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‘So You Think You Can Dance’: Worth the wait

Ellen Degeneres pops in as the Top 8 perform and a few dances at the end of the night steal the show.

Hiya, “So You Think You Can Dance” fans, your usual TV Watcher — the indomitable Adam B. Vary (don't forget that B!) — is away this week, so you've got me as a fill-in for the last night's performance episode. (And EW's esteemed ''dance-television critic'' and PopWatch blogger extraordinaire Annie Barrett takes the reins for the recap of tonight's results show that'll post tomorrow morning.) Anyway, in this somewhat random fill-in role, I'm oddly feeling a bit like .. .funny lady Ellen DeGeneres, who was a guest judge for the evening on “Dance” alongside Nigel, Mary and Mia.

But could you really call her a judge? I enjoyed seeing one of America's most beloved comics at the judges' table as much as the next person, but you have to admit: DeGeneres didn't really add much in the way of critique to the show. Sure, she had some funny lines — especially her repeated gag of telling the dancers ''Well, I can do that'' and when she said she learned all her moves from the street … of her gated community — but, overall, it seemed a bit random to have her there.

My problem was that DeGeneres seemed to generally like everyone and offer only corny comic relief. Heck, even she said that she had just asked to come to a taping and asked for the judges' good seats. Of course, that again was yet another joke, but there's a hint of truth in that. She seemed to almost realize that she added nothing besides a laugh or two to the show and decided to make fun of it herself. (And to be honest, DeGeneres even looked kind of scared to be there amongst “Dance's” crazy judges, especially if you caught her during moments when she didn't think she was on camera.)

Another general thing about last night's show, before I get into the nitty gritty: Could the episode have been any more cram-packed? I thought at some point, as the season wound down, “Dance” would move into a one-hour format for the performance episodes on Wednesday nights. Isn't that how it usually goes? Am I remembering past seasons incorrectly? Have I gone crazy? Probably all of the above, but anyway, my point with this comment was that every dancer had to dance four times — and Cat had to string out lots of inane banter with the judges, especially at the beginning — to fill the two hours. When will the overly-long-episode madness end?

Anyway, taking a cue from Mr. B. Vary's TV Watch last week, I'm going to go with a simple highlight/lowlight, presenting you with my observations in no particular order:

Cat Deeley's Egyptian-esque gold lamé dress
J'adore the whole thing. Actually, I generally love Deeley's crazed-out fashions. Did anyone else get a sort of modernized ancient Egyptian vibe from the dress? I certainly did — looked like something you might think of a Hollywood-ized version of Cleopatra wearing. It amazes me that she can pull off such things — approximately 98 percent of the population would have no business wearing something like that.

Travis Wall continues to be ‘Dance’s’ darling
That opening group number — described as a rave in the future and a ''combined fusion of styles'' — was eye-popping and fun. Contemporary and freaky. I honestly was a little unsettled by the dark and jittery nature of it, but that's when I know a dance is good. If it unsettles me, the choreographer has succeeded. I thought, actually, Nigel gave the best assessment of Tyler Wall's choreography: ''Very Lady Gaga.'' Couldn't have said it better myself. Mia promised to wear one of those futuristic costumes from the dance on tonight's show, as long as Ellen would wear it alongside her. I'd simply LOVE to see that.

The judges hate on Evan!
Did anyone else notice how the judges really took the opportunity to beat on Evan last night? His partner Janette got all the love, and while I'll admit she's amazing, Evan is such a fun dancer to watch. As I wrote that I realized how that sounds — ''fun'' almost seems like a put down. So correction: He's got skills, too. I'll admit that he doesn't have quite the macho attitude to pull off the rumba, but I was so pleased to see Mia defend him so fiercely at the end.

Nigel makes sense for a change
For once, I agree with the blathering crazy that is Nigel … with a caveat, of course. After Brandon and Jeanine did their inspired pop jazz routine — the fifth couple dance of the evening — from new choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson, Nigel made a couple of observations: ''It's finally begun for me this evening!'' and ''Flattest night I've experienced on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ until now!'' I couldn't have agreed with him more — the couple dances up to this point had been admittedly slow and uninspiring.

