Pop Culture

Underdog glides to victory in ‘Skating’

To the legions currently waiting with bated breath to hear the outcome of “Skating With Celebrities,” it can now be told that the competition was won in a squeaker by Kristy Swanson and her partner Lloyd Eisler. To everyone else: you will be happy to know that Fox now has an additional hour available in prime time that is no longer occupied by waiting for the likes of Bruce Jenner to flatten themselves.

The finals developed as a classic underdog/favorite matchup between Jillian Barberie and John Zimmerman, who dominated the first couple of weeks of competition, and Swanson and Eisler, who actually got the lowest scores on the first night of competition. Moreover, it was Swanson featured in commercials for the show with her chin bleeding after being smacked into the ice.

Barberie and Zimmerman had been losing steam in the last few weeks, partly because any charm she brought to the proceedings was obscured by Barberie’s tendency to complain endlessly about injuries and make excuses when she made mistakes. She has a tendency to be passive-aggressively cute when the judges try to give her suggestions, and that doesn’t go over very well.

Last week, she and Zimmerman skated another of the upbeat numbers that have been successful for them in the past. This week, they came back with a slow piece, skated in gauzy outfits, a blur of sea-foam green with white trim. They were graceful and lovely, with the exception of the part where Barberie attempted an axel and fell rather spectacularly on her behind, having come nowhere near executing the jump.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing out of her mouth when she faced the judges was that she had landed the jump more than 20 times in practice. The fact of the matter is that no one cares how many times you land a jump in practice; they only care whether you land it when they can actually see it, because somehow, hearing you describe the amazing thing you did earlier doesn’t quite compare to seeing you do that amazing thing.

She’s a ‘Superfreak’Swanson and Eisler skated their slow number last week, and they came back this week with “Superfreak,” which didn’t quite seem to constitute playing to their strengths, considering their successes with more lyrical skating. Furthermore, they appeared all in yellow, Swanson actually hauling an orange feather boa, and when you combine that with “Superfreak,” it’s a lot of silliness to pack into a relatively short, high-stakes performance.

Despite the peril inherent in the number they chose, Swanson and Eisler also skated well. While Swanson didn’t sprawl herself on the ice, she also didn’t attempt anything as difficult as what Barberie fell trying to do. Eisler certainly worked every lift he possibly could into the routine, to the point where it seemed like Kristy was off her feet for about half of it. At the end, an impressive one-armed lift looked like it almost went awry, but fortunately, he managed to avoid tossing her on the ice on her face. Well, tossing her on the ice on her face again.

There was plenty of filler packed around the performances, of course, including a highly uninspiring group number by all the previously eliminated teams. It was sort of like one of those horrific group sings on “American Idol” would be if only half the people involved could actually sing. Which actually makes it quite a bit like the real “American Idol.”

But eventually, it was time to announce a winner. While both teams scored high, Swanson and Eisler took home the victory, and they were awarded some sort of Lucite trophy, one of the only a few that can honestly be said to be uglier than the notoriously ugly trophy handed out on “Dancing With The Stars.”

Speaking of which, the interesting postmortem on this show is the matter of why it was so boring and average when “Dancing” is so much more fun. Was it the absence of viewer voting, which took out part of the unpredictability that led to the lengthy stays of Master P and Jerry Rice and the early exit of Giselle Fernandez? Perhaps viewers would have kept Todd Bridges around for a while just to see how many bones he could break.

It may also be that people have much more opportunity to see good pairs skating than they do ballroom dancing, at least if they limit their exposure to traditional broadcast and cable fare. Perhaps Drew Lachey would have looked like Bruce Jenner if we all obsessively watched professionals do the paso doble once every four years.

For whatever reason, by the time Swanson and Eisler won, it was quite clear that no one cared. Possibly not even Swanson and Eisler. Barberie cared, it seemed, but only in a kind of brittle, irritated way that looked like resentment of her inability to beat people she was easily beating early in the run of the show. She didn’t help her image with the constant references to her horrible injuries or her need to remind us how good she was in practice. It was surprising that a woman who has made her career trading on the kind of easy likeability that translates so well for NFL coverage and morning shows was rather charmless in this setting.

It’s unlikely that this will be the end of the attempts to cash in on “Dancing,” but producers would be well-advised to keep in mind that making this sort of a show work is (apparently) not as easy as it looks. That said, tune in next week for the premiere of “Curling With People You May Have Heard Of.”

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.

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