'Dancing With the Stars' recap: The 200th episode!
Five years and 200 episodes ago, "Dancing With the Stars" debuted on ABC, a small reality-TV series imported from across the pond, in which celebrities were paired up with professional ballroom dancers and pranced around a rectangular stage vying for a sparkly trophy. And look at "DWTS" now, the network juggernaut that it is today! Back then, the Mirrorball trophy was little more than a glorified ornament on a string. Now it is not only blinged out, but demanding only green M&Ms and its own trailer! My how things have changed.
With the hubbub that Tom and Brooke had made about the 200th episode, I was sure that this performance show was just going to be overblown and self-congratulatory. And, to be fair, it was. But after a string of theme weeks, each of which has gotten progressively more strained, it was nice to see the show become properly self-referential and go back to what it was: a frilly and fringey dance competition with stars. To my pleasant surprise, this episode was immensely enjoyable and lighthearted and went down like that joyous shot of glittery confetti after the pros' opening performance. The stars all seemed to have upped their game. And I liked the added touch of having each of the remaining six contestants do a reimagining of an iconic routine from "DWTS'" hallowed history, judged by the original performers themselves!
The more than 50 former contestants that came back for this celebration got their very brief day in the sun, as Tom had each group stand up with their respective season. How good to see you again, John O’Hurley, Jane Seymour and Ty Murray! What up, Chuck Liddell, Louie Vito and Donny Osmond? Hey, Kathy Ireland! Though, wherefore art thou, Season 6? Other than team dance captain and season champ Kristi Yamaguchi, no one else from that cycle showed up for the evening's proceedings. Are Steve Guttenberg and Adam Carolla too cool for school now?
The group dances went first. Team Kristi Yamaguchi had the definite disadvantage, as Kristi made the goodwill move of choosing her former partner Mark Ballas while picking contestants, which meant that the low-scoring Bristol Palin was on her side. But although the group -- rounded out by Rick Fox and Cheryl Burke, and Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer -- looked like a motley crew, I thought Team Kristi performed their cha-cha admirably. No, really: That routine was as bright and as fun as those fringey fuchsia dresses. Sure, Bristol messed up a little bit, like Bruno said, but I thought she more than handled her own. Kyle and Lacey were as fun as ever, and Rick was an eye-opening surprise as the guy who proved himself to be not just nimble on his feet, but on "fi-ya" as we've never seen him before, just like Carrie Ann said. What a crazy jolt of unbridled fun! And they got a commendable 24 points to add to their regular routines to boot.
And Team Kristi got to bask in that positive glow for a whole commercial break -– or at least until Team Apolo Ohno made it to the floor. The decorated Winter Olympics champ's posse not only looked like it had all the goods on paper (the team consisted of Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough, Brandy and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and Kurt Warner and Anna Trebunskaya), but also had the judging advantage of going second. And yes, their cha-cha, to Young MC's "Bust A Move," was super-sassy and technically proficient. The girls sported sparkly fringe bras, and the whole team got rousing applause from the audience. Whereas Team Kristi's primary purpose was to have a good time (and they did -– I thought their routine was more fun), Team Apolo came in with the heart and mind of champions, and stepped away with the grand prize in this round. "Cha-cha with the flava of the hood!" Bruno proclaimed. "Very tight, very crisp," said Carrie Ann. "You all upped your game," head judge Len said. Team Apolo's members were awarded 27 points to add to their individual scores, along with commemorative Apolo soul patches and bandannas.
Then it was on to the individual competition.
Staying on top for yet another week was singer Brandy, who has really come into her own these past few weeks. A "DWTS" win can show her that the sun can shine again. And there was an inner glow with her fox trot with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, which seemed to embody their own version of the French sexualité that Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke showed during their Season 8 routine. At the beginning of the competition, I thought Brandy was a fine girl and a good dancer, but her emotions seemed to be a bit put-on. But thankfully, she's dropped the act and now her movements have a genuine quality to them. Which, in turn, makes her a contestant worth rooting for. This routine gave me a "Fever," Peggy Lee-style, from the very beginning, when Brandy slunk her hands down Maks' back with those leopard-print gloves (rowr!). I wasn't the only one who thought so. "That was a fox trot!" declared Bruno. "Every step was driven with relentless eroticism." Gilles said he felt Gallic goose bumps all over his body. Carrie Ann thought it was a nice mix of sensuality and attack, and Len declared it "the most fantastic fox trot." And although Gilles was a little snooty with his 9 paddle, Len more than made up for it with his effusive 10, which, teamed with the 9s from CA and Bruno, added up to 37. Couple that with the team score of 27 for a grand total of 64 out of 70. Also, can Maks be given the job of lead-in announcer to "Castle" every week? I like hearing the week's plot delivered in a Russian accent.