But my caveat is that Nigel always seems to put the blame of subpar dances on the dancers, and I don't agree with that. The fact of the matter is that whether or not the show is ''slow'' or ''boring'' has to do with, among other variables, what the choreographers put together and, of course, the style of dance. The fact of the matter is that the first five couple dances of the evening — jazz, waltz, cha cha, Broadway, and rumba — left something to be desired. Hunter Johnson's waltz for Brandon and Jeanine was too slow; as was Ade and Melissa's cha chat from Tony Meredith and Melanie Lapatin. You can't always blame the dancers when they're doing the best with what they're given. But all that said…

Brandon and Jeanine's pop jazz routine did truly launch the night
Like I said above when I agreed with Nigel, the best performances of the night began with Brandon and Jeanine's pop jazz routine, which just sizzled along. Of course, having a contemporary pop hit (Jordin Sparks' ''Battlefield'') as the tune they were dancing to went a long way toward making this performance a home run. You can argue any way you want, but watching a dance set to a recognizable, current song nearly always trumps watching a routine backed by something you've never heard before. Also, it should just be said that Laurie Ann Gibson, who put this pop jazz routine together, is good. Reeeeeeal good. I hope the ‘Dance’ producers keep her around for a long time.

Tyce's dance about breast cancer moves everyone to tears
The next in the good-dances-at-the-end-of-the-show lineup was the contemporary piece Tyce Diorio put together for Melissa and Ade, inspired by how he's been affected by breast cancer. As soon as I heard what it was that inspired him — and I'll probably take a beating in the message boards for going down this road, but I don't care — I groaned. I mean, I understand that it's something close to him. And honestly, the dance — using Maxwell's ''This Woman's Work'' as the background song — was beautiful. But, had his inspiration not been explained and given such prominence, there is no way this dance would have gotten all the crazy accolades it did from the judges. Nigel: ''I think that has shown me why I love dance so much'' and ''If this isn't a nomination next year, I'll be hugely surprised.'' Ellen: ''I feel so privileged that I got to witness that.'' Mary: ''You guys danced it so beautifully.'' Mia: ''It was really not about the dancing, though it was a perfect portrait of what was being said.''

No, Mia & Co., what it was really about was all of you making a big stink over something just because you felt like you needed to do so. Linking something to cancer or autism or any other ailment immediately elevates that work. And if you say otherwise, you're evil. You know what I mean? Just because the dance had been labeled with an ''inspired by breast cancer'' sticker, everyone immediately began crying. The fact of the matter is that the dance was nice and rather beautiful, sure. But it didn't deserve the kind of fawning it got from the judges. And now you can all damn me to hell.

Kayla and Jason bring it home
Simply put, I hate any episode of ‘Dance’ where we have to wait until the last performance to get some hip hop. True, hip hop has not been the strong suit of this season's cast, but for me, at least, I find it the most fun and inventive to watch. And certainly the most tied to popular culture these days. I've seen a zillion waltzes and paso dobles over the years on ‘Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ It'd probably help viewership retention if the hottest dances weren't all crammed at the end. But either way, Kayla and Jason's hip hop routine from Shane Sparks made me smile. It was playful and ridiculous, inspired by Michael Jackson's video for ''Thriller,'' and just plain fun. Where else can you watch a zombie try to turn a schoolgirl into his mistress? And that ends the trio of great couple dances that closed out the show.

Solo of the night goes to Brandon
At least, it does in my opinion. I feel like, of all the dancers, he's the most physical and entertaining to watch, and he proved that with his galloping solo. Wouldn't you agree? Kayla's just seemed short and underperformed, Janette seemed to be writhing more than dancing, and I can't even remember much about the rest of them. Or, rather, the question should be which dancer put together your favorite solo last night? And on the note of questions, let's wrap this up with a few more.

What thoughts are percolating in your minds, TV Watchers? Are you pumped for tomorrow night's 100th episode extravaganza and Katie Holmes' sure-to-be-cracktastic tribute performance to Judy Garland? What'd you think of Ellen's guest-judging? Do you agree with me that the judges are being unfair to cutie-pie Evan?