Dancing with the Stars RECAP: The Ol' Switcheroo (S19:W5)
In the opening credits to this week’s Dancing With the Stars, pro dancer Derek Hough informs us that “The Switchup” can bring the best out of people, or the worst. This time, it appears to have brought out the worst, and that’s not just me being snarky. The contestants trade partners this week, and the result is a disaster; the judges are mean, the dances are rough, the drama is fake and forced, at least one person (pro dancer Karina Smirnoff) gets hurt, and for the third week in a row, aging British judge Len Goodman hides under the bed back home in order to avoid being associated with this nightmarish mess.
Oh, and to top it all off, we have yet another self-promoting, semi-articulate, entirely unnecessary and completely unqualified guest judge to take Len’s place and throw the schedule badly out of whack. Her name is Jessie J, and she starts off the proceedings by singing a medley: “Bang Bang/Burning Up.” Look, lady, if you want to use this show to advance your career, at least have the decency to put on some dance shoes like the nine wannabes and has-beens out there. Make sure you get the producer’s phone number; you may need to be a contestant someday soon.
This week, soap opera hunk Antonio Sabato, Jr., manages to be very warm and cheerful when pro Allison Holker walks through the door to rehearse. His regular partner, Cheryl Burke, calls in to lecture Allison about keeping the scores high in an attempt to create staged tension and imaginary apprehension. If there’s any real worry, it’s because they’ve been thrown a weird, very difficult dance style: some genius in the executive suite decided they ought to try out Bollywood. At least it gives them an air-tight excuse to display Antonio’s torso again.
Dancing to “Get on the Dance Floor” by Vishal Dadlani, Antonio shows more animation and energy than ever before as he tries desperately to mimic Allison’s intricate footwork, but it’s pretty clear he’s missing steps here and there. Guest judge Jessie J puts on her bitch face to start the evening, and it’s clear the whole night is going to be a real downer. It’s also clear she’s never seen the show.
Julianne: You come in with so much heart and so much passion, and you want it so much.
Bruno: Oh, Aladdin, Aladdin, that princess is very tough to catch!
Carrie Ann: This is the most confident I’ve seen you.
Jessie J: I’ve never seen you dance before.
Judges’ total score: 28
Jessie J gives this dance a six, and the entire crowd boos in fury so passionate Jessie shrinks behind her paddle.
Pros Derek Hough and Mark Ballas have traded partners this week. Mark greets his contestant, YouTube video enthusiast Bethany Mota, by scaring her from behind the door. Well, that looks like an ideal start. Mark tells her she’s got to bring out her swag for their hip-hop routine, and she stares at him with glassy confusion and does exactly what she’s told. Pretty well, actually. This kid’s not really a celebrity, but she’s quite a decent dancer. #Iwanttohaveswagwhateverthatis. Mark and Derek keep phoning each other and engaging in a pretend rivalry; the Robertsons have taken Derek skeet shooting. #Markisjealous. They decide to make their own fun. #Wehadicecreamandblewbubbles.
Mark’s definition of giving Bethany swag appears to be to give her cosmetics and a costume that makes look like she’s about thirty years old as they launch into a routine set to “She Came to Give It to You” by Usher. They play a couple who launch fiercely into an adulterous one-night stand at a restaurant—complete with kiss. It’s the whitest hip-hop routine I’ve ever seen, but the judges love it. Mostly. Sadie and Derek pop in at the beginning and end to imply that Mark and Bethany are cheating on them and to remind everybody that this pairing is temporary.
Bruno: I think you four should form a band, “The New Direction.”
Carrie Ann: For sure, you have swag.
Jessie J: I haven’t seen you dance before.
Julianne: You attacked that! #DamnrightIdid.
Judges’ total score: 32
“Mean Girls” alum Jonathan Bennett is bummed out to be at the very lowest rung of the leader board and getting a new partner on top of this scares him a bit. Peta Murgatroyd has the unenviable task of trying to get him out of the cellar. Unfortunately, their dance style is fast and hard, with a lot of very difficult lifts, and Peta may regret making Jonathan try this.
