Category Archives: Network Shows

SYTYCD: Callbacks Week

They’ve taken to calling it “Callback Week” but I’m going to stick with what seems accurate and call it “Hell Week”.  SYTYCD is one of the few reality programs that can say it “pushes it’s contestants to the breaking point” and truly, sincerely mean every word. Hell Week is a week full of injuries, tears, disappointments from both the dancers and judges, and ultimately 20 dancers rising from the ashes to come out the other side on The Green Mile. This episode is one of my favorite points in the season annually, as it is the first time during the season that everyone cuts the bullshit and shows what they have to offer. Yes, there will be rude people who get cut because of their attitude towards the judges, but overall the emotion that dancers put forth is genuine and heartfelt and only makes watching people get cut all the worse. During my years as a dancer, I went through a yearly camp that involved 32 hours of dance over just 3 and a half days (my quads and abs hurt just thinking about it). So no matter how critical I may seem to any specific dancer, trust in the fact that I understand what they go through on some level. This week’s post will be a mix of a live blog and an overall amalgam of thoughts about each round as the week progresses. Without further ado…

The introduction of the expanded judging panel includes some legitimate pleasant surprises, which isn’t always the case. In addition to the usuals (Mary, Nigel, Adam Shankman) we also have Tara Lipinski (sadly the Ying to her Yang Johnny Weir is nowhere to be found), Twitch (always welcome) and the [updated] former principal dancer of The American Ballet Theatre Irina Dvorovenko.

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The show has put a real effort in to including a ballerina in more of their judging panels both this year and last and with only two facets of the competition completed there have already been two, which gets a big cheer from me. Starting the montage of everyone’s solos with Tanisha Belnap dancing to “Work Bitch” is almost too easy, but it’s an appropriate kick-off to the next few days of aggressive choreography. No one we really need to care about is cut during the solo dances (a little over 30 out of a total of ~150 dancers end up getting sent home), which isn’t a shock seeing as they have some time to prepare a great solo between auditions and their arrival in Hollywood, but the same is not the case during the Hip Hop round.

Somehow, I feel as if the music for the hip hop round being “Turn Down For What” is a twisted sort of coincidence after I enjoyed One Direction so much during the audition choreography rounds. One song is a guilty pleasure, the other is a torture chamber. Thankfully the section of TDFW chosen for the actual dance doesn’t include the title phrase, so is at least manageable as far as ear worm status goes. Putting hip hop first is a strategic move, as they know the largest percentage of the contestants aren’t strong in this style and as such will make their job that much easier and pare down the group in a big chunk right off the bat. Most of the dancers they spotlight are abjectly awful, which lowers the entertainment value of this portion of the show but goes a long way towards proving just how difficult this actually is. Strangely, some of the dancers they spotlight that eventually get sent home aren’t even the early favorites that are left to the same fate. We lose Meghan Marcano (sobs) to a throwaway comment from Cat, and other solid dancers aren’t even afforded that courtesy as their exit is marked by only a shot of their exits from the theater.

The jazz round proves to be more in depth, and having Amy from Season 10 and Travis (TRAVIS WALL ALERT) show up to show the contestants how it’s done is one of the most intimidating things imaginable. “Hi everyone here’s one of our best jazz dancers ever and one of our best dancers ever period do what they do and you won’t go home OK cool?”. The judges make some smart decisions, and even make up for a few previous dumb ones by sending people home who they forced through from the previous round (so happy I’ll never have to hear the name “Marie Poppins” again). Even understanding that they don’t show each and every person that the judges ask to dance for their life, I’m still consistently impressed with the amount of positive outcomes there are when they single out competitors to do so. Here, it was Jaja the popper who managed to blow everyone away after dropping the ball with her partner during the routine. Most “dance for your lifers” the show chooses to highlight eventually make it to the Top 20 or close to it and there’s something in the way the emotions come through so strongly in her entire body that tells me that trend will continue with her as the prime example. The jazz portion gets a short shrift as it is one of the only rounds that does not last through an entire night, but it is the first major representation of who is strong enough in multiple styles to be remembered and who is hanging by a thread.

