For those who are eager for the injury report, let’s begin with the fact that the premiere of “Skating With Celebrities” (Fox, Mondays, 8 p.m. ET) did not result in one broken bone, torn ligament, or episode of serious bloodletting. Nor did it result in even one major fall during competition.
One might think that would suggest that the show was somehow disappointing, but only if one did not see Bruce Jenner skating in a white navy uniform to “Up Where We Belong.” Because that performance was one of the finest moments of television in this season or any other, and it may remain so until someone invents a show called “Rodeo Clowning With Famous People” in which a bull chases Greta Van Susteren into a red and white barrel.
Aside from Jenner's naval brilliance, there was a lot of aimless skating around by the celebrities, usually being followed by a professional partner executing moderately difficult solo moves. You’ve heard of the camel spin and the triple lutz? This competition is inventing the look-at-my-partner drift, the don’t-mind-me arm gesture, and the nothing-to-see-here standing hip shake.
You can tell a lot from the fact that Jenner, paired with Tai Babilonia, was about as graceful as the description suggests, and he was actually in the top half of the pack, finishing in third place. He took quite a beating in practice, bad knees and all, to the point where his orthopedist will likely be retiring on the proceeds of this little endeavor.
In the lead after the first episode, which had movie music as its theme, are obvious ringer Jillian Barberie and her glorious partner John Zimmerman, who appeared at least twice as comfortable as their closest competition. The impressively intense Barberie mentioned to Dorothy Hamill that she was a big fan back when she was skating “as a teenager.” Frankly, anyone who was skating up through high school has quite the unfair advantage over a bunch of people who appear to have never been on ice in their lives. Accordingly, the gap between Barberie and second place is greater than the gap between second place and last place. Unless she comes down with pneumonia or enters the Witness Protection Program, the rest of the group is going to chase her all season.
In second place are Dave Coulier and Nancy Kerrigan, who skated an obnoxious, self-conscious routine in “Blues Brothers” outfits. Their decision to skate to “Soul Man” is particularly ironic given that popular culture may not have produced two people in the last 20 years with less soul than Nancy Kerrigan and Dave Coulier. Coulier went for some extraordinarily unlikely bad-boy cachet by resenting the toe picks on his figure skates, which are nothing like his prized hockey skates. In fact, he hated the toe picks so much that he filed them off, complete with sparks flying, to Kerrigan’s clearly authentic horror. Uncle Joey!
In fourth place are Deborah Gibson and Kurt Browning, who chose a cutesy number in which she was dressed as the world’s sparkliest diner waitress. While the routine showed a great deal of charm, their program contained little actual skating, to the point where the very forgiving judges called them on it. Gibson is also a little too eager to remind the audience of her lack of skating experience. Her “I’ve never done this before!” comments will quickly wear thin.
In second-to-last place is Todd Bridges, who accompanied “Wild Wild West” with what may be the most desperate fit of skating you will ever see. The lyrics to the song are kicky, but you could sense Bridges mentally chanting, “Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall” the entire time. He didn’t fall, but it certainly looked like it could happen at any moment. His partner, Jenni Meno, looked almost as uncomfortable with the hip-hop dancing portion of the program as Bridges did with the skating, although she had him at a disadvantage in that she never seemed to be at risk of knocking herself unconscious. Bridges went for his own white-navy-uniform moment of utter embarrassment when one of the judges criticized his work and he busted out, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout?” It’s never good when a celebrity manages to actually say what a parody of the show might suggest.
At the bottom of the barrel is Kristy Swanson, who attempted elegance with her somewhat disdainful partner, pairs skater Lloyd Eisler. The number dragged, and Swanson stumbled once or twice. Eisler’s domineering personality seems destined to clash with Swanson’s obvious limitations, and they are likely not long for this world.
Overall, the skating in the first episode was about on par with what you’d see if an Internet startup threw a skating party and all the programmers who took skating lessons in elementary school had one too many Leinenkugels and started showing off. (“I remember how to do a waltz jump!” “Awesome! Where’d you put the bottle opener?”)
The judges, of course, have to find a way to deal with all that badness without ruining the fun. They’re reacting about as the “American Idol” panel does. Coach John Nicks is the Simon Cowell, finding new and British ways to tell everyone they’re awful. Mark Lund is the Randy Jackson, with the sharp tongue but also ready praise. And Dorothy Hamill, rather sadly, is the Paula Abdul of this project, finding the good in everyone, even if there is clearly no good to be found.
This week’s episode didn’t end with an elimination; the first elimination will come at the end of next week’s show, when the scores from this week and the scores from next week will be combined and the lowest scorers booted. Just a guess: it’s not going to be Jillian Barberie.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.