The song is “Rock This Town,” and they are dancing the Jitterbug. Badly. Really, really badly. How badly? Jonathan nearly drops Peta on at least three different occasions, and she comes very close to keeping Karina company in the emergency room. They may have been pretending to be in a Jitterbug contest, but you can bet their characters did not win.
Carrie Ann: There were moments of brilliance, but so much of it was wrong!
Jessie J: I’m not a dancer, I never watch this show, and I have no idea what I’m talking about, but it made me feel uncomfortable.
Julianne: There was a FEAR that was happening in that dance.
Bruno: Oh, look, there’s no time for my comments. Again. That’s all right. Jonathan looks beaten down enough as it is. Sure, go to commercial.
The shocked heartbreak on Jonathan’s face at these comments was almost sadder than during his sob story last week about losing both parents in the same year.
Judges’ total score: 24
Just before the break, we get a number of clips where Antonio discusses with sitcom actor Alfonso Ribeiro what a brutally difficult dance coach Cheryl Burke is. Just after the break, we see pro dancer Tony Dovalani’s audition tape, featuring the strangest and most effeminate man-blouse ever seen outside a drag routine. As Tony melts into the floor and dies, the cameras mercifully pan to another clip of Cheryl showing off how aggressive and mean she’s going to be to Alfonso this week. I guess it’s a good thing Jonathan didn’t get her. He might be in pieces now. Alfonso doesn’t seem to be terribly intimidated, however. Mostly we learn that Cheryl belches a lot. And curses constantly.
They’ve got the Flamenco, yet another new dance style designed to confuse everybody. I’ve got to hand it to Alfonso, anybody who can make his name doing the Carlton and then carry off this very rigid, formal and stylized dance really does have some mad skills and impressive range. His carriage looks great, his movements are crisp, and he doesn’t get any tens because the judges are all being royal buttheads. I don’t think they are having any more fun this week than anybody else.
Jessie J: I just hope the cameras weren’t too up in my face during Alfonso’s dance. (No, dear, they were not looking at you. At all. Not one single shot. See, on this show—for the moment—when the dancers are performing, we look at them, not at the guest judge.)
Julianne: This is the first partnership that I believed tonight. (Mark probably just loved that.)
Bruno: Alfonso and Cheryl, starring in “Lust in the Dust.”
Carrie Ann: Commercial break!
Jessie gets to talk, and Carrie Ann doesn’t. The real judges get hushed so the guest judges can babble about themselves. Explain to me again why we’ve got four judges?
Alfonso takes a moment to give a shout-out to his wife on their anniversary. Erin calls Alfonso “Antonio.”
Judges’ total score: 34
Pretty Little Liar Janel Parrish finds out who her pro is this week by feeling him up, blindfolded. After some grabs at his arms, torso, shoulders and hair, she realizes she’s traded in one Russian (Val) for another, Artem. The sexually charged introduction pretty much sets the stage for their routine. In an appalling breach of taste—the Robertson clan have to be thanking their lucky stars that Sadie didn’t get stuck with this—they’ve been given Burlesque as their brand new style, and Janel gets to practice putting dollar bills in her garter. Val pretends to be the insanely jealous cuckolded boyfriend for the cameras. What are they dancing to? Oh, look. It’s “Mama Knows Best” by Jessie J. I resist the urge to throw my shoe at the TV. ENOUGH!
So Janel throws herself around the floor in a see-through corset, giving Artem a lap dance in the middle, and it’s just as lewd as the dance style would imply it should be. There are even several crotch-grab lifts in the middle. Well, that was the assignment. They didn’t choose this for themselves. What exactly did people expect them to do? Val is seen off-stage, grinning and cheering quite supportively, like a good friend should, until he realizes the cameras are on him; then it’s back to feigning agonized woe. Oh, folks, just spare me the scripted drama.