Ballroom is the trickiest round to judge based on the talent left, as it is usually the style that has the least amount of professionals left at this point but it is also the easiest to transition to from other styles as it has the least amount of lifts/tosses/strength facets to a routine. Without taking anything away from ballroom as a genre, it is the most “fake it ’til you make it” of the four choreographed sections of Hell Week. Even with that in mind, JaJa shows off her dancer’s physique and surprising talent in ballroom during this round, and many other specialized dancers step up to the plate and really prove their worth as a multi-talented dancer. Johnny Wacks in particular is a special surprise as far as someone who is still around. Personally, I’m not sure how the judges keep their focus with Ke$ha on repeat but they do and cut it down to more manageable number of dancers heading into the contemporary round.

The Sam Smith era on So You Think You Can Dance continues! And may it’s reign be long and never-ending. “Lay Me Down” makes a third appearance already this season which only makes me more confident that his music will be used by a choreographer or three during the live shows (they also use “Stay With Me” at a later point to send home REDACTED just in case the fact that the producers aren’t in love with that album was obvious enough). Basically what I’m trying to say is why has a full ballet not been put together using that entire album already? Get on that, America and/or Earth. The contemporary round doesn’t do much beyond giving the show more time to highlight certain dancers or ones they might have missed previously, and set up some advance story lines for the group round based on who is on thin ice or looks like a favorite.

The group round this season is given a decidedly quick edit, assumedly due to the many strong dancers that deserved to be featured in previous sections and the lack of outright drama during this year’s group practices. There were two groups who stood out and got an expanded feature; one for the better and one for the worse. The first group, including an eventual member of the Top 20 and dancing to a cover of Adele’s/Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” , fell into the all too frequent and easy to find trap of putting most of the choreography on one dancer’s back and then following them blindly through a routine. It takes away the group aspect of the project and forces a decidedly disjointed quality on the performance. The judges rightly called them out on this, but instead of sending them all packing forced them into a situation that comes around rarely on this show – figure out amongst themselves who to send home and then report back. Resulting in the most drama of the entire round for obvious reasons, tears ensued throughout their discussion and continued once they were back on stage. In a moment some may call merciful but I saw as cruel Nigel decides they all will make it through to the final round of solos after each of the dancers agrees that they wouldn’t throw another competitor under the bus for a mistake in which they all took part. Maybe he really felt that way, but from where I sit it seemed more like a ploy to ramp up the stress and tension and needlessly putting this group through the wringer when the judges probably could have picked out the stronger competitors to have stay.

The second group that stood out was more or less a group of Hell Week All Stars dancing to “All of Me” by John Legend (also a favorite to appear as a song in the live shows for those of you counting at home). For a group that includes Malene The Hottest One Left on the Show, Johnny Wacks and Zack The Tapper, they do not disappoint with either the choreography they put together in one night or the execution of it. Leaning heavily on contemporary movements while including small moments of whacking and hip hop was smart, as the mixture didn’t overwhelm them in the end result. Mixing unique elements into a seamless performance is one of the skills that separates the wheat from the chaff during this round every year and although I would have liked to see a lot more of the group performances and practices the sampling they gave us worked well enough with the amount of time they had to work with. Fox has been cramping the show into smaller and smaller time allowances over the past few seasons, and unfortunately this was the first year of auditions/callbacks that it was truly noticeable in a negative way. Next week when we have to vote two people off without even being properly introduced to the Top 20 it will be even more apparent how the “quick hits” editing style of this week’s episode served to undercut the audience connection with the dancers.

I don’t have much to say about the final solos from the remaining 44 dancers, as the time crunch once again allowed for only a few to be shown in full. But I will comment on Ricky’s solo because it was downright incredible and maintained the high level of adorableness and entertainment he originally showed us in Atlanta. My only notes about his performance were “FUCK YEAH RICKY” and mixed with the emotions that “Skin and Bones” by David J Roch gives me every single time it pops up on this show in a routine (a pox upon anyone who ever forgets the Melanie and Marco performance below), I think it’s safe to say Ricky has maintained his status as an early favorite.

