April 15, 2013 at 11:58 PM ET
Tony Dovo-who? Tristan Mac-whatzit? On Monday night's "Dancing With the Stars," several pros who aren't currently competing in the ballroom bash returned to tackle the show's latest theme, but there was no hiding the real main attraction.
Forget the other pros! Forget the theme! (Really -- more on that later.) Heck, forget the stars! Monday was all about the return of ballroom bad boy Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
For only the second time since Maks first joined "Dancing" back in season two, the fan favorite isn't a regular on the dance floor -- and the producers clearly knew just how much he's been missed.
An opening group routine first showcased the popular pro with plenty of fanfare as he took his former fiancée, Karina Smirnoff, for a spin across the floor. But that was far from the only glimpse viewers got.
The easy-on-the-eyes pro returned -- twice -- for head judge Len Goodman's Side-by-Side challenge. The idea was to feature a pro couple showing off their perfect moves before the stars hit the floor alongside them. That posed a problem many times over the course of the evening, because ... well, pros are better than amateurs -- and it shows.
But there was one time the gimmick worked. That's when Maks (and fellow pro Anna Trebunskaya) joined his brother Val and this season's "Dancing" queen, Zendaya on the dance floor. Maks and Anna attacked the routine, and Val and Zendaya matched them move for move until they broke off for their own intense Argentine tango. For both Zendaya and her pro, the dance was a first -- not that anyone would have guessed.
"It was like a lemon tart: sharp and tangy at the top, crisp and tasty below," Len boasted before giving the perfect-appearing dance a 9.
As for Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, they handed out the first 10s of the season for the effort.
While getting the highest score of the season so far, Val took the opportunity to remind viewers of Monday's tragedy in Boston. "These are our first 10s, and I don’t want to overdo the subject, but I wanna dedicate these 10s to everybody in Boston," he said. "Honestly, this is a difficult show to be part of right now, and I just hope we’re doing something special for everybody."
Though Maks helped Val and Zendaya rocket to the top of the scoreboard, it's not as though he could make every other couple look that good. When he and Anna paired up with the always-entertaining Jacoby Jones and Karina, the skill gap was hard to ignore in their jive. Maks didn't hold back for his part, but Jacoby just couldn't keep up.
Despite high praise from the panel -- and high scores in the form of two 9s and an 8 -- the wide receiver was clearly exhausted as the extra-long dance went on and on, long after his best content ended.
Maks hung up his dancing shoes for the night after those routines (though fans can expect to see more from him on Tuesday's results show), but the dances continued to suffer with the other pro pairings.
In fact, the only other couple that did the challenge justice besides Zendaya and Val was their closest competition in the ballroom, Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough. Teamed up with troupe dancer Henry Byalikov and Anna (again!), the pair shined in a Foxtrot that marked Kellie's first traditional ballroom number and her best score yet -- a matching set of 9s.
Point-wise, Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas (who took the floor with Tony Dovolani and trouper Whitney Carson) trailed Kellie by just two, but the booty-shaking samba lacked finesse and synchronized moves. The latter of which was a problem time and time again.
Despite Len's early assurance that the challenge meant "every move, every step must be perfectly in synch," they just weren't -- not when Sean Lowe attempted to redeem himself after last week's flubbed performance with a 24-point quickstep with his partner Peta Murgatroyd (and Tristan MacManus and Chelsie Hightower); and certainly not when Ingo Rademacher hit the floor for a 21-point cha-cha with Kym Johnson (and Tony and Emma Slater).
But Ingo deserves some credit -- his dance definitely deserved to outscore Victor Ortiz's lastest ballroom blunder (a Viennese waltz with Lindsay Arnold, Tristan and Emma), even though it didn't.
As for the men frequently at the back of the pack on "Dancing," comedians D.L. Hughley (who moved with regular pro Cheryl Burke, as well as Chelsie and troupe dancer Sasha Farber) and Andy Dick (who grooved with partner Sharna Burgess, and Sasha and Emma), their tango and paso (respectively) kept them pulling up the rear with 18 points each, but both put their hearts into the dances -- as they always do.
So who should say "so long" on Tuesday night? It's not too soon for Victor to go, but the funnymen will need plenty of fan support to stick around again.
What did you think of Maks' performances? Which star should go Tuesday? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.
More in The Clicker: