September 24, 2013



Now entering it’s 17th cycle on ABC, DANCING WITH THE STARS has been a reliable performer for the network. I’ve been a fan of the show (a reformat of the UK hit STRICTLY COME DANCING) since day one, only skipping those two unfortunate seasons where a Palin offspring sullied the dance floor. Here’s a look at what’s new, what’s wrong and who has the best chance of winning the coveted mirror ball.

In order to appreciate and enjoy DWTS, you first have to accept certain ground rules. You can whine and bitch and moan but these oddities are part of what makes the show as infuriating to watch as it is fun. Accept and move on!
  • THE NUMBERS: Scores are wildly inconsistent, period. Look for rhyme and reason in the music and choreography because you won’t find it behind the judging table.

  • THE BAD SEED: At least one wildly horrible and wholly undeserving celebrity will make it much farther in the competition than he or she should. Cue social media conspiracy theories.

  • THE YOUNG ONES: If you don’t know one of the younger stars, chances are they’re from a Disney Channel or ABC Family series. You might not know them, but millions of young people do. Stop scratching your head because it just makes you look old and out of touch.

  • THE DRAMA QUEENS: There will always be at least one star with a compelling sob story, one looking for redemption and one who will come out of nowhere as a legitimate contender for the top prize.

  • THE BRUNO: Judge Bruno Tonioli is VERY Italian and VERY gay and that’s why we love him. He’ll always be responsible for one of the biggest laughs in every episode and for it’s most inappropriate, uncomfortable moment. Sit back and enjoy!
Bruno goes in for the kill!
This season, DWTS underwent a bit of an overhaul. The most obvious change is the new one night format, meaning no more stand-alone results show. Each week, all returning couples perform and then one is eliminated at the end of the episode. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE did the same thing this past season and, personally, I think it works equally well for both veteran series.

The other changes on DWTS this cycle run the gamut from cosmetic to bizarre. The judging table is now on the opposite side of the dance floor (just because) and the live musicians have been relegated to steerage. They’re still there, hidden behind set pieces and livestock, but now couples also dance to pre-recorded music sung by the original artists. Given that host Tom Bergeron barely mentioned the existence of the orchestra in the first two episodes, it feels like a trial balloon for scaling back on costly union positions. That’s a shame, really, because it makes the show feel less grand.
DWTS host Tom Bergeron.
Also flopping big-time is the ham-handed decision to nix the sky box and, instead, shove the couples into in an uncomfortably tight “Glitter Pit” located next to the judging table. It confines too much of the action to a very small area of a very large set and gives Bruno another “shiny object” distraction that he doesn’t need.

The former sky box is now a warm-up area that looks a little sad and is barely used. Occasionally, co-host Brooke Burke Charvet grabs her mike and wanders up there for no compelling reason. She does her thing while one of the couples goes through the motions behind her and pretends to be doing final prep for their routine.
Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke Charvet from DWTS.
Speaking of Charvet, the poor thing has never been more irrelevant. The physical changes to the production now enable Bergeron to do more than half of the set-ups she used to be responsible for. Perhaps that’s why he seemed so peevish throughout the premiere last week. Bergeron reverted back to his unflappable self in week two but Charvet was still saddled with stuff that looked like it was created just so she had something to do.

One important note to DWTS producers (because, you know, I’m sure they’re hanging on my every word): whatever that weird bleacher seating annex thing was that popped up throughout week one, please see to it that we never have to look at it again. It was an awkward disaster.
The season 17 cast of DWTS.
Of course, DWTS is all about the dancers and this season has some of the best I’ve seen over the entire run of the series. A full two thirds of the twelve couples are legitimate contenders for the top prize and there are more than a few pleasant surprises in the mix.
Valerie Harper and Tristan MacManus.
The biggest story is Valerie Harper and, if you like a good cry, she does not disappoint. I was a sobbing wreck both weeks during her rehearsal package and performance. She’s not a great dancer but no one really cares. She’s 74, has terminal brain cancer and a knee injury but goes out there with the determination of a bull and not an ounce of “woe is me” patter.

It also helps that her partner, Tristan MacManus, is a total class act. In week one, he left the dance floor and let Harper soak up the standing ovation solo. In week two, during the rehearsal segment, he began to cry watching her work through a bum knee. Keep tissues handy. You’ll need them.
Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke.
Upping the ante on the “stars with diseases” front this season, Jack Osbourne is also on board. He was diagnosed with a form of multiple sclerosis and went public with the news last year. Anyone looking for a pity party here will be disappointed. Osbourne can dance (despite his massive self-doubt) and is already one of the most charming break-outs of the season. He’s so damn cute and endearing, you can’t help but root for him. Yes, Ozzy and Sharon have been in the audience both weeks doing just that.
Tony Dovolani and Leah Remini.
Rounding out our dramatic story arc is Leah Remini (partnered with the always wonderful Tony Dovolani). She made headlines over the summer with her much publicized split from the The Cult…er…Church of Scientology. Though mum about the brouhaha during week one, Remini let loose in a balls-out week two rehearsal package. I give the show a lot of credit for running it. Her assertion that church members want her to fail is probably quite accurate. In fact, if you look carefully, you might catch a glimpse of Xenu (or Jenna Elfman) hurling body thetans at her from the audience.

I also wonder what Remini is thinking every time she dances by Sharon Osbourne. The two used to appear on THE TALK together until Remini was unceremoniously dumped from the show. Osbourne was less than kind to her in interviews. No matter, Remini can dance and I sincerely hope she has the last laugh.
Brant Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd.
The stars most likely to make it to the final rounds are Corbin Bleu, Amber Riley, Christina Milian, Brant Daugherty and Elizabeth Berkley. All of them can dance, with Bleu, Riley and Berkley particularly strong. Daugherty, a fan favorite from PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, is ridiculously hot (see above) and, unlike most pretty boys who appear on DWTS, he’s fearless when it comes to dancing. Corbin Bleu is all grown up from his HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL days. Apparently being on a soap suits him well. He looks great and is an amazing performer. Also turning my head is new mom Berkley. She has never looked better and is a delight to watch.
Val Chmerkovskiy and Elizabeth Berkley.
The first star booted was ESPN host Keyshawn Johnson. The former NFL player moves like a tree trunk with legs and was kind of dickish to partner Sharna Burgess in the week one rehearsal package. He will not be missed. I would also expect Bill Engvall, Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi and Bill Nye to get the boot sooner rather than later.
Nicole Polizzi and Sasha Farber.
Bill Engvall seems pleasant enough but he's a weak dancer. I don’t follow the Republican, redneck comedy circuit but, if he expects to survive, he’ll need those who do to come out from their duck blinds and vote. Polizzi is actually a surprisingly good dancer but every time she opens her mouth you cringe. All the glitter in the world can’t make the classless classy. As for Nye, I have never been a fan of “The Science Guy” and here he just creeps me out. He’s an awful dancer and I'll just keep my thumb on the fast forward button during his routines until he is voted off.

DANCING WITH THE STARS airs Mondays at 8PM E/P on ABC and next day on Hulu.