Janel apologizes to her father in the audience for being forced to watch her strut around like a trollop. This was not her idea.
Julianne: That was not Burlesque. Burlesque is cheeky and quirky and dry. That was just raunchy. (Audience boos.)
Bruno: Never too sexy for me! There is not a person in the country that will need Viagra tonight!
Carrie Ann: I appreciate the trust you developed with Artem, but I agree with Julianne. Burlesque started in comedy.
Jessie J: I don’t think my mum would ever expect a song I wrote about her to have that dance routine. (Yes, Jessie, it’s all about you. God, get this woman out of here.)
Judges’ total score: 33
Pro dancer Witney Carson usually dances with Alfonso. She must have cried some bitter tears when she learned her assignment for the week; she’s the poor waif who got stuck with NASCAR wipeout Michael Waltrip. To make matters worse, they’ve given her a style to choreograph that was condemned to the trash bin of history years before she was born—Disco. Who did this poor girl piss off? Michael is painfully aware that Witney’s scores are going down this week, so he tries to put his legs behind his head to cheer her up. He’s afraid he’s going to drop her. The whole vibe is almost paternal and sweet. Witney naively dreams that she can get Michael some eights.
Appropriately enough, the song is “Car Wash” by Rose Royce as they continue to play Michael’s racecar past—the only thing at all he’s really got going for him—to the hilt. They’ve got him all dolled up in the most outrageously tacky 70s garb possible, from ugly patterned shirt open to the navel to gold chains to fake mustache and sideburns. And here’s the thing… he really isn’t at all worse than usual. He plods clumsily, but fairly accurately, through the simple moves he’s been given. And unlike Jonathan, he never even comes close to dropping Witney. He’s slouching a lot, but that’s nothing new. If this were a father/daughter danceathon at the local high school, he might just come across as the coolest dad in town.
The judges, however, wanted him gone weeks ago, and they’ve got the knives out now.
Bruno: I know exactly what happened. You put all the polish on the car bonnet, and there was nothing left for the routine!
Carrie Ann: When you can’t dance, make us laugh.
Jessie J: Is your mustache real?
Julianne: It’s getting a little uncomfortable.
Judges’ total score: 20
A five from every judge—that’s atrocious, even for him. They are very firmly instructing the voting audience to let Michael drive away with what’s left of his dignity before they’ve got another Bill Engvall on their hands. (Engvall, a delightful comedian with very poor dance skills, finished fourth in Season 17.) Michael’s regular partner, Emma Slater, looks quite offended at the score.
She doesn’t have a lot of time to protest, though, because she’s got her own geezer to salvage here. Comedic stoner Tommy Chong has been having a weird season; near the beginning of the competition, he dazzled everybody by being very much better than anybody expected. Now that they are headed into the middle of the season, though, he’s showing every moment of his 76 years—and for the first time, we get a real glimmer of what harm all those decades of pot-smoking might have done to him after all. Tommy is working very hard, but whether it’s because of his age or the drugs, his short-term memory is failing him. Peta Murgatroyd, Tommy’s usual partner, has figured out how to drill him until he remembers, but it’s hard for Emma to make that transition.
In the end, they meander gently though the world’s slowest, most cautious Mambo, blandly set to “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth. Tommy Chong really doesn’t look like a competitive dancer anymore. He looks like the healthiest, most vibrant person attending Ballroom Night at the Shady Brooks Retirement Home, badly out of place next to 25-year-old Emma.
Carrie Ann: I think the song choice was a little slow to do the Mambo to.
Jessie J: I really enjoyed it! You were so relaxed!
Julianne: This was the first time I’ve seen you, like, tired, almost. I think you are running out of material.
Bruno: It was a Mambo in the slow lane.
