I don't really know what I can do about that.)
Wedding Reception night begins, of course, with embarrassing speeches from Bruce and Tess.
And then, in the manner of someone who has been drinking all day, Chelsee Healey cannot wait to start the dancing, leaping up on the judges' plinth and shaking everything the good lord (and her cosmetic surgeon) gave her. She is brilliant, but I am distracted during her judges'comments by a cutaway shot of Mel from out of Mel & Sue sitting in the audience with Paul Hollywood. Are they on a Great British Bake-Off date? Are they cheating on Sue and Mary Berry? Or is it just Sue and Mary's turn to stay in and babysit the dough in the airing cupboard?
Edwina and Vincent are dancing the foxtrot. Edwina is really throwing herself into the cougar narrative. She even does the 'grrr' tiger-claw hands. Did any good ever come out of anyone doing this? Apart from actual tigers. It's probably quite effective when they do it. For their performance, Edwina and Vincent have a big neon sign that says 'Vincenzo's Cafe', plus the red and white gingham tablecloths from Tony's Trattoria in Hi-de-Hi! – and sometimes it does feel a little like Vincent is shoving a particularly heavy sweet trolley around as he attempts to maneouvre Edwina into position. I'll have the fruit salad, thanks Vincent. I'd like to think I'm above the mass, indiscriminate slagging of Edwina, but MY GOD, she is an annoying woman. As the judges give their verdict, she will not SHUT UP, and apparently would like some kind of special treatment because this is the first time she has danced a foxtrot. Have you ever watched Strictly before, Edwina? Because that's PRETTY MUCH HOW IT WORKS.
Natalie and Audley are dancing a salsa. They are dancing to one of the greatest dancing-to records of all time and if you saw Audley dancing like this to it at a wedding you'd think he was kind of a mover – the kind of confident, easy-going dancefloor character who might grab you for a bit of twirl. If you're like me, finding yourself the grabee in this situation immediately renders you anxious and physically rigid, so Audley would give up quite quickly. The best bit is when he and Natalie both turn around and run to the back of the set, and Audley takes giant heavy loping strides like a dinosaur, one for every two of Natalie's. Natalie's hasty sprint reminds me of my own indecent speed when the evening buffet is brought out late on at a wedding reception. I should point out that the recent wedding of Marbury offered a particularly special Yorkshire-themed evening buffet. I was not too proud to ask for a doggy bag of parkin.
Alex and James are dancing the foxtrot to Have You Met Miss Jones?, for which they had to ask my written permission, and I graciously assented. Alex, who has been constructed from leftover pieces of Christine Bleakley and Carol Smillie, does a nice job, although I don't know why she plumps for sitting on John Prescott's lap when Tom and Dougie from McFly are right there for the preying on. This is what the stress of competition does to a person.
I am a bit in love with Dan Lobb now, and feel furious that I have been so demographically manipulated. Their training video has a cute segment where he and Katya play tennis together. Does anyone else think that the two of them TOTALLY fancy each other? After his testing first week, things haven't got any easier for Dan as now he has to dance the salsa – the scourge of the slightly awkward and inflexible. This is his punishment for coming from the Daybreak sofa and not the BBC Breakfast equivalent. It's not good, but they do throw in a handspring and some good lifts. Unfortunately, I fear it says little about Katya's hopes for Strictly survival that she's pulled them out of the bag so early. Even Gavin Henson did not take his top off for at least five weeks or so.
Lulu and Brendan's foxtrot starts with a hideous mirror section - like a Bonnie Tyler video in ballgowns. Urgh. Brendan does seem enamoured of this kind of 'lyricism'. What happened to the old Brendan who was rude to everyone? He was great. Lulu does at least remember most of the moves this week, which is a relief for everyone.
Sound the gong! Holly Valance is the first contestant (I think – I'm not always concentrating) to do the splits. She's a really good dancer and her hands look especially lovely, but it's like she can't quite look anyone in the eye when she's doing the saucy stuff. Holly, what happened to that pouting red-hot sexpot of yesteryear? I don't know, but people ask me the same thing ALL THE TIME.
