Strictly is back. Blogging is back (well, for today). Brucie has been helped into a motorised golf cart and pointed towards the sunset. His BBC access pass has been deactivated, his dressing-room teasmade appropriated (prime suspect: John Humphreys).
So this points to a slicker, sharper Strictly Come Dancing, doesn't it?
Don't get me wrong, I'm nothing but relieved that Sir Bruce now gets to wear slippers full-time. It's just that I'm a fan of the show's particular old-fashioned charm, as well as its ability to get anything remotely cool ever so slightly wrong. Please don't let it become too... well... competent.
NO WORRIES ON THAT SCORE.
The new series opens with a reassuringly lame VT that spells out very clearly: 'BUSINESS AS USUAL. (OH, EXCEPT FOR JAMES JORDAN.) YOU'RE WELCOME.'
The judges (team sheet unchanged) take their seats by dancing their way across the set, which I enjoy. What would it be like, I wonder, if the X Factor judges similarly sang their way to their shiny desk. I hear Simon Cowell's flat, emotionless vocal style as somewhere between William Shatner and The Flying Lizards. In fact, let's imagine him 'singing', oh I don't know, maybe those Flying Lizards' most well-known hit, just to pluck something totally and utterly at random out of the part of my brain that is thinking really hard about his dead-eyed, imagination-free approach to the music industry.
Tess is wearing a jumpsuit, which I am emphatically pro. My Dress-Up Tess doll (£12.99 from the BBC shop, £10.99 from Argos, £1.99 come January) is always wearing trousers. Claudia has had what some celeb magazine will inevitably refer to as a makeunder. Less tan. Less eyeliner. Less hair over the face. Less Claudia. She looks pretty, but this better be her call, and not the result of some ludicrous BBC ruling that says fringes may not be worn longer than four inches during primetime (also subsection 4(c)(iii) appendix (7): larky female sparkiness must be soberly contained). Let Claudia be Claudia.
(Having now watched Saturday's show, I see that Claudia has reverted to her more usual look, thus totally undermining the previous paragraph. THANKS CLAUDIA, I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.)
First up are Caroline Flack and Pasha. Caroline is Ringer No 1 in this year's Bananarama of ringers (Pixie Lott no 2, Frankie Saturdays no 3). She serves Pasha's cha-cha choreography well, with just the right amount of subtle messing up to suggest 'Who, me? Ooh no, I'm not a dancer. Yes, I am remarkably good and assured, and, well, yes, since you mention it, I suppose I did study dance for some years, but it was nothing whatsoever like this.' Still, I like her, I like Pasha. He becomes the first pro choreographer to Deploy The Judges' Desk For The Making Of Sexy Shapes. He's gone too early with that, if you ask me. Save it for week 5 at the earliest, or Fern Britton On Borrowed Time, as I like to think of it.
Next up, Tim Wonnacott and Natalie Lowe. Natalie missed the 2013 series through injury. And she thought she was unlucky last year. Tim is sweet and trying hard, but his auction-themed cha-cha (such a natural pair-up, why has no one done it before?) makes me bite my hand. He's having a nice time, though, and enthusiastically trots around the floor led by Natalie in a way that reminds me of Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way. Afterwards, he stands in Claudia's 'area' with an arm clasped around each woman's waist like a man emerging triumphant from the conservatory at a suburban swingers' party. In his comments, Craig says Tim danced as though he was wearing a soiled nappy. I believe there is also a suburban party scene that would serve that situation.
Jake Wood and Jeanette are doing a soap-operatic tango, which begins with some fun intimations of domestic violence. It really is such a family-friendly show. Jake is strong and confident and doesn't make me have to avert my eyes through awkwardness. He was also once in Press Gang and went to college with my friend Speranza, all of which propels him into my 'like' pile.
Do you remember when Alesha Dixon was a judge and used to patronise the older female contestants? Tess does, because after Judi Murray's wobbly waltz, Tess tells her to 'walk those lovely legs upstairs'. WHAT, TESS? WHAT? Anton and Judi have employed some Scottish theming for their routine, but what with the tartan and Mull Of Kintyre and the Scots piper, it's so subtle you'd barely notice. Also, if you want to waltz to something dripping with Scotland, SUNSHINE OF LEITH, FOR GOODNESS' SAKE. During the Actual Dancing, Judi gets herself in a right old pickle, but Anton is as kind and constant to his older partner as ever. In this respect, he really is some sort of superhero emerging from the mist (rolling in from the hills my desire is always to be here oh mull of kintyre), with his cummerbund of power and his shield of Just For Men.
Let me lay my cards on the table and say that Scott Mills is not my kind of DJ. This is well-known among my friends and colleagues, one of whom secured me an on-air dedication from him on my 31st birthday. He quite admirably managed to get my job title and place of work wrong and play a terrible record afterwards. But despite this, I find myself liking him tonight. I like his no-fuss out-ness, with his boyfriend sitting next to his mum in the crowd. Of course, this shouldn't even merit comment, but it's pretty radical for Strictly. I am less keen on his cha-cha, and apparently so is he. His Dance Face is Someone Really Scared Trying To Be Really Brave, and the early-doors appearance-via-video-message of his Good Friend Robbie Williams suggests he's not thinking in terms of bloody well Blackpool. Len's comments are surprisingly hostile initially, but perhaps, like me, he has been forced to listen to too much daytime Radio 1 in the workplace and is wishing it was Marc Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie out there on the dance floor.
Last out this episode are Pixie Lott and Trent Newboy. Trent is the blond Duke Of Hazzard as played by Steve Buscemi. Pixie is the favourite to win, but not my favourite to win, even though she quite manipulatively tried to impress me by doing my favourite, the jive, in week one, and being quite good at it. Show me your rumba, Pixie, and we'll see how this is really going to shake down.
And that's your lot for programme one. It's a truncated first show - almost as though they know how long it takes me to write absolutely anything - and a somewhat underwhelming one. Are they saving the Tweet-grabbing big guns (like, erm, Gregg Wallace and Mark Wright) for the main Saturday-night ratings battle? Or are they just really bad at putting together a line-up? Make your own mind up, I'm exhausted.
No Saturday-night-show write-up from me this week, but I'll be back soon with my thoughts on the lack of a credible crush object for me in this year's cast. All the big issues! All the time!
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
11 months ago