Author of the novel Gods Behaving Badly, soon to be a film starring Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone. Writer, with Robert Hudson, of BBC Radio 4 series Warhorses of Letters, starring Stephen Fry and Daniel Rigby. Co-author of the erotic spoof Fifty Shelves of Grey. Co-host of the Firestation Book Swap in Windsor and London.
Welcome Strictlyites! It’s Guy Fawkes night, as we are reminded EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE OF THE SCRIPT, and this week the exciting development is that Len’s having the night off and we have a special guest judge, Jennifer Grey, of Dirty Dancing and ill-advised nose job fame. She won last year’s Dancing With The Stars in the US, which just goes to show how different the Americans are to us - we’d have voted her off early doors for her “unfair advantage”. Shall we take a drink whenever there’s a Dirty Dancing reference? (It seems like a better move than drinking for fireworks references, we’d be pissed before the opening credits rolled.) Will Baby end up in the corner? Will anyone carry a watermelon? Will we have the time of our lives? (DRINK! DRINK! DRINK!) Let’s go!
First up: Lulu and Brendan. They are dancing a tango to ‘Kiss’, which allows our fabulous singers, Dave Arch and his wonderful wonderful orchestra to break out the falsetto. I am completely preoccupied with trying to figure out whether Lulu is dancing in culottes. SHE IS. This is a catastrophe (I am still talking about the culottes) as it tallies with an article I saw in Elle at the hairdresser on Friday, which informed me that culottes are this season’s hot new trouser shape. Let me tell you something: I am not ready for this jelly. Culottes are not bootylicious enough for me. Not unless you relish looking like a French circus clown. She also seems to be wearing Remembrance Poppies as earrings, which I cannot sign off on. Sorry, what was that? The dance? Oh, it was OK.
Bruce welcomes Jennifer Grey with the words “I hope you have the time of your life”. DRINK! Does that ever get old, Jennifer? Does it? Jennifer reads out some gush at Lulu and does a bad Len impersonation, which I suspect is going to be her mode for the entire night. Hmm. Alesha is delighted not to be the most junior member of the panel and will be giving Serious Feedback all night. I commend her for that. EIGHT FROM JEN. Which pretty much means she’s going to have to give everyone else a ten. In response, Lulu does the “We-e-e-e-ell” bit from Shout, which I think counts as playing her JOKER.
Next are Audley and Natalie, doing the Viennese waltz. There is an obvious and unfunny boxing theme to the training video. God, the training videos are poor this year. I may have to add them to my Fast Forward list. Soon I will be able to watch a entire episode of Strictly in twenty minutes. I don’t recognise the song, but it has the lyric “I’m standing on a bridge”. Thus, obligingly, a small bridge has been wheeled onto the stage for Natalie to stand on, while Audley loiters beneath one of Holly and Artem’s lampposts from choreography-gate week. The dance is poor. As usual, Natalie practically knocks herself out doing all the work while Audley just stands there. Surely this must be their last week?
Jennifer makes a (perfectly valid) criticism - Audley should take charge more - and you can hear a pin drop in the audience. WHO ARE YOU COMING HERE AND CRITICISING OUR DANCERS? ARE WE ALLOWED TO BOO? She still gives it an eight. WTF? Is she avoiding giving a 7 so she doesn’t have to say se-VEN? Craig’s 5 is far closer to the mark.
Now for Halitosis, dancing a samba to ‘I Wish’. In the training video, Harry plays the taking-his-shirt-off JOKER. Harry is allowed to play that one as often as he likes. The dance is all basic steps and an excuciating Aliona signature moment when Harry pretends to slick back his hair. What I wouldn’t give to see Harry choreographed by someone who’d push his strengths - Ola, say. But there aren’t any gimmicks or props, so for a Halitosis dance I’m relatively happy.
Tess: “Dirty Dancing in front of Jennifer Grey!” - DRINK!
Next, Anita and Robin. CHARLESTON KLAXON. If this isn’t Anita’s week I’ll eat Robin’s tribly. But actually, it doesn’t quite ignite. It’s a good dance, and the style is perfect for Anita, but she is concentrating too hard on not forgetting the routine. Still, I’d rather eat Robin’s trilby than the cocktail he pours for Anita at the end of the dance, which is reminiscent of the blue bleach used to kill the first victim in Heathers. Must I remind the world again? NEVER DRINK ANYTHING BLUE.
Jen gives it an 8. I think Jen needs to have a video of Audley’s dance played for her again.
Now for Jason and Kristina, doing an OH GOD, OH GOD NO rumba, “the dance of love” DRINK! (that’s a Strictly cliche drink, not a Dirty Dancing drink, which are suprisingly few and far between tonight). I love Jason. I love the way he appears to be permanently stoned and talks like one of the hippy turtles in Finding Nemo. I am slightly concerned when they dress him as Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights in the training video, but fortunately they stop short of getting him to drop his trousers. The rumba, to ‘Killing me Softly’, is a valiant effort, and though, of course, grotesque, is only by my measure a chew-off-one-hand rumba. As he hugs Kristina afterwards, Jason eyeballs the camera with an expression on his face which I can only translate as ‘please God, is there any possibility that the entire nation went and made a cup of tea during that?’
