I have genuinely been looking forward to this. Not in a slightly sick at heart way, knowing I shouldn't watch, but that, inevitably, I definitely would, but proper real-life anticipation. I have been away having a lovely time in Liverpool this weekend, but still, I was looking forward to coming home, toasting a crumpet and catching up on the Sky+.
But first I must invoke some words of prayer. And those words are, 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.'
Because in these first two shows, TESS AND BRUCE ARE AWFUL, JUST AWFUL, AND THE JUDGES' MARKING IS RIDICULOUS AND ALESHA PATRONISES A WOMAN WHO IS MUCH OLDER THAN HERSELF AND BRUNO IS REALLY, REALLY EMBARRASSING AND JESUS CHRIST MUST IT ALWAYS BE LIKE THIS?
And breathe. Because yes, it will always be like this. And there is nothing we can do to change it.
First up, Holly Valance and Artem. Holly has wild hair a bit like Wagner off last year's X Factor and strange metallic eyeshadow. And considering she once made a career out of writhing around, oiled up, wearing nothing but a flesh coloured thong, she looks surprisingly nervous at the prospect of a little light shimmying. It's all a bit lacklustre, but we must concede that the Valance can dance, and when it comes to the possibility of scuppering the predicted victory for Jason or Harry (or Russell), we must set her level of threat at 'Rachel Stevens' . My favourite thing about her routine is that you think it's finished! But then it's not finished! But then it is finished! When it comes to music, the 'fake' ending is the scourge of over-enthusiastic applauders and ill-informed DJs everywhere, but what is the best example in pop, I wonder? I like Video Killed The Radio Star, myself.
Next, Dan Lobb and Katya. Dan has clearly read his contract very carefully and is fulfilling the obligations of his role as 'lovable, shrugging everybloke'/'friend's husband who you secretly have a crush on even though he talks a lot about his lawnmower' to absolute perfection. He's also the sweatiest man I have ever had a TV crush on. Apart from Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury. Dan is dancing the waltz rather than the cha-cha, which is probably a gift for someone like him who is struggling with letting go and being fluid and full of dance-abandon. Still, they make it a massive uphill battle for lovely, slightly awkward Dan by making him dance on his own at the start, while holding a sodding rose and facing down that hideous trellised archway from last year, which I can't believe Matt Baker didn't track down in the Strictly props warehouse and set light to after last year's competition. Dan is OK, but rather wooden, and I don't think that comes as a surprise to long-term Strictly watchers.
Lulu and Brendan are cha-chaing. Or rather Brendan is. Lulu is doing a lot of strutting around. This is not Relight My Fire, Lulu. You have to do more than strut around. Gary and Robbie are busy being amazing on The X Factor and can't help you out here. Bruce says to Lulu afterwards, 'You're such a wonderful sport', which is a brilliantly creative way to say 'You were rubbish and everyone knew it.' Brendan has new hair. I think he might be going for 'tousled'.
Audley Harrison and Natalie are doing the waltz, and here you can insert all your favourite cliches about Audley being surprisingly light on his feet for a big lad, and their dance being strangely touching, and they will all be totally appropriate, but they won't make me remember much else about it. Also, Craig uses the words 'spatulistic' in reference to Audley's hands. Ah, the living, growing, breathing English language.
Robbie Savage and Ola are doing the cha-cha. But it's less sexy Latin party dance and more angry argument in a provincial nightclub. Robbie is snarly and a bit aggro, and Ola is trying really hard to make it alright. Also, Robbie has waxed his chest and talks about himself in the third person. Two big helpings of 'no surprise' there then.
Prior to her waltz with Robin, Anita Dobson acknowledges the curly-haired elephant in the room when she reveals that she was slightly annoyed to find herself going out with someone who basically looks like her brother. She is adorable, and Robin looks delighted with her after their lovely waltz, and I find myself thinking that Robin might actually be awesome and totally know what he's doing. Afterwards, Anita proves herself to be the first succesful participant in this year's Strictly mind control programme as she says, 'I'm having the time of my life, it's the best present anyone's ever given me.' Although this last bit makes me wonder if Brian May traded a Bohemian Rhapsody platinum disc and a blanket woven from his own plughole harvest in order to get Anita a place on the show. We may never know.