Overall, not the best showing tonight from a production stand point this episode. What is usually one of the best and most fruitful installments of the season got turned into a jumbled mess of editing and highlighting all of the wrong dancers. I’m not sure whether this is due to a change in management behind the scenes or whether half the production and editing staff were just sick the day this episode got put together but it was very not good as far as giving us a look at what we can expect from these dancers next week and beyond. At least we can be comforted by the fact that the live shows make it very difficult to cut too much important content, and actually benefit from a harsh cut when all is said and done. The full Top 20 list can be found below – I tried my hardest to find snapshots of them outside of the SYTYCD world to get more of a sense of who they are as people – and I will most likely have a full post about the strengths and weaknesses of these dancers as well as some thoughts on who the early favorites/early exits are shaping up to be up sometime before the first live show next week (hopefully with a special guest writing with me).

(Cat Deeley voice) TUP TWINTY DANCERS:

Ricky Ubeda (LOVE)

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Jacque LeWarne

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Jessica Richens

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Teddy Coffey (this is filled with teenage angst and I love it)

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Stanley Glover (gorgeous, just gorgeous)

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Bridget Whitman

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Carly Blaney (well we know she can pull off gymnastics elements for sure at least)

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Emilio Dosal

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Valerie Rockey

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Zack Everhart (this is supposedly his senior picture which is adoooorable)

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Jourdan Epstein

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Casey Askew

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Emily James

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Nick Garcia and Rudy Abreu

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Tanisha Belnap

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Serge Onik

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Malene Ostergaard (also THIS PICTURE OH MY DAMN GURRRRL)

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Brooklyn Fullmer and Marcquet Hill

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SYTYCD: Week 4 Auditions

As previewed last week, Atlanta will be the last stop for audition rounds this season and I am (as always) intrigued by what the Southeastern US will bring. Any auditions in Atlanta/Miami/New Orleans etc. tend to bring out such a wide variety of dancers and styles due to how far people are willing to drive in the region in order to prove themselves in front of the judges. A strong hunch tells me there will be a majority of Hip-Hop/R&B routines closely followed by ballroom, with at least one stunning classically trained ballerina (probably male) that blows everyone away and stands out all that much more because it’s an Atlanta audition. As with the first few installments, I will be skipping over the intentionally awful auditions as well as anyone who has no chance from the start. Here we go Atlanta!

 

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First thought: I would like Cat to say “The ATL” much more often. In context, out of context, whatever. Make it happen universe.

Mariah Reives: There has been a trend in recent seasons of starting out every audition day’s tape with one of the strongest dancers, so it wasn’t a shock when Mariah walked out and proved herself in style. I, like most of America, do not seek out jazz willingly for the most part but she put on a performance from top to bottom here that made me enjoy the song she chose (“I’m A Woman” by Maimouna Youssef). Lyrically, it matches up to her aesthetic and lines, and the mood it set worked well with the laid back style she employs even with her more difficult moves. Mariah may be the first person this year to have what I like to call a “holy shit split” and she shows it off here almost half a dozen times to great effect each time. Her mom also has a serious case of StageMomitis but thankfully that won’t be much of a problem during hell week and after if she makes it that far.

Erik “Silky” Moore: “I wanted to take some time off and study the show and who got through and why” is the So You Think You Can Dance version of “Will Smith picks apart blockbusters to optimize box office results”. It’s actually a very smart strategy and I’m surprised no one has admitted to doing it outright before. Another rarity is Nigel stopping the music during a routine that doesn’t look terrible, but I’m glad he did because he brought up the same thing that was on my mind in regards to Erik’s music not matching his freestyle movements in the least bit. After all of the talk about using his family’s experiences in an insane asylum I expected something much darker, instead he went with the guitar-laden “Ants” by Edit. The two together work better than anticipated, and the five years between auditions for Erik clearly improved his skills immensely. I think his

Kelly MacCoy: Another jazz dancer, thanks Atlanta. Kelly had the “drag queen styling” corner of the competition locked down before the music even started and then RuPaul of all people comes through the speakers and I was almost out on Kelly before her first step. Her routine had the artistic appeal of an exercise tape porn spoof with the skill of a 14 year old gymnast who’s parents think she can still make it to the Olympics someday. She’s a skilled dancer, but combine her jerky transitions between every move, the campy faces, and her sway back the odds are against her to make it much farther than the Broadway round of choreography. She’s one of the few 18 year olds who has auditioned so far who doesn’t seem to have much potential for growth past the skill she possesses right now. I can’t fault her for working “Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous” to the fullest extent though.

