Category Archives: So You Think You Can Dance

SYTYCD Squabble: Lythgoe v. Wall reveals Fallibility of the “Family”

SYTYCD Squabble: Lythgoe v. Wall

June 24th, 2010

I don’t really have much to add to my previous opinions about So You Think You Can Dance’s seventh season, but I do think it’s important to note that they’re trying: they showed us the contestants picking their partners (albeit in a somewhat awkward fashion in a flashback to open the episode), and they allowed the All-Stars to remain on the stage during the critiques to support their partners. However, I still felt like there wasn’t really a connection being made with the dancers, and what growth we saw felt limited compared to the kind of growth and connection we’ve seen in past seasons. The show feels stagnant in a way that it felt last season when the two seasons butted up against one another with very little break, which isn’t making this feel as revitalizing as I think they intended it to. It’s better, don’t get me wrong, but the bigger problems remain even after the aesthetics and logistics have been worked out.

However, although there’s no major change in that area and because my opinions of the dancers didn’t change during tonight’s performances (which isn’t a good thing, just so we’re clear), I do want to talk a bit about one awkward moment that speaks to larger problems the show has faced from the beginning. There are now three ingredients to each performance: the contestant, the all-star and the choreographer. And the way this season, in particular, is set up is that the contestant is (presumably) paired with a fantastic dancer, given fantastic choreography, and then force to live up to that potential. At one point, Nigel welcomes a new choreographer to the So You Think You Can Dance “family,” and that’s very much how the show treats its own: with undying respect and unfailing praise.

The problem comes in circumstances where the choreography isn’t actually fantastic (or at least when the judges feel that the contestants were let down by the choreography), which happens more often than the judges are ever willing to admit (as no one wants to offend their family on live television). There’s often this odd tension where the judges don’t want to blame the dancer for mistakes made by the choreographer, but they also don’t want to throw the choreographer under the bus, which makes for an awkward half-criticism that struggles with the fact that the choreographers aren’t judged in any capacity.

Tonight, though, Nigel Lythgoe went so far as to twice call out a choreographer for a piece which he felt failed to meet expectations, and the fact that it was So You Think You Can Dance alum Travis Wall makes for a particularly intriguing bit of discord within this supposedly happy family and creates some problematic complications for the series’ constructive criticism.

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All-Stars, No Story: Confusion reigns over So You Think You Can Dance Season 7

All-Stars, No Story: SYTYCD Season 7

June 16th, 2010

When it was announced that So You Think You Can Dance would be changing its structure for its seventh season, in theory there shouldn’t be any complaints: after all, many of the show’s fans were frustrated by the sixth season, where the series felt stale for the first time. However, that staleness wasn’t really the result of the show’s structure so much as the decision to schedule the series in the fall (only weeks after the fifth season ended) and an unfortunate new stage which sucked some of the life out of the series. We were suffering from fatigue more than anything else, and while some small changes could bring us back to the franchise it seems as if Nigel Lythgoe decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

While we’ve known for a while that the series was throwing out its Top 20 structure and going with a Top 10 (in fact a Top 11) and teaming up the individual competitors with All-Stars from previous seasons, it wasn’t entirely clear just how that would work. The show is still a collection of 11 dance routines as it was before, but there are newfound conflicts in who we’re supposed to be paying attention to (the competitor or the All-Stars), and with Mia Michaels sitting in for Mary Murphy there is simply something different in the air.

And it’s proving to be, at least right now, a diversion from what used to make the show so engaging – while my choice of title may make it seem like the problem is that the show is focusing too much on the All-Stars (I couldn’t resist the play on No Guts, No Glory), the truth is that they didn’t focus on the all-stars at all, which is even more distracting and confusing for audiences and judges alike.

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Being “Wrong” in Lost, The Big Bang Theory and So You Think You Can Dance

Being “Wrong”

December 17th, 2009

In an interview with GQ this week (where they were joined by J.J. Abrams and the rest of the Bad Robot crew), Lost co-executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spoke candidly about their anxieties going into Lost’s sixth and final season (if not so candidly about what that season will involve, as per their spoiler policy leading into the much-anticipated swan song for the series). And in the span of that conversation, Lindelof shared their concern regarding what message viewers will take from the upcoming season:

“But in a lot of ways, the storytelling this year is just us telling people that they were wrong. They’ve built up theories for five years. When a show like this gets to a certain point and then it’s “Oh, man, we were cancelled,” people get to bring their theories with them to the grave. With us, it’s basically like, “No—you’re wrong.” And some people may have been right. Who knows?”

Questions, after all, beg answers, and only those of us with extraordinary will power have managed to avoid hatching an elaborate theory (or two, or twelve) about the island or guessing at where certain characters will end up by series’ end. But what happens when the show has built up five seasons worth of fan-generated answers, only to systematically disprove 99.9% of them over the course of the sixth season? Their job has, as a result, expanded to not only providing answers that satisfy plot or character, but also answers which are so satisfying that they also convince the audience that being “wrong” is not something to be ashamed of.

Because people don’t like being wrong, as a general rule, and they can often respond negatively (likely with “No, you’re wrong!”) when a show seems to be dead set on devaluing their theory, or ignoring a relationship they “ship,” or eliminating a contestant they cheer for. And reading that GQ interview, and witnessing the a Big Bang Theory fan community over the past months, and finding myself responding to tonight’s So You Think You Can Dance finale as if it were “wrong,” I’ve realized that we shouldn’t vilify being wrong; in fact, it’s probably one of the most powerful emotional connections we have to television.

[Spoilers for the So You Think You Can Dance Season 6 finale, and extended ruminations on the question of “wrong,” after the break]

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Diagnosis Disinterest: The Troubles of SYTYCD Season 6

“The Troubles of SYTYCD Season 6”

December 15th, 2009

When FOX announced that So You Think You Can Dance would be returning mere weeks after its fifth season concluded for a fall season, designed to help bridge the programming gap that always plagues the network before American Idol arrives in January, I was moderately excited. At the end of a season, a show like SYTYCD is at the height of its excitement, and the idea of that excitement returning sooner than you expected seems a great one…at the time.

And then you realize that the Fall is not the same as the Summer, and more importantly that Season Six is not the same as Season Five. Nigel Lythgoe was in the unfortunate position wherein the show was changing seasons at the same time as they made a number of changes to the show’s formula (both aesthetic and organizational) which have severely weakened the series’ appeal. So just as I found myself feeling like I didn’t have time to follow along with these dancers and their journey, the show was giving me even more reasons to disengage, even more reasons to feel as if the show was losing its appeal.

It’s a perfect storm of problems that have made Season Six the unquestionable black sheep of the So You Think You Can Dance legacy, and righting the ship in Season Seven is going to be an interesting task in discerning which problems were caused by the change in season and which were mistakes irregardless of the colour of the leaves.

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So You Think You Can Dance Season 6 – “Top 20”

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“Season Six – Top 20”

October 27th, 2009

The season started out with such promise: the Top 20 was touted as one of their best ever, and the network even gave them an hour of primetime to prove it last night when the dancers got to showcase their own personal styles in a series of group numbers. It made for a really engaging bit of television, a celebration of the individual dancers that Americans would be voting on.

However, as tonight’s performance show demonstrated, this season has very much been taken out of America’s hands, not in any substantial way but through a series of unfortunate circumstances. Just as viewers may have started falling in love with Billy Bell illness pulled him from the competition, and Noelle suffered a knee injury that seems likely to pull her from the competition considering the huge honkin’ brace she was sporting during tonight’s performance show. And to top it all off, with the World Series dominating Fox’s airwaves, America didn’t even get to vote for their favourites, meaning that two dancers were sent home without ever using their fingers to make numbers in front of millions of Americans.

It was an unfortunate turn of events because it takes a show that more than any other democratizes reality competition programming, emphasizing the America and Favourite in “America’s Favourite Dancer” with gusto, and turns it into a charade that this talented group of contestants doesn’t particularly deserve.

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So You Think You Can Dance Season 5: The Finale Factor

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The Finale Factor

August 5th, 2009

While I accept any and all criticism of reality television as far as the sheer gluttony of the stuff that arrived on the airwaves over the past decade or so, I will say right now that the “Finale” is the reason the genre has continued to appeal to me. There is something about sheer uncertainty that few scripted programs can really match, as there is often no way to choreograph (eww, sorry) the twists and turns that could potentially happen. With shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race, any small snafu could completely alter the power structure, leaving your expectations in tatters on the floor while an unexpected winner is crowned. That’s the kind of story that keeps me hooked on (good) reality television, and the kind of story that makes me believe the genre has a definite place.

However, for shows like So You Think You Can Dance and its musical counterpart, American Idol, there isn’t always that same sense of uncertainty. Sure, there’s always a chance that expectations can be defeated, but for the most part things have been narrowed to the point where the final performances are not a surprise, and where the result is more a foregone conclusion. Last year, I don’t think anyone believed that Joshua, with his combination of braces and some fantastic and memorable routines was beyond likeable, was going to lose, so the suspense was somewhat gone. On these shows, dancers give so many performances that there is a lot of empirical evidence for how audiences are responding and voting, and as a result one can feel like the finale is only going to cement what has already taken place.

All of this being said, I feel as if this fifth season finale of So You Think You Can Dance is an example of a finale that has only further complicated what has been a very difficult to read season. Most thought that Brandon and Janette, so strong throughout the competition, were going to sail into the finals, but both found themselves in the Bottom at Top 8 and Janette even went home. Evan, meanwhile, has lacked a single breakout performance, and yet has never fallen into the bottom. The top two girls, meanwhile, are Kayla the Partner Killer, who was regularly in the Bottom Three, and Jeanine, who carried Philip early in the competition before emerging as a powerhouse when it mattered most.

The result is a competition that’s too close to call, but based on the evening’s events I think we can say that this is a finale that will truly matter.

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So You Think You Can Dance: All’s Fair in Love and Dance?

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Top 8 Performance Show

July 22nd, 2009

In the past four seasons, there have been a number of routines where emotional factors beyond the performance itself have played a role in their success. Two seasons ago, Mia Michaels did a piece where she imagined her reunion with her recently deceased father in heaven. Last season, Jean-Marc Genereaux and his wife France choreographed a piece for Twitch and Kherington inspired by their autistic daughter. In both instances, they were danced well, and there is a sense that the dancing itself was really besides the point: they were there to convey the emotion of the piece, and in those instances the steps were certainly secondary.

However, to be honest with you, I have my reservations about the place of a dance like Tyce Diorio’s Contemporary routine inspired by the fight against breast cancer that we saw this evening. [Before we move on from this point: I was emotionally moved by their performance, and felt the message about breast cancer was incredibly important. I am demeaning neither the purpose of the work nor their performance of it. Just making that clear.]

It was beautiful and moving, don’t get me wrong, and I believe they danced it well, but I think that there comes a point in the competition where such starkly emotional pieces may be too unbalanced for the competition to handle. There’s no piece that could possibly compare to what Melissa and Ade did in terms of emotional value, and I don’t necessarily think that it’s fair at this point in the competition, when the decision is entirely in America’s hands, for them to give a team essentially a free pass from any sort of legitimate critique. The strength of that routine, in my mind, should not be enough to hide the fact that Melissa and Ade’s Cha-Cha was perhaps the weakest routine of the entire evening, but the chances of them going home are now slim to none.

At the same time, of course, choreographers have the absolute right to be able to express their emotions through their work, and Tyce probably wanted to wait until he knew that all remaining dancers could handle the piece before showing it to the world. That all makes sense to me, it really does, but at the same time some part of me wonder if it’s particularly fair for one couple to have something so powerful and moving and the other to have something that inspired absolutely none of that emotion, and was never designed to do so.

I don’t think there’s a particularly answer to that, but a bit more discussion and some general observations after the jump.

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