And then... there was Russell. Somewhere, at the end of a rainbow, Russell Grant has been waiting patiently, grooming the mane of a unicorn and surrounded by sequinned starbursts, for Strictly Come Dancing to come and find him. Why has it taken them so long? They were surely always meant to be together. Russell cha-chas to Venus and emerges from a giant shell, which is also, I like to think, what his bathroom looks like at home. Like Holly Valance, he is a victim of the metallic eyeshadow curse, and unlike Holly Valance, he pulls totally amazing dance faces, which are like a drunk person trying to look sober. It's an absolute joy, and the judges manage to critique him without really saying anything about his dancing. Successful Strictly Mind Control Guinea Pig no 2 says afterwards: 'It's just the most wonderful thing in the world. I'm just so happy here. I've got the most fabulous friends.' I'm not sure that Flavia is having quite as much fun, but she'd better suck it up as Russell could be here for the long haul. 'The long haul' is how Flavia may refer to leading Russell through rehearsals, but I hope that's not true.
Squeal! It's Harry! Oh, he's still dancing with Aliona. Never mind! There's Tom from McFly in the audience! Harry's cha-cha is great, as I knew it would be, but it's got the slightly over-sexual Aliona trademark. God, but that women loves writhing. I can just imagine her looking for frozen Yorkshire puddings in Sainbury's and body-rolling all over the freezer cabinet, and sleazing all over a parking meter as she feeds coins into it.
Rory Bremner looks more nervous than I think I've ever seen anyone look in my life. He has a fixed grin that is less I'm-showbiz-till-I-die and more I'm-about-to-be-run-over-by-a-showbiz-juggernaut-driven-by-Bruce-Forsyth-who-is-wielding-a-deadly-weapon-and-yelling-at-me-to-smile. His and Erin's waltz is somewhere between moderately charming and quite charming, but I have concerns about the Latin dances that are to come for him.
Alex Jones and James are doing the cha-cha, and Alex throws herself into the sexy faces quite well, but the dancing is a bit pedestrian. James's dogged, but ultimately fruitless, pursuit of 'Strictly favourite' status continues as he attempts to take Craig to task about his negative feedback. Craig seems fairly non-plussed, as are the rest of us. In other news, I've decided I love Alex Jones's accent.
Next up is the waltz from Chelsee Healey and Pasha. What with being TOTALLY BUBBLY and A BIT MAD, Chelsee seems a natural fit with the cha-cha, but instead she dances a stumbly but promising waltz. She then has to endure a stream of patronising platitudes from the judges and Tess, who seem intent on casting her as a character somewhere between Eliza Dolittle and Cinderella. Yes, she does look really pretty and elegant in a marshmallow-pink dress, but off-duty I hardly think she dresses like a scarecrow with soot all over her face, and talks like some caricatured savage from the South Riding slum: 'If you please, Miss Tess, I feel like a proper lady now.'
Vincent, my Vincent. You are dancing the cha-cha with Edwina Currie, and I expected to find it more cringey than it was in the end. Which is not to say that I found an applause-drunk Edwina lying on the floor and waggling her legs in the air anything other than mortifying. Choreography-wise, the Italian Shetland has clearly been dipping into Make 'Em LOL: Anton's Big Book Of Comedy Dance Moves. Anton never signed off on this title, he thinks it's kind of gimmicky, and was, as a result, a little cool to his fans at the subsequent book-signing sessions to publicise it.
Nancy Dell'Olio and Anton's waltz is almost entirely scuppered by Nancy's feather boa tangling itself around their feet. Anton doesn't look at all impressed – and cannot seem to summon his usual amount of world-weary good humour about it. Could this be the year that the cracks start to show in Anton Du Beke? Will yet another season of bad luck and ropey dance partners see him slowly unravelling, at first turning up to work in creased shirts he's clearly slept in, and tiny pieces of toilet paper stuck on his face where he cut himself shaving with trembling hands, and culminating in a total, live, on-air breakdown where he takes all his clothes off and urinates on the judges' desk, then goes to sit in the audience stark naked, refusing to move and singing a loud, drunken, off-key version of the Strictly theme tune whenever Bruce or Tess start to speak. I mean, probably this won't happen, but I'm a little worried about Anton, is what I'm saying.
It's Jason Donovan! There is a lot of love in the room for Jason. And with good reason. Or perhaps 10 Good Reasons, which was the title of his smash-hit 1989 album. Heh. Anyway, against all odds (which, to my knowledge, is a song he has yet to cover) Jason's cha-cha with Kristina is fantastic and he is clearly having such a BRILLIANT TIME, so we do too and all my anxieties about him being an ernest plodder turn to fine glitter and blow away. Kristina is so happy afterwards she can barely speak. Awww.
Next week, the salsa and the foxtrot and someone definitely, almost certainly, probably going home. I'm excited! Are you?