Christopher “Mr. Strange” Griffin: Can Dragon House make it a dynasty of dancers making it to the Top 20? I’m torn between “Yes” and “Hell Yes” but you never know what can come of the tough choreography rounds. Christopher maintains the legacy of his housemates by being endlessly entertaining while on stage and an overall charming persona period. Animating to “Going Back to Cali” while wearing a Cosby sweater is a pretty baller move and really made me feel like the 90’s were back. I’m not going to delve too deeply into a later audition that occurs that manages to prove the opposite, but I’m happy Mr. Strange was able to show up and prove that Dragon House still spits out talent regularly. Hopefully people will remember this performance instead of the embarrassment a few auditions down the road that the entire house has to flat out apologize for, but with the way reality television works that may not end up being the case.

Conrad Dechabert: Conrad chooses the Main Title Theme from Planet of the Apes and pardon me if I never expected a Danny Elfman score to look so good on an audition stage, but he definitely proved himself to be able to dance in a more masculine style with that theme as his soundtrack. Some part of me was upset last year when the main reason Nigel and Mary decided against moving him to the next round was because of his feminine dancing, because as long as you have talent you should be able to show it off no matter if the gendering is skewed. On further thought though, it does make sense as far as partnering in the later rounds goes to make sure everyone can support a partner and bring the heat when needed. Also, Conrad should stop letting his friend use him as a practice board for tattoo work.

Taveaus “Dynamic” Woods: I’m sorry if I butchered the spelling of his name, but for the longer and more complicated names/nicknames the producers really should leave the chyrons up on screen longer. I’m speaking as an army of one here but it needs to happen. Dynamic is a protege of Fikshun’s and comes across as one in both good and bad ways. The good side of things is that he has the same level of talent as his mentor, yet on the flip side he will have to traverse the same difficult path that Fikshun did in order to get a sniff of the Top 20. Fikshun was the exception to the rule, and I don’t see Dynamic making it deep into the competition even if he is able to prove himself in choreography. (Note: I was right, as his choreography is a huge letdown). 

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How DARE YOU bring Jenna Dewan Tatum out here as a judge without Channing in tow. Absolutely unacceptable, judging panel. I understand Mrs. Tatum has a drastically different schedule than her hubby but don’t try to tell me a certain host couldn’t have pulled some strings in her circle of friends to get those abs in the house.

Ricky Ubeda: By far my favorite dancer of the night, Ricky manages to be one of the few people on the planet besides Shonda Rhimes who can transform a random Coldplay track into an emotional set piece worthy of his talent. Don’t get me wrong, “Us Against the World” is actually my favorite song off of Mylo Xyloto but I wouldn’t recommend it for a performance in the least. Ricky also proves me right in my prediction that there would be one stand out (probably male) ballerina amidst all of the animators and hip hoppers tonight. Nigel says what everyone is thinking when he tells Ricky that he’s already a favorite to make it all the way, and my only worry with him is that he won’t have enough upper body strength to properly partner during some of the lifts and swings that will undoubtably pop up later in the year. A minor quibble, but keep it in the back of your minds when Mandy Moore asks him to lift someone over his head and we get a “this practice is so tough” montage during a live show.

