John Ratzenberger and Edyta Sliwinska

John Ratzenberger and Edyta Sliwinska

Déjà vu episode casts a cruel light
Tues., Mar. 27

Ah, the bloated, soulless, unnecessary results show. What better way is there to exploit the good will your hit reality TV series has built up?

Of course we are referring to the “Dancing With the Stars” recap and results show on ABC on Tuesday, which very cruelly stole two hours from the lives of many Americans who probably could have used them better.

Better like how? Oh, like maybe watching another certain reality television show that’s broadcast on another network at the same time. But by showing a recap, the producers of “DWTS” ensured that few of its viewers would be tuning in to “American Idol”, instead refreshing them with vital information as to what was shown just last week, and the previous night as well. Even the show itself seemed to be aware of its own lack of reason for existence, scrolling hopeful messages like “Live results show in four minutes!” along the bottom.

The faithful were rewarded with another hour nearly as scintillating as hour one. The live results show continued to serve as a déjà vu episode: the costumes were the same as the night before, the makeup the same, even some of the live dancing and “celebrity audience members” the same. And in case that weren't enough, montages galore! (Although can anything top the surreality of Robbie Williams chiding Leeza Gibbons for ‘lazy feet’?)

Dionne Warwick sang her usual songs fairly well (her new album is for sale!) and Jimmy Kimmel was mildly entertaining (stay tuned for his show!) and Donny Osmond was…there(oh yeah, stay tuned for his ABC show, too!). Even the professional dancing, while impressive, reminded us why “Dancing With the Stars” is more entertaining than “Dancing With the Professionals”: without that little bit of risk, it’s just the plain old boring dancing we don’t watch on PBS.

Poor Paulina Porizkova (who left with the good humor and aplomb that apparently doesn’t make for good TV) probably wished she could have just learned she was getting the boot instead of having to stand around in heels—we know it’s possible that the recap could have been spit out in a half an hour. Hell, fifteen minutes.

Put among the great scandals of our era the creation—and consumption—of two hour shows meant to dole out ten seconds’ worth of information. If only there were some way to vote against that.

And of course the most infuriating thing is that now instead of getting to watch the “American Idol” performances, all “Dancing” viewers are left with until next week is that results show. Life is not fair.

-- Claire Zulkey

Good personalities make up for what dancing lacks
Mon, Mar. 26

While it’s still unclear why exactly viewers of “Dancing with the Stars” were treated to an extra bonus week without any elimination, it’s kind of nice to have every star pigeonholed before they all get voted off. It’s sort of like seeded teams in the NCAA tournament: While we all expect certain players to do well, we’ve picked our underdog favorites who might come from behind and stun us.

There isn’t much controversy right now about the skill levels of the dancers, so for those in the lower rankings, this is the time to show off their sparkling personae and the winning chemistry they have with their dance partners. It just so happens however that the best dancers also have a lock on the best personalities and seemingly best relationships with their professional partners.

Speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno and his partner, 18 year old blonde pixie Julianne Hough, are cuter together (and maybe more talented) than Britney Spears ever was with Justin Timberlake. Joey Fatone performs - and jokes - like the kind of consummate entertainer who will probably pack ‘em in at the Sands when he’s 87 years old. And boxer Laila Ali surprises with her seemingly genuine saucy attitude and saucier dance moves - some of us are just accustomed to the gruff awkwardness of other female athletes like Serena Williams. While Alishe and her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy seem to have a fine rapport, she really seemed to get along well with Joey Fatone, as they mugged for the camera before the commercial breaks. Don’t worry about Maksim, though - in what seemed like an odd burst of starstruckness or possibly drunkenness, after his number he was assaulted by show co-host Samantha Harris with all the subtlety of a co-ed at closing time.

In the meantime, basketball player Clyde Drexler and supermodel Paulina Porizkova maybe aren’t naturals on the dance floor, but both have appealing personalities - Clyde seems to have a heart of gold, and Paulina, more spunk than a woman that beautiful should be allowed to have. No wonder Ric Ocasek married her! Even country singer Billy Ray Cyrus is charming in his own way - when he’s not reminding us that he’s Billy Ray Cyrus.

