Sunday, December 21, 2014

Strictly past caring?


Last night saw TV presenter Caroline Flack and her professional partner Pasha Kovalev lift the glitterball trophy.  The couple are this year's winners of "Strictly Come Dancing" which is now Britain's top entertainment show, as it hammered "The X Factor" in the 2014 Saturday night ratings battle.

All good news then for the show which began early in 2004 (believe it or not there were 2 series that year!) as a revival of the old TV dance competition, Come Dancing, only this time with celebrities competing, dancing with professional partners.

The TV landscape has changed in the 10 years since Strictly first politely made its way onto our screens.  These days, almost every TV quiz show/game show/competition has a 'celebrity' element; ITV in particular can't seem to get through an evening without relying on some celeb content.  This has meant that Strictly has lost its appeal, as it has become just another celebrity show, and the celebrities competing have much much more to gain than in the early years of the show - they are guaranteed a much longer shelf life and appearances on yet more celeb-shows.  Yawn.  Strictly Come Dancing was once a must-see show, but now I watch it more out of habit than out of love, and I'm now past caring.  (Although no doubt I'll be watching the next series when it comes around....!)

The role and importance of the judging panel has been promoted over recent years and reached its peak (or new low, whatever the case) during this series with them dancing on during their introduction.  It's tacky and embarrassing.  Another problem is that the three male judges have long ceased to offer anything new or constructive - there's Craig Revel Horwood's panto-baddie persona, with the glum face, and "that was a disaaaaastah daaaarling"; head judge (and star of the teatime Farmfoods TV ads) with his '10 from Len' and 'pickled me walnuts' Len Goodman; standing-up arm-waving Bruno "you were like a....." Tonioli are all well past their sell-by dates and are as much a parody of themselves as Louis Walsh is on X Factor.  As the years have passed there is less focus on the technical elements of dance, replaced by pandering to celebrity egos.

And then there is the issue of the female judge: Arlene Phillips did a perfectly good job in her critique in the early years before controversially being axed in favour of a younger model, previous winner Alesha Dixon who was a poor substitute.  Alesha subsequently defected to ITV and was replaced by ballet dancer Darcey Bussell who in my opinion hasn't brought anything to the show - Arlene Phillips still remains the best female judge IMHO.

As for the presenters, the 2014 series was the first co-presented by Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, the latter replacing Bruce Forsyth.  Whilst they were professional enough, I still don't understand the love for Claudia Winkleman and preferred Zoe Ball who covered during a couple of weeks of Claudia's emergency absence this series. 

The actual 'dancing' element has become secondary on an entertainment show.  In the early days, everyone did the same dances every week.  Now it's a mish-mash of prop-aided numbers, even with - shock horror! - backing dancers thrown in on occasions, and it's often hard to tell what kind of dance it's supposed to be.  And please don't start me on the music.....apart from Dave Arch and his 'fabulous singers', will the producers please, please take note that contemporary hit songs are not always the perfect match for a particular dance. 

The professionals have changed over the years: only Anton du Beke and Brendan Cole remain from the original series (and Brendan's grumpy expressions this year suggest a man who would rather be somewhere else); I particularly miss Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace.  It was a great pleasure to see Vincent and Flavia's Midnight Tango show live in Glasgow a couple of years ago and they are taking their latest dance extravaganza on tour next year.  The 'newer' professionals just don't have the same appeal for me.

My biggest gripe with Strictly is the inclusion of celebrities who are already trained dancers or have that experience in their field of work - for example, pop stars and girl band/boy band members will always have an advantage over other contestants with two left feet or very little or no dance experience. This probably explains why the 'perfect' dancers (Pixie Lott, Frankie Bridge, Rachel Stevens, Denise Van Outen, Natalie Gumede etc etc) never win the contest - you can only fool some of the public some of the time.....over the years the public has chosen contestants (mostly male) whose progress has been evident over the course of a series, and viewers have invested in that old reality clich√©, the "journey" e.g. Darren Gough, Chris Hollins, Harry Judd, Tom Chambers. 

I don't know anything about Caroline Flack apart from her being a TV presenter who previously dated Harry Styles, so just judged her on her dancing alone.  I thought she was impressive from the beginning, but she was just too good and I suspected that she may not be a total beginner.  But I put my suspicions aside and hoped that she was just picking up the steps quickly.  So today I am deeply disappointed to read that Ms Flack is in fact a trained dancer.  Even if it was 16 years ago, she still has that advantage.  Strictly would go up in my estimations if all the contestants started from a level playing field, and would be much more gripping and entertaining viewing as a result. 

So that's it for Strictly Come Dancing for another year, and there are still so many unanswered questions.  Such as, who came 2nd? Who came 3rd?  Why does the BBC not publish the week-by-week voting percentages? And the biggest question of all: what celeb-reality competition is Mark Wright going to turn up on next?

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