Marissa Milele: There has been a much higher proportion of dancers who are friends of previous competitors or returning dancers being shown this year during auditions. I’m not sure whether it is a product of having too many solid dancers in one year therefore making it necessary to pick the already known dancers out of the fray to highlight, or whether there is a lull of talent this year requiring some fudging of the talent displayed by using previously seen dancers. The first reason makes more sense logically, but the latter has me a little worried as we move forward. I’m glad they kept Marissa’s cut short and sweet as even though I enjoyed her performances last year, it doesn’t look like she has grown much in the past year. She has too much muscle without the actual strength to get any height on her lifts, and relies on her gymnastic elements slightly more than necessary. Her music – “Black Blade” by Thomas Bergersen & Two Steps From Hell – is right along the lines of something Sonya will presumably choreograph to this year so if Marissa makes it past the Green Mile this season we know she will be able to step into Ms. Tayeh’s rehearsal room with confidence. The judges giving her a ticket so quickly seemed like the easiest way for them to shuffle her off to the next round without a promise that she will make it any farther than last season.

Elaine Kimble: The first audition all night where I didn’t take any notes, Elaine absolutely captivated everyone watching in our living room. She doesn’t have the strengths that some dancers have, but her arm control and lines are classically pretty. Her performance is the human embodiment of “All of Me”, which I originally expected to appear with the same frequency as Sam Smith’s music this year but that hasn’t been the case. No matter, I’m sure Mandy Moore will put together a “classic love story” at some point around the fifth week of the live shows built around the concept of John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. Elaine was also the first tearjerker video package of the night, and one that is actually legitimate in its sadness instead of ratcheted up to make it seem more life and death than it was. I would have liked to see her get her ticket immediately instead of an arbitrary choreography round, and the reasoning behind the judges’ decision to keep her there for a final tryout didn’t match up with their rationale for other performers, but hopefully she glides right through and can prove that she has fierceness inside of her during hell week.

Angelina Granitz: Shyness is one of the biggest turn offs for an audience when a dancer comes on stage and it initially turned me off in a big way before she even began her performance. Angelina has the demeanor of a much younger and timid woman when speaking to the judges, but when she has the opportunity to dance that shyness melts away and leaves behind a bold and controlled dancer who has more confidence in a move that lasts 3 seconds that she does in the entirety of her clip reel. Dancing to the elegant “Quartet N. 2” by Dustin O’Halloran contributes heavily to her simplicity and extreme steadiness, but I wish there were a few “dancier” moves to her performance to break things up. If she gets to the live shows her demeanor isn’t going to help garner her any votes from viewers.

Christina Moya-Palacios:  Out of all four weeks of auditions, Christina may be the best pure dancer out of anyone. She is one of the few who could make it in a company right this minute and has the legs to match the skill. She reminds me of Alex Wong in a big way, and the show would be stupid to not bring him back as a guest later in the season if they need someone to fill in as an All Star partner for her. The second person to dance to a movie soundtrack (weird trend alert) she performs to a song from the Perfect Sense score. I love me some Eva Green and Ewan McGregor dark romantic comedies, so that was a welcome surprise. Christina is one of those dancers who I don’t really have much to say about until we see some variation in style from her, but until then it is clear she is as experienced a ballerina as almost any other dancer in the competition is at their genre. Placing her on my Mia Michaels wish list immediately.

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SYTYCD: Week 3 Auditions

After a week off due to my (amazing, fun, tiring) trip to Austin for The ATX Television Festival, the live blog is back for tonight’s round of auditions. The first week of auditions were very solid overall, and from what I heard about last week’s first LA installment it delivered the same crop of talented and promising dancers. This week, the show finishes up in LA (welcome back Christina Applegate!) and then goes to Philadelphia to see what talent awaits our judges. As with the first week, I will be skipping over the intentionally awful auditions as well as anyone who has no chance from the start. Hopefully as with the first week, the show minimizes the amount of these auditions that are included in the final cut. Here we go!

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Alla Kocherga and Serge Olnik: This routine, performed by one of the last cuts before the Season 10 Top 20 was finalized and his smoking hot “it’s complicated” partner, screams of something that we’ve seen before until halfway through the routine when Alla shows off just for how many days her legs actually go with a split that made my jaw drop. The routine is technically accurate, sexy, and entertaining but most of these qualities are found in any duo that has been extensively trained in ballroom, the chemistry between them is what brings it to then next level. The latin music they chose (“Mmm Yeah” by Austin Mahone ft. Pitbull which in any other setting would make me cringe) was standard fare yet appropriate, but where the anticipation truly lies is seeing what these two can do in other styles or individually.

