Roll up, roll up, it's the Strictly Come Dancing final! You'll squeal! You'll cringe! You'll feel a nagging sense of sorrow and emptiness at the passing of another year!
For its ever-inventive introductory sequence, the BBC have hit upon a gladiatorial theme. The reason for this is unclear until you see the opening group dance, where the male pros are stripped to the waist and strapped up, wielding swords and shields, and it becomes obvious that some assistant producer has taken the opportunity to recreate one of his/her most private fantasies. I imagine the production meeting went something like this:
'So I think we need to brainstorm some ideas for the clumsily punning opening sequence of the final. Any ideas, guys?'
'Well, I mean, I'm totally just winging it here, like, this is literally off the top of my head, but it's like the finalists have battled their way here, like... hmm... like... oh, I know, like gladiators. So what could we do? What. Could. We. Do? Hmm. Oh I know, it's literally just come to me. LET'S MAKE THEM GET NAKED AND PRETEND TO FIGHT.'
They've made Anton stand at the back.
I am spending the evening with my usual Strictly Come Dancing final companions, and despite our collective enthusiasm for soft-rock and its anthems – Living On A Prayer is the soundtrack here – the group-dance reaction in the room goes something like this:
'THIS IS HORRIBLE'
'IT'S LIKE ITALIAN TELEVISION.'
For fans of sword-and-sandals light erotica, this is quite a night, certainly.
In the finest tradition of the Strictly Come Dancing prop department, as if the shoddy cardboard portcullis arrangement didn't smack quite enough of a rural amateur dramatic group's take on Ben Hur, the finalists are trundled on in wobbly gold cardboard chariots. One of which is being pulled by Vincent. Oh, the inhumanity! Poor Vincent! How could it come to this? He's probably thinking that this is all because he couldn't pull off a roly-poly in Series 7.
Who do we want to win? I have always loved Harry, even if, in recent years, Tom has overtaken him in my Order Of McFly, but I fear a victory for the Judd would be seen by Aliona as some kind of vindication of her 'artistic' choreography. I like Chelsee a lot, but I like Pasha more. So really, what would be ideal for me would be a Harry-Pasha pairing. Surely it's time Strictly embraced same-sex partnerships? Who would not thrill to the sight of Artem tango-ing with, oh I don't know, say, Tom from McFly? Phew. I might just open a window, it's getting hot in here.
For the first round, the three finalists are dancing the judges' choice. First up, Harry and Aliona, reprising their quickstep. This might be my favourite dance of the season, apart from Chelsee and Pacha's quickstep. I really love the quickstep. Over the last few weeks, Aliona seems to have found new reserves of taste and subtlety in her choreography, and I think this is where it started. Maybe Len staged some kind of intervention, locking them both in her dressing room and gripping her face tightly towards a grainy video of Top Hat he'd taped off BBC2 until she broke down and saw sense. Or perhaps as she and Harry have advanced in the competition, she has found some sense of affirmation and worth as a peformer and has felt able to ditch those sleazy pleas for attention.
It's possible I'm reading too much into that.
Anyway, this is BRILLIANT – so quick and light, and their feet are eating up the Tower Ballroom Floor like Len Goodman eats jellied eels. Probably.
The judges love it, although I sense that Len has written all his lines from last year's final on pieces of paper and put them in a bowl, and now he's pulling them out at random and reading them aloud. It's a big, fat 40 for Harry and Aliona.
Jason's VT is introduced with the words 'Let's find out what Strictly means to Jason.' Luckily, this part is pre-recorded, so there's no danger of him talking over the National Lottery draw with endless discussion of 'journey' and 'character'. Aww, earnest Jase. A career in motivational speaking surely beckons after this. He and Kristina are reprising their Priscilla-esque disco-tango, which is as much fun as ever. It scores 38 to a soundtrack of House Of Commons-style booing.
Chelsee does little to persuade me she's not in love with Pasha by calling him her 'Pash-Pash'. I hope Pasha realises that after the show has finished, Chelsee will still be on her mobile phone all the time, but it will be him she's obsessively texting. They're doing their Shrek jive, and since he's made the final, Pasha's earnt the right to have only a partially green face. I can tell you that this is absolutely the reason, and not just because he won't have time to get full facepaint off before their next dance. They score 39.
And so it is with a sense of trepidation and rising nausea that we approach the showdances. Far from being a feast for the eyes and the ears, in recent years, these freestyle opportunities have become noteworthy for colossol lapses in taste and judgement, and breakdancing off pretend hay bales. Ick. Will we ever see the likes of Tom Chambers' masterpiece again? Je pense que non.