Judges’ total score:23
Co-host Erin points out that the contestants and the pros don’t get to pick their own music; if this was a sleepy Mambo set to a dreary, monotonous song, that was not entirely their fault. Tommy’s being gently steered towards the door along with Michael; however, those halcyon days when he earned eights have not yet been completely forgotten, and there is the sense that everybody kind of hopes Tommy can snap back to normal when he’s back with the pro dancer who makes him look credible. Putting him right after Michael was certainly kind, and possibly deliberate; he came across better by comparison.
Spoiled Duckling Sadie Robertson spent much of this week blithely informing the press how happy she was to get clean-cut blond Mormon boy Derek Hough as her temporary dance partner instead of that scary, intimidating Russian, Val. Nice. I am so over this girl it wouldn’t bother me if she went home even before Michael Waltrip—and Derek’s usually my favorite pro dancer because of his innovative choreography. Papa Robertson charges in to inspect his angel’s temporary partner, and apparently Derek passes the muster because he gets to go skeet shooting on the Robertson farm. Hey, Bethany, he’s got a new hashtag himself! #DerekDynasty. Take that, Mark! Ramp up the fake jealousy meter to eleven! Blurk.
They dance the Charleston to “Crazy Stupid Love” by Cheryl Cole. Sadie’s rocking a glittery silver flapper outfit, perfectly appropriate for this routine, that isn’t nearly as skimpy or provocative as the hysterical press are trying to make it out to be. The dance itself is great—neat, clean, precise, with almost perfect synchronization. It’s just a shame they both made themselves out to be such collosal jackasses before it began.
Jessie J: It was really clean! Look at me, talking all technical!
Julianne: It was so great!
Bruno: Oh, Sadie, Sadie, shining lady! Cover of Vogue, 1925!
Carrie Ann: Magnificent!
Judges’ total score:36
Even when they fall all over themselves to vomit praise, the judges can’t find their “ten” paddles tonight.
Lea Thompson has read the script for the week, and she performs it with the tired obedience of somebody mature enough to be annoyed by this foolishness. Yeah, I got an almost perfect score last week. Yeah, I want to make my regular partner, Artem, jealous. Sure. Whatever you say. Can my new pro partner Val and I get to work now? Oh, we have to spy on Janel and Artem from a loft above their rehearsal space? Uh, why? Aren’t we kind of wasting time? This is a little weird.
Val decides they have to kiss in their routine. Mind you, this routine is about a feeble geriatric—possibly from the Shady Brooks Retirement Home I mentioned earlier—and the sexual harrassment he endures from his nurse. A-a-a-a-wkward.
As the dance begins, nurse Lea is breaking up some PDA between residents of the Retired Ballroom Dancers reunion when she spots Val and decides to give him a thrill. After that tiny, chaste kiss they promoted so heavily, Lea and Val break into a Broadway routine set to “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray. They’ve got a whole troupe of background dancers mirroring their moves and distracting viewers and judges alike from any possible mistakes. And as I watch, I come to this conclusion: “Broadway” is not really an individual dance style. It’s just a grab-bag, throwing in whatever elements Val wishes to incorporate that week, and I see moments of both Jitterbug and Charleston. No fair. They got to do their finale Freestyle dance several weeks early.
Julianne: This was the first time that I saw you hesitate.
Bruno: The cast of Cocoon on acid!
Carrie Ann: What was the concept, Val? Can you explain it?
Jessie J: Your acting was the best. It was like, “I am the character.” (This is a fair assessment, Jessie’s best comment of the night.)
Judges’ total score: 34
Val has the class to thank their background dancers for helping out. That’s rare enough.
But what, exactly, is the point of any of this? After a night filled with strange dance styles, disoriented contestants, harsh evaluations, and a terrible guest judge who did virtually nothing but draw attention to herself we have… no elimination. Everybody gets to stay, even Michael, as the show sends out rescue squads and St. Bernards to discover the mysterious whereabouts of Len Goodman.