Casey Askew: Another routine set to “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. Something tells me this trend will carry over to the live shows because this song is just so spot on for a lot of choreographers the show employs (Mia Michaels or Travis Wall please!). Casey is one of the youngest competitors we’ve seen sent through so far, which brings both good and bad qualities to his dancing. On one hand, he has all the youthful exuberance and bounce one would expect from someone his age. On the other hand, that cheerfulness prevented him from successfully bringing forth the emotion that his movements should have. This routine didn’t call for that high an energy and it came across as too upbeat when the choreography and music read as sorrowful. The beaming white smile he was wearing from first note to last didn’t help either. These problems are entirely fixable, and in past seasons we have seen missteps stemming from self-choreography rubbed out by the more experienced experts and partners during practice sessions. If Casey makes it to the Top 20 (not a lock but absolutely in play) he will be able to last a few rounds off that energy alone until he learns to channel his talent into a more targeted emotional place.

J-4: I can’t bear to skip him. One of these seasons small children attempting to try out and being really good and “shocking” everyone will get old, but it isn’t this one. He is adorable. And of course they had to bring Fikshun and Cyrus up to join him. Mamas stop letting your sons grow up to be Chris Brown fans though.

Jourdan Epstein: Darn you SYTYCD producers for making us think her brother was dead at the beginning of that package. Not cool, guys. Not that “former addict who spent time in jail and a string of half way houses” is an uplifting tale, but they definitely edited her story to make it seem like something a lot worse. The show has a history of amazing dancers with “J” names (Janine, Jasmine) and from her talent on display in this brief piece Jourdan is well on her way to being another one. Many ballerinas who audition forgo the pointe shoes and either lean hard into the interpretative dance elements of ballet or do a traditional routine barefoot in order to incorporate some more acrobatic moves, so when someone does decide to do a traditional pointe piece it is not only a welcome surprise but a competitive advantage over other ballerinas who decide to flatten their talents into an amalgam of multiple genres. Dancing to “Smother” by Daughter, Jourdan is like a skyscraper in the breeze; impeccably solid but for the moments she is supposed to wobble ever so slightly. Her thighs are insane, as is her talent, and I am now fantasy partnering Jourdan with Rudy Abreu from Week 1 in the live shows. Make it happen, “random” names out of a hat.

Johnny Wacks: This boy is wacking to a vocals-only version of “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston and is it just me or is it kind of everything this crazy dance style should be? His sheer skirt paired with that faux-leather jacket is more knock off Solange Knowles than a dance outfit but I’m not going to nitpick because the ensemble goes pretty well with what he’s doing on stage. His wacking is more smooth than the first time he appeared on the show, and it feels more like a dance routine overall than the other forms of the style we have seen on the show. Nothing I saw on stage made me think he will go much farther than choreography but I’m willing to be surprised.

Marlene Ostergaard and Armen Way: More Avicii on the audition circuit, but unlike the first week of auditions this was the original recording not a cover. As a dance track “True” has never won me over completely but it is upbeat enough to have charted in multiple countries so who am I to judge. I was not at all hoping for more Armen after his behavior last season during the middle rounds but from the small package on him and his new partner it was easy to see the way his work with a partner has improved since a year ago. The clip reel was all about how his presence as a partner made Marlene love dance again, but I think she did just as much for his skills by being a more able partner who has the knowledge and experience to correct someone if they are making mistakes that affect the other side of the scale. Another pair of gorgeous ballroom dancers, another technically sharp routine. Blah blah blah come get your ticket.


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Misty Copeland is a goddess. Haters to the left.