First, and fearmost, are Harry and Aliona. Aliona is wearing some of the worst trousers known to humankind. This does not bode well. They are on a rock and roll vibe, which makes perfect sense after Harry's stellar showing at jive and swing, but there are some ludicrously over-complicated lifts, and here is my problem with the majority of showdances. Where is the actual dancing? If I wanted to see people being tossed around in mid-air I'd go and see those gold-painted freaks who won Britain's Got Talent.
Also, the climax involves Harry sitting behind a drumkit for about five seconds for no reason other than HE IS A DRUMMER, DO YOU SEE? A DRUMMER. PLAYING THE DRUMS. It's kind of a waste and a gimmick at the expense of the dancing, and I'm calling that a metaphor for what's wrong with Strictly lately, if you want to get all heavy about it. Alesha gives them a 10. WHAT A SURPRISE. Otherwise, 9s all around, and I'm glad it's not more, so bloody well there.
Kristina and Jason have gone hooray for Hollywood. Thank the lord! They're properly dancing. Kristina wins the choreography prize for me this season. What is that prize? It's a tangerine and half a Marks & Spencer's flapjack from my coat pocket. The stakes are high, after all. They score a perfect 40. I'm not sure it's 100% warranted but I'm pleased for them, and if Jason goes out next, which seems likely, at least he'll always have this moment to draw on when he's doing his morning affirmations.
Chelsee is wearing one of Alesha's glittery leotards, and begins her routine swinging around Pasha's neck by the ankles. And that is the hell of showdances right there. I'd hoped for less cheese from Pasha. I'm sure he had nobler intentions for the routine, but was ambushed by some BBC executive in stained slacks lurking in a dark corridor, rubbing his knees and saying, 'Passhhhhhha, what you need is to have your face as close to Chelsee's groin as possible. It's what everyone wants.'
It's all a bit frantic and, for me, doesn't show off how brilliant Chelsee is.
And that's the end of the first show. It's time to eat a lot of cheese and ice cream.
Come elimination o'clock, it's Jason and Kristina who are out. No surprises there. Luckily the BBC has provided us with two non-voting surprises: One, Kristina appears to have had her lips plumped during Merlin. Two: cheeky Tess Daly has pulled off a hilarious wardrobe-related prank. There we were thinking she actually had quite a nice dress on, only for the camera to pull back to reveal a pair of net curtains glued to the bottom, thus rendering it revolting. Oh Tess! You minx!
Jason is dignified and gracious and... well... yes, earnest. But lovely!
Next, the final two tackle a new dance. Harry and Aliona have the American Smooth. Lucky. It's a bit rainbows and marshmallows, but I think we all know it could be A LOT worse. Pash-Pash and Chelsee get the rumba. Unlucky. It's pretty good as rumbas go, which is to say it's more of a tactical drinking vomit rather than full-on food poisoning.
Next, there's a review of this season's Strictly and a performance from Jessie J in which all the winter-wonderland scenery, creepy Nutcracker-style dancers and dry ice cannot avert my eyes from the fact she appears to be wearing some kind of vulval codpiece. Two words I never thought I'd type adjacently.
We finish with their favourite dances. Harry and Aliona's is the tango. Boooooo. I was hoping for the jive. It's content-heavy, though, so that's good, right? Apart from their showdance, which contained some of her Trademark Writhing, I'm relieved to have got through four of Aliona's dances with no swings, lampposts, trellises, stair-kissing or other accessories to naffness.
Yay! Chelsee and Pasha are quickstepping on an airline theme. Although... I don't think Chelsee's having a fantastic night. Maybe it's nerves, maybe it's fatigue, maybe she's living in fear – as we all are – that at any moment it may be time for Bruce's annual song-and-dance, but she just doesn't seem so sharp.
Before the results, we have the now-obligatory montage of old women in shopping centres and men working in covered markets all saying how Strictly has been the best thing that's happened to them all year. Men building the Olympic park love the show! Pensioners at bingo love the show! Men who make cheese love the show! Women having a coffee in front of a giant sculpture of Barry Gibb's head love the show! It really does touch us all.
Results time! To no one's surprise, it's Harry and Aliona who are triumphant. And then someone lets loose a litter of puppies into the studio! Oh no, it's just McFly. Including Tom. I LOVE TOM. Bruce gets a bit angry caretaker-off-of-Grange-Hill and shoos these young hoolians off the stage. Harry is very gracious and thanks everyone through a veneer of suppressed emotion, in the great tradition of England's public schools, and we roll on to the Christmas special. A great man/woman/honestly-can't-remember once said, 'If the highlight of your line-up is Su Pollard, you know you're in trouble.' And I have to agree. No Madeley, no magic.
Thanks for reading, Strictly fans. Non-Strictly fans, normal blogging service will be resumed in a matter of days. I promise.*
*Not legally binding.
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
5 weeks ago