Sharing the top position and also jockeying for a position in the finals were Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough. After a tough spell and a lot of tears, Team Baby Derek was able to finagle out of the low-scoring corner. Jennifer was frustrated by a progression of less-than-stellar performance weeks and a doctor's diagnosis that her body was quitting on her. However, she was able to rally past the tears and the frustrations to turn out a performance reimagining Season 2 champ Drew Lachey's perfect 30 tango, to the Black Eyed Peas' "Shut Up," that was precisely executed and chock full of intense goodness. "What no one loves more is to see someone come back," said Carrie Ann. Len said it had "passion," "attack" and was "really well done." Drew said "the musicality is amazing" and her "lines are beautiful." Bruno said it was like "watching a phoenix rising from her own ashes more splendid than ever." Jenougher got a 10 from Drew and a 37 total for their tango. Grand total: 64.
I'm loving these celebrity judges, because they just seemed like they were having a good time, and were so positive (for the most part). Emmitt Smith exhibited good vibes and dapper charm with his critique of Kurt Warner's and Anna Trebunskaya’s tango. Love how the Season 3 champ and newly inducted NFL Hall of Famer was so hard on himself: "My tango was the absolute worst," he said self-deprecatingly. "Looking for Kurt to improve upon my faults." And Kurt, after taking a detour to the Arizona Cardinals practice field to show Anna that things aren't as easy as she says they are, delivered an entertaining Bond-themed tango, to Robert Palmer's "Simply Irresistible." "You went from last week, mission: impossible, to this week: mission: accomplished," said Bruno. Carrie Ann said Kurt "brought it to life." "You look good, you’re dapper, I thought your technique was excellent," praised Emmitt. "I saw something very special on the dance floor." "It was sharp, it had drama," said Len. Emmitt also got a "You’re the man!" from Kurt after he gave him his first 10 paddle, and Kurt and Anna earned a 34 for their tango and a 27 for their group dance for a grand total of 61. Not bad for "the slow old white guy."
Running neck and neck with Kurt and Anna were Rick Fox and Cheryl Burke. Rick, who decided to put his own spin on Helio Castroneves' "Banana Man" outfit and become the "Jolly Green Giant" in a kelly green suit with tails. ("In your Boston Celtics formal wear," Tom blasphemed.) Rick's fun quickstep had a little bit less energy than Season 5 champ Helio's high-octane performance with Julianne Hough, but the judges sure seemed to like it nonetheless. "It definitely had throttle -– it was like the Indy 500," said Bruno, who went on to say that Rick had "more faces than Jim Carrey." Helio said Cheryl was smart to add in a lot of his dance, but took issue with Rick stealing his kiss. Carrie Ann said it was "by far your best" routine. Helio didn't let the stolen peck get in the way of his scores, as he gifted Rick with 10 of the NBA star's 37 points for his quickstep, which added to the 24 of his group dance gave him and Cheryl a grand total of 61.
Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer had the unenviable task of re-creating the awesome Mel B and Maks paso doble to En Vogue's "Free Your Mind," one of my favorite routines of all time. Though, to their credit, they were able to pull it off with some awesomeness to spare. Kyle thankfully put on a shirt under that zippered vest for the performance, and brought on a funky attack and power heretofore unseen by the Disney TV star. "That was your best dance," said Len. "I have to say, that was amazing," proclaimed Mel B. "You blew me away ... and you were very sexy." "Kyle, you had the attack and the energy of an untamed young bull!" bellowed Bruno. Carrie Ann said Kyle matched Mel B's power and her strength. Kyle and Lacey earned a 35 for their paso (bolstered by an effusive 10 paddle from a softer, kinder Mel B). Added to their 24 for their group cha-cha, they ended up with 59 total.
Kelly Osbourne's Viennese waltz was one of the breakthroughs of Season 9, a lovely performance with shining moments of unabashed joy that overshadowed her moments of terror. And like Kelly, Bristol Palin also had some blank moments of terror in her otherwise technically proficient reimagined routine, danced with Mark Ballas to Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble." During the waltz, Bristol sometimes seemed to possess real moments of tenderness, and sometimes it seemed like she was in her happy place far, far away. "I find you so endearing, and I find you so poetic," said Carrie Ann, "But you're slightly detached." Len "enjoyed it very much" despite the lack of chemistry. "You put a lot of content in this, and you did it well," said Bruno simply. Kelly was so generous and effusive with praise -– both of herself and of her Season 11 counterpart. "You stole my heart," she said. "You gave me goose bumps. … There's something so beautiful about what you do." Bristol and Mark earned a 33 for their waltz, along with a 24 for the group dance. Total: 57.
Which again makes the "Bristallion" the dark horse primed to be put out to pasture come Tuesday night. What do you think, ballroom fans? Has her time come? Did you enjoy the 200th episode extravaganza as much as I did? Could the spectacular "Crazy in Love" opening pro dance have benefited from Edyta's presence? (Perhaps.) Should all the contestants have gotten 10s from their celebrity judges? Who's the better "slow old white guy": Kurt Warner or Tom Bergeron?
-- Allyssa Lee
Photo: Kurt Warner and Anna Trebunskaya. Credit: Bob D’Amico / ABC