Like Dan, Rory has taken the express train to Awkward Town by drawing the salsa. I don't think he makes a bad job of it really, but I seem to be in a minority on this. In training, Erin says with glazed eyes that are strangely symptomatic of Stockholm Syndrome that the great thing about training with Rory is that he can be a different person every day – as he runs through a grating series of impressions, culminating, back in the studio, with a Len Goodman that is less Len Goodman and more generic middle-aged cockney. Has BBC4 ever made one of their the-tragic-personal-lives-of-comedians dramas starring Ken Stott about the secret pain of the impressionist? The search for identity! The lonely entertainer with only his 'voices' for company! Maybe Jason Donovan could take on a rare serious role and perm up to play Rory.
It's Robbie and Ola! To show his respect for the decorum and sophistication of the foxtrot, Robbie has styled his hair like the Duchess Of Kent. I was just thinking about her hugging Jana Novotna at Wimbledon, and was reminded that Jana Novotna is also a bit Robbie-alike about the barnet. Robbie's foxtrot is great and full of – hold tight, I'm going to use the word 'pizzazz' – pizzazz, and Ola is a genius. Next!
Anita and Robin are doing the salsa. Anita goes a bit 'mad nan', but you can't fault her commitment. She makes very obvious mistakes, but the judges can't seem to get enough. (This will be further fuel for Anton's pyre of injustice.)
Hide your eyes, you infirm and squeamish, for Jason and Kristina are ROLE-PLAYING. No, they are not pretending to be strangers in the bar of a motorway-services branch of Travelodge. They are acting out some kind of 30s/40s (I am not very good at decades) jazz-club sleazathon, but they are doing it at the Rivoli Ballroom, which is one of the best places in the world, so that makes it kind of alright. Nothing could make Jason's bright red trilby alright though – not even Artem, who was probably the last person to wear it. Jase is brilliant, in a slightly blander way than last week. He talks about finding the character within the dance. If that's the way he tackles the foxtrot, his showdance is going to be like a two-minute King Lear.
A lot of people have a lot of things to say about Anton and Nancy's salsa this week, but I have nothing because I spent all their screen time with my hands over my face. How is Anton's breakdown progressing, would you say?
Oh Aliona, you and your softly erotic dance narratives. They are lost on me – and also Len, apparently, who is angry at Aliona for claiming she never listens to the judges. She and Harry dance a competent foxtrot, but they seem to be getting lost in the field of contestants when, at the start of the series, it was all about Harry for me. So much so that when I heard about his rumoured participation, I went to the McFly website to check whether they had any autumn/winter touring commitments. My point is, POOR HARRY. WHO WILL CARE FOR HARRY? Who will correct his posture problems? Who will make sure he is eating properly? Will it be Aliona? Or will she be too lost in her reverie that she is a misunderstood artiste?
(Incidentally, in Aliona and Harry's training VT, it is totally brilliant when Dougie says he is supporting Jason Donovan.)
Now it's time for Russell and Flavia. Russell has Hugh Jelly sleeves (that's a little shout-out for fans of televised alternative comedy in the late 1980s) and he is the one left on the dancefloor at the end of the night, spinning round and round and having the best time ever. The judges seem to have disengaged from making any kind of dance-related criticism and seem hypnotised by his positive mental energy. 'Positive Mental Energy' is probably one of Russell's premium-rate motivational astro phoneline services. I'm a Capricorn, the most miserable of all the signs, and even I am feeling the effects.
Afterwards, Robbie Savage gives Russell a kiss on the cheek at the top of the stairs. They are, like, totally BFF, and now I can only think of them in terms of this sketch with David Beckham and James Corden.
Come results time, it's Edwina and Vincent who are taking Len's Coaches directly to Loserville. Will anyone miss them?
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
10 months ago