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.