The Irony of Monotony: Why SYTYCD’s Season of Reinvention Still Feels Stale

The Irony of Monotony: Why SYTYCD’s Season of Reinvention Still Feels Stale

July 22nd, 2010

Earlier in the seventh season of So You Think You Can Dance, I commented at length on how the All-Star structure seemed to take away some of my favourite parts of the series, including seeing the contestants develop chemistry as a team and working together to overcome challenging choreography. However, as the season has gone on, the show was willing to break up the All-Star format to allow the dancers to pair up with each other, which helped bring some of that chemistry back to the table even if we didn’t get to see it develop over the weeks.

And yet, I think that the structure of the season has run into another roadblock tonight: when I heard word that they had chosen to send no one home, sparing an injured Billy Bell and a struggling Jose from their potential exits, I realized that the show’s biggest problem this season is how monotonous it has become. Sure, I’m not the kind of fan who has that moment of relief when my favourite is saved and gets to dance another day, but the biggest problem with So You Think You Can Dance this season is that even with all of the various reinventions I’m getting really tired of seeing these people dance.

Which I think is more of a reflection of the way the season has been structured than a reflection of the dancers themselves.

Normally, So You Think You Can Dance was very clearly divided so as to maximize audience interest: just as you became attached to the pairings which started the season, the show would mix things up when they got to the Top 10, which is almost like starting the season all over again. Not only did the voting shift from couples to individuals, but the pairings would switch around each week, meaning that the show took on an entirely different feel. That step up, of sorts, was a huge part in what gave the series momentum when heading into its final group of dancers, something which it needed since by and large the series does not change week by week: while Idol uses different theme nights in order to mix things up, and even Dancing with the Stars specifically organizes each week around a particular set of dances, So You Think You Can Dance is more or less the same show every time, which means that it has relied on the shakeup at mid-season in order to keep from seeming monotonous.

It’s true that there are occasionally spectacular routines which break through the monotony (see: Alex/Twitch), but this season those have even seemed to have less impact. While the All-Star format seems like it should keep things interesting, in that the dancer is paired with a different All-Star each week, the real threat of growing stale is that the dancers have been dancing as individuals and with an All-Star for too many weeks. While having the contestants pair off with one another was a nice way to inject some new life, it can’t hide the fact that the majority of the dances are with the All-Stars, positioning the contestant pairing as a sort of added bonus rather than a legitimate change in structure. Growth narratives were very clearly built into the old structure, allowing someone to grow with their partner before being tested in pairing with other dancers for the rest of their time on the show: now, the show has no such clarity, and it’s resulting in a season which feels lifeless even with multiple injuries and Kent Boyd’s gosh-darn enthusiasm.

My big question is this: at what point, precisely, is the show going to turn the vote over to America? I think that’s what is ultimately missing here, that moment where the judges go hands off with the process and allow America to have their say. Sure, it would have been useless the last two weeks due to injuries, but it might be something that brings some spontaneity and uncertainty into the process. This non-elimination isn’t surprising in the least: by only featuring a Top 11, the show wasn’t going to be able to fill out the summer at its current pace, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a single elimination next week just to stretch things out a bit further. And yet, rather than feeling any sort of relief, all I feel is exhaustion in that we’re going to have to see the same six people (or the same five people, plus Billy) dance all over again. There will be no sense of growth, no real sense of diversity, and no substantial shift which would get me any more invested in their fates.

I appreciate that they’ve tried to work within the new structure to keep things interesting, and empathize with the producers in terms of how much the injuries have completely sabotaged whatever life the season had beyond Kent’s personality. However, whether or not it is particularly fair, the reality is that the circumstances have only exploited existing flaws within this new system, flaws which start with the introduction of the All-Stars. In fact, a lot of the season’s problems go to the All-Stars: perhaps their existing personalities are keeping fans from connecting with the new contestants, and perhaps their presence means that the choreographers are introducing more difficult material and thus putting more strain on the contestants and potentially leading them towards injuries. Either way, we’ve reached the point in the season where we start to wonder whether it was worth it, and my sheer disinterest in the show to this point would seem to indicate that, at least for me, it wasn’t.

I’d normally suggest taking the judges out of the equation next week, but then Jose might stay another week, and I don’t think any of us want that.

Cultural Observations

  • Caught up on the group number via the internet after the fact, and it was (as Twitter suggested) quite solid – some fun Broadway stuff, with a nice pace and some solid energy.
  • Thought the Tabitha and Napoleon abusive relationship piece was solid on Wednesday, but it wasn’t any better than their previous material, and I thought that the judges (as Donna Bowman rightly points out) felt they needed to goose their critiques to match Adechike’s raw display of emotion. It was solid, but it wasn’t anything to cry over.
  • I was surprised to read, on Donna’s piece at The A.V. Club, that there was some speculation that Billy was playing the game in choosing not to dance despite being cleared by doctors. Maybe it’s just me, but considering how many of his friends have fallen to injury already, and considering the fact that he has already had to leave the competition for medical reasons once before, I don’t particularly blame him for being cautious. Yes, it gave him an extra week’s rest, and that will prove beneficial heading into next week, but I certainly don’t think it was shady in the least considering past events.
  • Kenny Ortega was a guest judge on the second season of So You Think You Can Dance Canada last year (which you’ll notice he didn’t mention), and he was just the same: effusive praise for the contestants combined with some perfectly choreographed ass-kissing – as far as ways to help fill a two-hour show, I can’t complain in the DVR age when it made his comments skippable.
  • At this point, the season is coming down to Lauren and Kent, barring some sort of injury – which, let’s face it, seems pretty inevitable.
  • MVP of the week was easily Twitch, for stepping in to partner Kent in the stepping routine – as always, the show threw a bit too much of a party over a new style being introduced, as it wasn’t that fantastic or anything, but Twitch stepping in was legitimately impressive.
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3 Comments

Filed under So You Think You Can Dance

3 responses to “The Irony of Monotony: Why SYTYCD’s Season of Reinvention Still Feels Stale

  1. Jackie

    That was my assessment to my mother after last night that the show really lost the “human” angle of the process by pairing All-Stars and contestants rather than the old format of contestant partnering. I can remember an entire of list of different routines and dances from last season because I can remember “the time Kathryn and Legacy did that awesome hip-hop” as opposed to “there was one dance that one of them did and I can’t remember if it was an All-Star or contestant as their partner but it was kickass.”

    That is what I miss most: the contestants together. That is why I’ll remember Kent and Adéchiké’s contemporary piece over any number of All-Star dances either of them have dance over the course of the season.

  2. Liz

    I am feeling the same way. I watch it on tivo and I skipped a lot of this week! The one thing I do like about the all-stars is having them step in to replace a contestant when there is an injury. It is easier for the viewers to see someone familiar fill in. Perhaps in future seasons they could have a few all-stars around for back-up and to be used sparingly.

  3. Hanna

    I agree with Liz. Use all stars to “understudy” but they had their shot. The engaging part of the show was watching dancers develop before our eyes. Now it’s just “So we know you can dance”. It was also a beautiful surprise to have a special routine a few times a season. Now they spend so much time stroking the choreographers, it really has become “So we know you can dance but can you choreograph?”. The thrill is gone.

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