Injury Time: Contestants turned Survivors
July 15, 2010
Earlier this season, So You Think You Can Dance was creating its own problems: the new format got off to a rocky start, and early efforts to course correct felt like an admission of those problems, making the whole thing seem like a failed experiment. However, I’m willing to admit that the show has pulled it together, as by the time we reached last week’s decision to introduce a combination of All-Star routines and contestant pairings it felt like a natural evolution. The show is still clearly flying by the seat of its pants, but the season no longer feels like it is doing so in an effort to fix the initial setup. The more they adjust, the more it shows that they’re dedicated to finding the right balance, and I’ve been impressed with those efforts.
The problem, of course, is that two injuries have kept the series from really coming together, with two of the early favourites taken out by injury and eventually forced out of the competition. On a show which always features a balance between the power of the judges and the will of the audience, here the decisions are being made by a third partner, fate, which cares not for the quality of dance on display. It’s a sign that the season just can’t catch a break, crippled by these injuries which keep the natural competitive field from developing to its full potential, leaving an imbalanced group of dancers who represent less the best America has to offer and more the survivors of a grueling season.
A few thoughts on the optics of these injuries and the odd organization of the upcoming tour, along with an extension of last week’s piece on musical performers, after the jump.
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.
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.
Trials and Transformations: Reflections on Watching The Biggest Loser
June 1st, 2010
I don’t entirely know why I started watching The Biggest Loser this season.
It’s not like I was particularly interested in one of the show’s gimmicks, or that I heard some positive things about the series; in fact, my one clear memory of my first experiences with the show is that I wanted to be able to offer my own perspective on the series to see if it matched with James Poniewozik’s distaste for it. I wasn’t watching because I was interested in the show itself, but rather I was interested in how it was structured, and how it was balancing its various generic elements within its two-hour running time.
However, at a certain point in the process this sort of forensic viewing pattern would have revealed all that I really needed to know: every episode of The Biggest Loser is structured the same way, so if I was only in it to discover how this reality series compared with others I could have stopped watching after a couple of weeks. That I was compelled to keep watching indicates the ways in which the series, perhaps more than any other, pushes you to keep watching until the end in order to witness the transformations, to be able to say that you saw these indiviiduals’ weight loss journeys from beginning to end.
And yet, as much as this may be what kept me watching (beyond the fact that it was recording on the DVR and made for a lazy way to start my Wednesday), it’s also a quality which is largely buried in the mess which is the rest of the show. The decision to extend the series to two hours full-time is smart in that people keep watching and NBC keeps making money, but the decision to draw out each of its moments points out the contradictions inherent to the show’s premise and forces viewers simply interested in the contestants’ progress to sit through a lot of material they have no interest in.
Accordingly, I do know why I won’t be watching The Biggest Loser next season, and why tonight’s premiere of spinoff Losing it with Jillian (10pm on NBC) will be summarily ignored based on its relationship with its big brother.
“Vivre Las Vegas”
September 9th, 2009
I think I’ve discovered the effect of watching Top Chef week by week.
As particularly obsessive readers of the blog might know, I went through the first five seasons of Top Chef at a pace of about two a week (that’s seasons, not episodes) over a period this summer, and obviously got a little bit addicted to the show. I was curious to see just how I’d react to not being able to turn on the next episode as soon as a chef got sent to pack up their knives.
What I’ve discovered is that it’s made me really impatient, although in a way that really defines how the sixth season is thus far progressing. There is some amazing talent in this year’s cast, and I think that’s the problem: the sheer gulf between those individuals and the rest of the field is so large that I want to be able to watch the next episode not because I’m desperate for more Top Chef but because I want them to cull the herd as quickly as possible so we can see that core group go head to head in what could be one of the most competitive Top Chef finales ever.
For this reason, I was quite pleased to see “Vivre Las Vegas” eliminate two chefs who were pretty well dead weight, as it means we’re that much closer to really getting down to business in Vegas.
“The Day After”
August 31st, 2009
As one of the few critics who has spent a lot of time analyzing ABC Family’s Greek (although welcome Todd VanDerWerff to the club), I’ve been somewhat harsh on the main romantic element of the series. Casey, as a character, is trapped in a romantic spiral, and the show has spent far too much time humming and hawwing when it comes to her various entanglements. When Casey is actually with someone, the character is neurotic but in a way that seems productive: when she’s pining for someone or trapped in between two options, things because convoluted and almost seem to crawl to a halt. Greek is not so much a guilty pleasure as it is a very solid dramedy masquerading as a teen soap opera, but in these moments the show becomes the very definition of what its detractors (who haven’t seen the show) believe it to be.
However, I want to give them a fair deal of credit. “The Day After,” picking up the morning following the second season finale, spends a lot of time dealing with the relationship between Casey and Cappie, and in a way that I think really works. One of the problems some shows have when dealing with an inevitable coupling delayed by circumstance (See: Gilmore Girls) is that they’re secretly perfect for one another and yet just can’t seem to make it work. It means that when they do get together, when everything seems to fit, the show’s drama stops, and in order to prolong that drama one must contrive reasons for them to split regardless of logic…okay, Gilmore Girls rant over.
My point is that I like what they’re doing in the relationship between Casey and Cappie because of how flawed they would be as a couple, and how they’re not pretending that’s not an issue. Cappie is by far the show’s most interesting character, and the way he handles the aftermath of “The End of the World” demonstrates the complexity of Greek’s plan for their partnership. Yes, I still think the rest of the show is often more interesting, but if this is how Cappie is going to spend some of his time this season then I think my Casey bashing will be somewhat less as the year continues.