I think we can all agree that tonight was an unfortunate night for “Dancing with the Stars” to test drive a new gimmick. By plopping a second pair of dancers — polished professionals — into each routine, the floor seemed crowded at a time when most people were likely distracted by thoughts of what had happened in Boston, of what they’d seen on the news moments earlier. Sorting out which couple was the one to watch and which couple was simply good was a little more effort than maybe some of us wanted to dedicate to reality TV tonight.
Still, the new gimmick — adding a pair of pros to each routine, then challenging the celebrity and his or her partner to mirror the pros for 16 seconds — wasn’t such a bad idea, at least in theory. We’d all get to watch some really good dancing, as opposed to a few really good and a lot of lousy amateurs stinking up the dance floor and dragging their long-suffering pro partners along for the ride. For the celebs whose talent warranted closer examination, we’d be able to see them perform side-by-side with people dancing the routine the way it was meant to be performed. Plus, we’d get to see some of the pros who’ve already been eliminated back on the dance floor. What could possibly be wrong with that?
More than you might expect, actually. As good as it was to see Maks, Anna, Chelsie and Tristan, the three-pros- to-one-rank amateur equation drove home the fact that even Zendaya and Kellie, the strongest celebrity hoofers, aren’t all that great no matter how much love the judges heap upon them. A week of practice and good intentions is never going to match years of study, and that’s part of the show’s charm. We’re seeing celebrities struggling with a challenge that is (sometimes, at least) well outside their skill set. Often they achieve more than we expect, and sometimes they fail miserably. But by sticking them right next to actual dancers, we can’t help but be drawn to the good stuff. The one non-pro then appears to be the odd man out, the ugly duckling surrounded by swans.
While the judges gave lip service to how much some of the stars seemed to blossom with an extra pair of dancers to coach them through the routine (this did seem to be true of Aly Raisman, who visibly faded after Whitney and Tony left the floor), other seemed uncomfortable with so many professional dancers sharing the floor with them. It was especially unfortunate for low-scoring dancers Andy Dick and D.L. Hughley, who just looked even more toe-tied and twisted than usual.
But the real problem, at least for me, was simply having to keep track of too many people on the dance floor at the same time. Though the pair of pros gracefully floated away when the celebrity and his or her partner took center stage, the choreography had already been weighed down by the need to create a story involving four, not two, players. Sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn’t.
“Dancing with the Stars” is, after last season’s all-star stumble in the ratings, working overtime to make sure fans keep tuning in. But that’s also meant even more of ABC’s painfully dramatic promos plugging “FIRST TIME EVER” twists that usually can’t help but be disappointing. I’m still waiting for the twist that involves cutting out the filler in the show. I’m not holding my breath, though.
Did you like seeing four dancers on the floor? Who are you rooting for? And who do you think is going home tomorrow night?