Then there are those who struggle when it comes to winning us over and try other tacks. Former Miss USA Shandi Finnessey obviously overcompensates for lack of chemistry and dance skills with Brian Fortuna by impressively filling out her skimpy outfits.

“Cheers” and “Toy Story” actor John Ratzenberger seems like a nice enough guy but it’s never a good move to rely upon mini-sketches and props to eat up performance time. TV Host Leeza Gibbons meanwhile is letting us know that she’s going to talk about whatever she damn well pleases on this show - turning 50, her website, being fearless, turning 50, her ailing mother, and even turning 50. She seemed incensed when her dance partner Tony Dovolani dared speak into the microphone during her backstage interview - we can only imagine how it must have burned her up when “Beverly Hills, 90210’s” Ian Ziering trumped her sick mother story with his dead mother story. Take that, Leeza!

We’ll give Heather Mills a pass though for her own particular charity mentions - after all, she did warn us from the beginning that she was above all, a charity activist. And she danced the hell out of that mambo.

-- Claire Zulkey

Bigger names, and good, clean ‘Dancing’ glamour
Tues, Mar. 20

In terms of cultural relevance and advancements in entertainment, "Dancing With the Stars" is sort of like the reality TV show for people who find "American Idol" too edgy. It's a throwback kind of show, back to the days when sequins, glamour and network stars performed in circuses but managed to keep their clothes on. And as of Monday night, it was back for a fourth season on ABC.

Aside from its corniness and lack of depth, "Dancing" is an utterly charming show. Live music! Flashy costumes! Dancing! Even the judges, who follow the two-guys-and-a girl format of "American Idol," are comparatively toothless, graduates of the Paula Abdul "You look great and you have a beautiful soul" school. This is a show so clean and happy that it's honestly trying to convince us that Heather Mills (formerly H.M. McCartney) is a "charity activist," and not a former print porn poseur in the midst of an extremely bitter divorce with a Beatle. (Oh, but wouldn't it be great if she did a pasodoble to "Yesterday"?)

Each season features a formulaic lineup of stars, matched with a professional dancer to perform a particular step that week, only to get voted off one by one. You have a model/beauty queen (Paulina Porizkova and former Miss USA winner Shandi Finnessey), an older gentleman who's not very good but who has lots of winning personality ("Cheers' "John Ratzenberger, a last-minute replacement for "The Soprano's" Vinny Pastore, whose health wouldn't let him compete), a "woman of a certain age" (ubiquitous TV personality Leeza Gibbons) who seems determined to prove that while she's fine with how old she is she'll be damned if she gets shown up by one of these young hussies, an utterly charming professional athlete or two (boxer Laila Ali, 6'7" NBA vet Clyde Drexler and Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, who's lost the "Anton" but not the soul patch) and a few cocky young guys ("Beverly Hills: 90210's" Ian Ziering and our bet to win it all, 'NSync's Joey Fatone).

In seasons past, the word "stars" has been used rather loosely to describe a bunch of people who may have been famous at one time many years ago, perhaps from a reality TV show or a B-movie, and one or two who you would actually recognize by sight. Now in Season 4, "Dancing" has the most legitimate stars yet, and while Ziering may not be George Clooney, more viewers will no doubt be enticed by household names.

What will definitely bring tension to this season will be the equation that bigger names means bigger egos. While the stars have clearly practiced their sportsmanship and ability to laugh at themselves, dignity is certainly on the line each time they step onstage. Last season we had a fumbling Tucker Carlson meet his end, ignominiously, in Episode 1. This season we have actor and country singer Billy Ray Cyrus struggling to rip a wig off his partner's head at the end of his number. Which was a very confusing move until after the dance, when he plugged his new song, one that he just happened to perform to: "I Want My Mullet Back." Classy!

Luckily for Billy Ray, no contestants were voted off this week. It's unclear whether this was to give these bigger stars more guaranteed screen time or to ensure that Heather Mills would be able to redeem herself in case her false leg flew off during the fox trot (a possibility that has alighted Internet prognosticators ever since her casting was announced).

It can only get better from here on out, although we hope for entertainment's sake, not for everyone.

-- Claire Zulkey

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