This week’s “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC, Mondays, 8 p.m. ET) featured a couple of low scores for former front-runners, a couple of bafflingly high scores for mediocrity, and a resulting leader board that was a real head-scratcher. It’s hard to make predictions, but that could potentially lead to some very surprising results tomorrow night.
On a night when almost nobody was particularly good, Shandi Finnessey was still cursed with overwhelming ordinariness. She isn’t terrible; she isn’t good. She’s ordinary — an ordinary pretty girl with little obvious stage presence, doing an adequate job without revealing much of anything about the sort of person she is. Her jive to “Crocodile Rock” certainly didn’t hurt anyone, but it was utterly unmemorable, and given that she was already in the bottom two last week, her position seems very shaky indeed.
Watching John Ratzenberger tango with partner Edyta Sliwinska, it was hard not to notice the flaws, but equally hard not to be glad that he continues to try hard and take it seriously. There’s always a little bit of Cliff Clavin in his earnest, almost punchy demeanor, and he does have a tendency to drop a step now and then. But he’s trying, and he’s very likable, and Edyta is as well. He continues to get mostly poor scores, but for a guy who’s representing the bottom of the barrel, he’s not doing all that badly.
The third consecutive low-end performer was Clyde Drexler, who has struggled with his dancing, and who still did this week. The good news for Clyde was that he also has struggled with the extreme height difference between himself and Elena Grinenko. In this sense, he got lucky with the jive, because it didn’t require close holds like the quickstep did last week, which made the height difference less of an issue. He did seem far more comfortable with the looser dancing of the jive, but the judges were having none of it, continuing to score him very poorly.
Ohno gets ‘sloppy’Things started to pick up with Apolo Anton Ohno, who continues to impress, even though Carrie-Ann Inaba complained that his jive was “sloppy.” His dance with young Julianne Hough was inspired by “Pulp Fiction,” and they made a cute, twisting pair. Apolo wasn’t perhaps as sharp as he has been at other times, but he moves with tremendous charisma, and the segment where he taught Julianne to skate was more appealing and less annoying than such segments typically turn out. He may not have been as conspicuous a favorite as usual, but he did a good job.
Laila Ali, too, wasn’t as good as she sometimes has been. Her tango outfit was interesting — a palazzo pants ensemble rather than the almost obligatory dress — and she still showed a lot of chemistry with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but something about her delivery seemed less crisp than past weeks have led the audience to expect.
Carrie-Ann commented on Laila’s “pancake hands,” and at one point, it almost seemed like Maks was patting her back as if trying to correct something. She still has more drama and elegance than any of the other women, but this wasn’t quite as strong a week for her. She also was the first dancer this season to be chastised for “rule-breaking” — in this case, she and Maks broke the hold, which got Mario Lopez in trouble back in the day — and it showed up in her first set of low scores.
Joey Fatone provided the first “call your friends and tell them what you’re watching right this minute” moment of the season when he and Kym Johnson performed a tango to the theme from “Star Wars.” As you may often find yourself insisting to those friends you called, this really happened. The judges inexplicably raved about the routine, but Joey looked like he was just stomping around from place to place, and it wasn’t clear what emotion was supposed to be present. Without emotion, the tango comes across like part of a play — and not a very good play. When Joey picked up a light saber right at the end, the entire thing crossed over into a novelty dance, and not in a good way.
Go Steve Sanders!In the evening’s best news, the jive often lends itself to breakout performances, and tonight’s came from Ian Ziering. He was scolded last week for not really letting loose, and his partner Cheryl Burke took him to visit with some male exotic dancers in an effort to loosen up his hips.
While the attention went to his hips, what really seemed to improve were his feet, as he executed the sort of high-speed, quick-footed dance that tends to rev up the crowd. He apparently did something wrong in the closing moments of the dance, but the ABC cameras inexplicably cut to random twinkle lights, as if the camera operator tripped over a shoelace and crashed into the front row. Unfortunately, this left his misstep a mystery, but it was still a very fine showing, and the judges agreed that without that bobble, he’d have had the highest scores of the night.
Leeza Gibbons was instructed last week to find her inner “tramp,” and the tango would seem to provide the perfect opportunity. While she didn’t seem obviously inept, her tango seemed like something that might be performed on a sitcom or a talk show — more a taste of elements of the tango than a complete dance.
Furthermore, Leeza, while a lovely woman, simply doesn’t look naturally graceful, and she has a hard time not looking clunky. Surprisingly, the judges gave her very high scores in spite of repeatedly mentioning how unsophisticated and “simple” her tango was, so the night of surprising standings (Leeza over Laila?) continued.
More challenges for MillsThe jive presented more problems for Heather Mills’ artificial leg than she ran into with the foxtrot or the mambo. In fact, she had to visit her prosthetist for a special leg with more bounce to it than the one she had. The prosthetic talk may eventually come to seem like a gimmick, but at this point, it’s still interesting to see her and her very appealing partner, Jonathan Roberts, work their way through the challenges presented by different sorts of dancing.
Heather’s jive wound up being perfectly serviceable, though she mentioned in her post-dance interview that she had less time to prepare than she would have liked, and in places, the lack of rehearsal let the seams show. She also executed another handstand move that flipped her legs over her head, apparently daring you to be afraid that disaster is going to strike.
And finally, there is Billy Ray Cyrus, who is still not good. He’s no dancer, and the sense that he’s counting all the time is a little overwhelming. Nevertheless, he certainly looks far less ridiculous than when he started, and he appears to be giving it an absolutely valiant effort. (Sometimes a little too valiant, like when you can see his lips moving when he counts.) Many wondered just how far the badly overmatched Sara Evans could have gone last year on the adoration of the country demographic; with Billy Ray not in the bottom two last week, we may be about to find out. He was treated entirely too gently by the judges, but probably wasn’t going anywhere anyway.
So who’s going home? Well, either Clyde or John could test the NBA and “Cheers” fanbases respectively. But for the second week in a row, Shandi certainly looks like the odds-on elimination favorite coming out of this strangely unsatisfying night that makes everyone say, and not for the first time, “Thank goodness for Ian Ziering.”
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.