Strictly Come Dancing 2017: Part 1
Yes, we’re three weeks into this year’s season of the BBC’s flagship entertainment show, Strictly Come Dancing (that’s the UK version of Dancing with the Stars for the benefit of US readers). The tabloid press has already started obsessing, dissecting and outright lying about the antics of a handful of minor celebrities as they struggle with the rigours of learning to dance. From now until Christmas, prime time Saturday night viewing on the Beeb will be suffused with the superficial glamour of showbiz, a barrage of camp innuendo and a mixture of well-honed muscles and wayward flesh as well as far too much make-up. You also get to choose whether to laugh along with heavily scripted and contrived comments from the professional judges. If we’re particularly fortunate we may even be blessed with a professional dancer meltdown as they balk at a “ill deserved” poor score (yes, we’re looking at you Brendan Cole).
Now I have watched Strictly Come Dancing since 2005. It is ideal family viewing and is better than other reality shows because at its core, it's about people learning a very difficult artistic skill. As long as you accept it for what it is, which is an entertainment show rather than a straight dance contest, there is a great deal of fun to be had. Or that's the theory. I’ve been somewhat burned out on Strictly Come Dancing for the last three years and the prospects of watching another season was not especially appealing earlier on in the year. Because of the nature and more importantly, the popularity of the show, it has become a somewhat slickly oiled machine which follows an established formula. As a result, the last few seasons have left very little impression on me. There have been some outstanding dances but the celebrities have been somewhat bland and there has been a lack of anyone having a distinctive “journey”.
The judges until recently, have all become caricatures of themselves, which is exactly what the audience wants. However, the recent replacement of Len Goodman with Shirley Ballas has somewhat redressed the balance. Shirley seems to be both technically astute, as well as understanding of the human factor. So far, she has shown no penchant for pickling walnuts. However, we have seen in the last three shows, a broad spectrum of scores. And as ever the judges tend to have their favourites and seem to be encouraged to show this. So, if you’re expecting a broadly non-partisan experience from Strictly Come Dancing then you’re barking up the wrong tree. Nothing goes down better with the Great British public than binary choices and believe me, this show can get very tribal when it comes to public support of the dancing couples.
Another facet of the Strictly formula are the celebrity contestants, who also seem to follow a clear pattern. To date, those from a sporting, musical or TV background seem to have the best chances of claiming the trophy. Age and physical fitness is also plays a key part. So, it becomes very easy to guess which specific role each of the celebrities will play. Who will be the front runner (s) exhibiting a natural ability right from the get go. Who is wild card and which non-professional will assume the role of the self-improver. It is these individuals who often have the best “journey”. Then there is the pivotal position of the crowd-pleasing fool with no sense of rhythm. As long as they give it their all they usually remain on the show as far as Blackpool. And of course, let us not forget those who just can't dance and aren't even amusing. Plus, the show offers a great opportunity to judge people for the heinous crime of ageing without due care and attention.
Until this year, I thought that even Schadenfreude has its limits, so I was expecting to end my love affair with Strictly Come Dancing. But we live in proverbial “interesting times” and the world of late has become a very bleak and dark place. Hope is a scarce commodity at present and it is in such circumstances that I see the virtue in populist entertainment. That and the fact I absolutely adore Susan Calman and her entire approach to the Strictly phenomenon. Plus, I have a gut feeling that we’re going to have a controversy of some kind, shortly. I do like a controversy, especially if it’s of the magnitude of Sargent-gate. If a crap performer is kept on the show by the public at the expense of a more talented dancer, then there is scope for a national tabloid meltdown. Questions may well be asked in parliament. Then there’s the whole celebrity tittle-tattle of who’s having a sordid sexual dalliance with whom. It’s worryingly entertaining. So just to re-iterate, I'm not yet done with Strictly Come Dancing despite what I initially thought. I look forward to this year’s wardrobe choice that pushes the boundaries of "public decency" and live in the pious hope that someone will slap the smug grin of A J Pritchard’s face. Long live prime time, Saturday night, light entertainment.