Normally, the sight of a twee, lanky British gent bound and tied to a chair on my television would have me scurrying for the remote.
When that twee, lanky Brit is Nigel Lythgoe, and the show is So You Think You Can Dance, I instead emit the manly equivalent of a squeal of glee, and settle in for a truly special night of so-bad-it's-great reality TV.
SYTYCD (it's too long to type! waaaah!) has emerged as a bona fide summer hit, now in its fourth season of providing dance teachers across the country with a far better incentive to get their students practicing than eventual employment as Skank #4 in the next Christina Aguilera music video. Instead, now you — yes, YOU — can rustle up your own fan club of screaming pre-teen girls, as long as the hypothetical "YOU" can, y'know, DANCE. No, it doesn't count if you just THINK you can dance, despite the show's title; I think I can dance, but unless this series took place at a wedding every week with an open bar, I'd be among the first voted out.
Lythgoe is one of the exec producers of FOX's enduring reality juggernaut, American Idol, and SYTYCD is built in the Idol mold. After a few weeks' worth of auditions that veer wildly from the excruciating to the weird to the sublime, it's competition time. Dancers perform choreographies every week, viewers vote on their favorites, and a boy and a girl from the bottom three couples are selected by the judges for elimination. This after being asked to "dance for their lives," which is not literal in the six-gun western saloon sense, but is a figurative way of saying, "You get one more chance to shine, or it's back to the drive-thru at Wendy's, sweetheart."
Though it owes its structure and probably its very existence to Idol (it's hard to imagine a goof off the street selling a major TV network on a show that glorifies the wonders of the pasa doble), SYTYCD is a very different animal — a more free-wheeling, goofy, fun animal. Sure, when it gets down to brass tacks and someone's got to go home, it delivers all the faux drama of wannabe Kelly Clarksons and Clay Aikens wringing their hands as Seacrest cuts to YET ANOTHER COMMERCIAL OH MY GOD WHY WON'T THEY JUST TELL US WHO'S GOING HOME I CAN'T TAKE THIS PRESSURE I NEED SOME MORE DIET DR PEPPER.
But other than the elimination moments, you can tell the entire production team of SYTYCD — from host Cat Deely, to the judges, on down to the choreographers and cameramen — just doesn't take things too seriously. It's like American Idol if everyone involved with the show was always high — chill out, dudes and dudettes! It's just DANCE.
Or maybe that's just how I view it, and I'm crazy for thinking I shouldn't be taking SYTYCD seriously. I'll live in my delusional world, because it makes for far more entertaining television.
Last week's Wednesday two-hour extravaganza marked the start of SYTYCD's season four competition, and we were treated to a surprisingly boring set of dances. Even contemporary choreographer Mia Michaels, who typically "wows" with her routines, offered up little more than a bland contrivance she described as "Tim Burton's dream wedding." Mia, we're talking about Tim Burton the gothed-out movie director, not Tim Burton the insurance adjuster from Columbus, Ohio, right?
The only routine that effectively blew my mind and made me bolt up on the couch was Katee and Joshua's, a slow hip-hop that conveyed the story of a soldier heading off to war and the girl he'll leave behind. Normally I'm not much for "story dances," as I always wonder why the dancers don't just open their damned mouths and tell us the story instead. This time, the sharp power of the movement conveyed all the emotion necessary, and it was a compelling flow from start to finish.
Back to the twee, lanky Brit, bound and tied. The bit was part of the opening dance routine for last night's results show, which also featured appearances by the Pussycat Dolls, performing their hit single "I'ma Make Your Daughter Wanna Dress (Like a Hooker)," and Poppin' Pete, the gentleman who allegedly invented the dance style known as "poppin," or maybe his brother did, I dunno.
(It reminds me of this hip-hop documentary I watched for a few minutes with my one-time roommate, who was a big hip-hop fan… all these legends on the mic were sitting around in a circle talking about the good ol' days, and one of them claimed to be the man who invented "Yes, yes, y'all." It's sorta like saying you're the first person to say "Hello," isn't it? Sure, it may be true, but who's gonna prove it?)
Anyway, the results show last Thursday opens with a faux-"normal" stage and judges, only to be interrupted by the horrifying attack of dancing terrorists hell-bent on disrupting this most American of institutions, the televised dance competition. They tie up Nigel and push him around the stage a bit, and we are treated to a few of the more terrifying close-ups I've ever seen on television — Nigel's eyes theatrically bugging out of his head as though they're trying to escape his skull and eat my flesh.
Then the Dolls, then the poppers, and then the dancing for the lives. I can't even remember who got eliminated, honestly. It's week one, and there's twenty of these people — I can barely tell my own sisters apart. What do you want from me?
More than anything else, I'm honestly just relieved SYTYCD is back — when the weather's on fire, and the day job's draggin' me down, what I need in the evening is something stupid, weird, and fun. And… cue the music.