Season 7’s Top 4: With Great Power Comes Blatant Posturing
August 4th, 2010
Well, America, the power is finally in your hands.
I’ve written briefly in the past about how So You Think You Can Dance represents a strange sort of mediated democracy, in that the judges maintain control over who goes home (albeit out of a Bottom Three selected by America) for a large portion of the competition – while it purports to awarding the title of “America’s Favourite Dancer,” America isn’t involved in the process until the finals begin, and even then their influence is limited up until a certain point.
While Season Seven has seen a lot of changes for the series, the one I find most interesting is that Nigel Lythgoe and his producers chose to wait until the final week before the finals to turn things over to America – instead of taking control halfway through the competition, as we’ve seen in previous years, America gets to make one single un-aided decision regarding an elimination.
I’m intensely curious to know whether this was something they had planned in advance, or whether it was – like most of the season – an on-the-fly decision which resulted from the producers’ access to each week’s voting results. I raise this point not to suggest that there was some kind of conspiracy, but rather to emphasize how there was something about tonight’s show which felt decidedly manufactured, as if America was being expressly sold these contestants as a result of their newfound power. This usually happens at this late stage in the competition, but part of what has made the last few weeks so engaging was the sense of looseness about it – without the injuries, I think this could have been a really exciting season, and I felt like I was being sold the idea of that excitement tonight rather than actually allowing it to come through in the performances.
Instead, it seems like the show was more focused than ever on selling us this particular set of contestants, which made for a less enjoyable show than in previous weeks.
When Art Meets Structure: Stacey Tookey’s Carefully Designed “Mad World”
July 29th, 2010
I’ve spent a lot of time during So You Think You Can Dance’s seventh season discussing the non-dancing parts of the show, primarily in terms of the producers’ decisions in regards to the changes to the series’ format. I think this is ultimately because I don’t actually know anything more about dancing than what the show tells me, and because this season has (for better or for worse) been defined my competition elements other than dancing – injuries, All-Stars and choreographer conflict have been key topics of discussion, and frankly all of that takes away from the fact that I actually think there are four legitimate contenders for this year’s title of “America’s Favorite Dancer.”
This week, it’s tempting to go down the same path: we have Adam Shankman dropping a “Balls Out,” we’ve got Nigel Lythgoe showing just how much attention he’s paying to this competition as he accidentally drops an “American Idol” in there (which he chalks up to his mind being elsewhere, as he’s returning to Idol as its executive producer for Season 10), and you’ve even got yet another injury, with Lauren being attended to by the medics following her Foxtrot with Adechike (and making for a woeful final sendoff where Cat Deeley has to inform America that the judges, minutes after cheering about the lack of injuries, that they had jinxed it.
And yet, for once I want to focus on the dancing, and one dance in particular. Stacey Tookey’s societal piece with Billy and Ade was perhaps not the most emotional dance of the season, but it by far (for me) the most impressive conceptually. And while I think that part of this has to do with its artistic value, which I don’t entirely feel comfortable discussing what I do want to briefly analyze is how the dance is the perfect mediation of the choreographer’s artistic image and this season’s structural challenges, delivering something which is capable of standing as a piece of art while also being something which seems to absolutely capture not just the vague “spirit of dance” but instead the show’s competitive elements.
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.
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.
Invasion of the Fan Perspective: SYTYCD’s Top 8
July 7th, 2010
You could argue that tonight’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance is, in itself, fan service: after some have complained that the series’ switch to an All-Star format has taken away from the audience’s engagement with the dancers, the series took an opportunity with the Top 8 in order to bring back the old format as dancers performed two dances (one with an All-Star, and one with one of their fellow competitors). As someone who has been underwhelmed by the supposed benefits of the All-Star format, I was pleased to see the series return to its roots, and I actually quite liked the balance between the individual and paired performances – it was a twist of sorts on the “Paired Dance + Solo” structure the show has worked with in the past, and I preferred it to those episodes as I’ve always found the solos to be pretty uniformly boring.
However, fan response to the show’s seventh season invaded the series in another, less formal, fashion in this week’s episodes, as the fans were acknowledged within both the rehearsal packages and critiques for a number of the dancers. The series has acknowledged its fans before, but I’ve rarely seen them viewed as such a force within the competition in both explicit and implicit fashions, which is contributing to what has been a very intriguing (if not necessarily even) season for the series.
SYTYCD (For the Cameras) & SYTYCD (with Another Dude)
June 30th, 2010
I was going to discuss some of the ways in which the All-Stars format continues to wreak havoc with some of the important qualities of So You Think You Can Dance, in relation to the judges comments that Billy Bell needs to work on his partnering skills, but since Nigel Lythgoe is apparently plugging his ears to any such criticism I won’t bother – if he’s not willing to accept the fact that there are trade-offs in his particular plan, and that some viewers don’t believe they come down in his favour, then that’s his prerogative and I won’t beat a dead horse.
However, there’s two things that I do want to discuss from tonight’s episode, which continues to provide plenty of fascinating insight into just how this competition works. Say what I will about the All-Star format, but it has revealed many of the contradictions inherent within the series’ structure, which gives me something to write about each week. In particular, I want to focus on Adam Shankman’s comment that Kent Boyd is one of the most “hireable” dancers the show has ever had, as well as the episode-ending, “gender-bending” hip-hop number performance by Alex and Twitch – while the former is predicated on a fairly rigid view of how dancers are judged by the audience (arbitrarily defined by the judges), the latter is a conscious (and hyped) effort to break away from that rigidity for the sake of memorability.
…and yes, it sort of comes back to the All-Star format, whether Nigel is listening or not.
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.
“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.
“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.