Craig describes it as “too earnest”. I reckon Craig has been reading my favourite Strictly blog, Why Miss Jones. Jen - who is attempting a Len voice for every score - gives it an 8. She needs to watch that tape of Audley’s again again.
Now for Alex and James. One of the minor Strictly mysteries of this year is why Alex is always made to dance in hair extensions. Anyway, it’s a classic routine to one of my favourite songs - It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Aint Got That Swing - and the quickstep is probably my favourite dance. I have the distinct feeling this is how I started my review of Chelsee’s quickstep a couple of weeks back, which is a shame, because now I’m thinking of that one, and so this one pales in comparison. It was pretty pale in comparison anyway, consisting, essentially, of Alex making her way around the floor like an amiable trotting pony asked to run the Grand National. One of the major Strictly myths this year is that Alex is a contender. She isn’t. It’s just that this year’s field is excessively weak.
Jen gives her an 8. I wonder if someone needs to talk Jen through how the scoring works.
Next, Robbie and Ola, doing a waltz. Will you recapture my regard this week, Robbie? Will you? Answer: pretty much yes, thank goodness. The waltz is always a bit of a yawn, and Robbie is no great dancer, but he does his best, and the routine isn’t bloody sjoopid, and his “sad face” at the end (because love aint here any more, do you see?) is by itself worth the price of admission (the price of admission round these parts being ‘staying in on a Saturday night and having a nice bowl of pasta’.)
Will Jen give it an 8? Let’s find out!
[As an aside, I’d have liked to have been there when they had the meeting about booking Jennifer Grey to be the guest judge. I mean, they could have got an actual dancer in, like the year they had Darcey Bussell, or a great choreographer, like Matthew Bourne. But they got Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing instead. “It’ll be exciting!” said someone. “Everybody loves Dirty Dancing! Think of the ratings!” And they all moved onto the next point in the agenda, ‘James Jordan’s sanity: progress report’. WITHOUT ACTUALLY THINKING ABOUT HOW TO MAKE JENNIFER GREY FROM DIRTY DANCING INTERESTING. This was an error in judgement, in my opinion.]
Jen gives it an 8.
Now for Russell and Flavia. Bruce makes a joke about the Dirty Dancing lift. DRINK! It is exactly the joke you would expect him to make. They are dancing a Paso. This seems an unlikely dance for Russell. Therefore, they start him off on a non-bucking Bucking Bronco (which makes sense) and in a paid of Mister Magoo specs (which doesn’t, but who cares.) I cannot deny that I laughed out loud. It’s a pretty bland year for Strictly, and though Russell actually seems to be getting worse week by week, at least he’s entertaining.
Jen - STAND BY FOR DRAMA! - gives it a se-VEN! I suppose even she couldn’t believe that it was the exact same quality as everyone else’s.
SECOND CHARLESTON KLAXON! for Chelsee and Pasha. In the training video they pay homage to a beloved movie of the 1980s: Dirty Da - oh no, wait, it’s The Karate Kid. HOW MANY WEEKS HAVE YOU KNOWN THAT JENNIFER GREY WAS COMING ON, PRODUCERS? HOW MANY WEEKS? I actually think that Chelsee has the potential to be the best dancer in the competition - there is something so gorgeous and natural in the way she moves - but this is a bit of a mess, because they’re out of time with each other for the whole thing. On a positive note: Pasha in a singlet, pinstripe trousers, braces and a cap: YES PLEASE. (Very unexpected stirring of the Strictly Crush there, which has largely been dormant this series.)
I must now repeat the horror of Jennifer’s comment in full, the delivery of which - read off a piece of paper - is so wooden, it is almost impossible to believe that she is, by trade, an actress. Here we are: “Chelsee, you’re the baby of the competition. And from one Baby to another, if you keep dancing like that, there’s no way anybody is going to put you in a corner.” DRRRIIIINK! Jen would presumably have said that line just the same if Chelsee had been lowered in on a giant watermelon and then spent the entire number rolling in bat blood and biting the heads off chickens. Craig says the synchronicity was excellent. Were we watching the same dance?
Jen gives it a 9. There is some logic left in the world.
Last of all, Holly and Artem. Holly is in man drag for the night, with a stupendous quiff, and she is WORKING IT. Artem - guess what? - is in a hat. The dance is - you know, I wonder if I’ve been doing this for too long. I’ve been spoiled by years of seeing amazing dances and forgotten all the dross around them, and when I’m promised an amazing jive I want to see Jill Halfpenny, or Alesha (god Alesha was SO GOOD when she was a contestant, not a judge - I recently rewatched some of her old dances, and she was jaw-drop incredible, it’s easy to forget). This is just not all that great. Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I can’t sit and watch people do things they’re not particularly good at any more. Maybe it’s over for Strictly and me and I should get a season ticket to Sadlers Wells every Saturday and watch some real dancing instead. Sorry. Mid-season fatigue. Anyway, the judges like it just fine.
To remind us, though: Alesha’s jive (apols for the ad first):
Before we go, the Strictly professionals do an amazing Dirty Dancing-themed dance, to a medley of the music from the film, culminating in Jennifer herself reprising that lift! Oh wait, no they don’t.
My prediction? Audley and Lulu bottom two, Audley to go.