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Bridget Whitman: With Bridget comes a triple whammy of audition packages: being inspired to put her all into dancing after watching an early season of the show, father passing away suddenly in an accident, incredibly freaking talented. Dancing to a light and airy cover of “Que Sera Sera” (this version sung beautifully by Jennifer Teran), she brings her all to the stage and adds more tears to the already brimming eyes of the judges and the audience. The thing I’m worried about with Bridget is if she has the ability to bring fierceness and edge to her dancing when the choreography calls for it in the future, but that is a bridge we will cross when the time comes and not before. For now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the sweetness and purity she brings to her dance.

Amir Sanders: ALL OF THE BEYONCE PLEASE AND THANK YOU. Amir is far and away my favorite dancer of the night, if not the season so far. Everything about her personality and style rings as original and her performance backs up all of her “Funky Pointe” talk. In an exact mirroring of the trend I touched on before, instead of doing a traditional pointe routine sans shoes Amir opts for a mixture of classic pointe and hip hop uniqueness. Misty giving her some specific advice on her technique and improvements she could make made me love both of them even more, and with all the classically trained ballerinas in the mix this year also makes me wish Misty is considered as a guest choreographer some time during the season, schedule permitting. Amir’s spirit, skill and attitude makes me think she will be able to handle any style the judges throw at her throughout the season and be more than willing to take risks in her dancing. She ends up making it through in choreography (why she was even there is beyond me) and I may be letting my love of her quirks influence my predictions but between the way the audience will engage and her raw skill is it premature to put her into the Top 10 right now?

Landon Anderson: There was absolutely no way Landon’s audition wasn’t going to be overshadowed by Jenna’s presence. As good as a dancer he is, bringing a former Top 20 dancer as your partner to a tryout isn’t going to do you any favors, especially when she is one of the judges favorite dances from the past few seasons. Landon held his own next to her talent, bringing a masculine energy that I would not expect form his build and a snappiness that really brought the rest of the routine to life. The African-inspired song “Magalenha” by Sergio Mendes was also not something I expected out of this pairing and contributed to the upbeat energy of the proceedings. Not a shock that Landon made it through to the next round, and not remotely a shock that Nigel asked Jenna back to be an All Star but a sweet moment nonetheless.

Stop. Trying. To Make. Justin. Bieber. On This Show. Happen. Please.

Shafeek Westbrook: I always have trouble with dancers who have an attitude problem on this show, in that not seeing how huge of an opportunity SYTYCD is is just about the dumbest thing you can do. Shafeek is one of these dancers, but tonight he also shows that he falls into the even more rare category of a dancer that tries out a second time and performs worse than the first time around. With what he brings to the stage between his primary routine (danced to “Let’s Go” by DJ Say Sut, a safe choice by any standard) and choreography I place him being sent home around the same point as he was last year, so hopefully he can go out with class this season instead of a tantrum.

First Misty Copeland and now Billy Porter? On a dance basis alone, these two have to combine for the most talented pair ever to grace the judging table in one city, yes? This is now a bracket I want to set up in all the spare time I don’t have.

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Billy Porter serving face. For everyone’s benefit.

Stanley Glover: The juxtaposition of his self-proclaimed “creature-like” dancing with Olafur Arnalds’ “Brotsjor” makes Stanley one of the more creative dancers of the night. If that was a self-choreographed routine I am even more impressed. His jumps and spins showed off the beautiful lines he possesses, and his transitions into the gnarlier sections were natural and seamless. At this point in the night I’ve had one too many sob stories in the pre-dance packages and I’m plum out of tears to shed no matter how heartbreaking but I’ll admit a 4-year-old waking up next to a dead mom is almost more than I can handle. I don’t mind the show pulling at our heartstrings, but plunging a knife right in there is too far.

James “Banks” Davis: James was shot in the knee twice and almost lost his leg in the aftermath but came back dancing better than ever, which to me makes him the Paul Pierce of SYTYCD. If someone had told me someone “slow krumping” to “WTH” by Jhene Aiko & Ab-Soul would elicit any sort of positive reaction by the judging panel I would have said they had taken too much of Sonya’s drugs, but alas he holds his own. It pains me to see this city end with a performer who isn’t even strong enough to make it through to the next round, but anything is better than a montage of mediocre hip-hop routines.

So Week 3 draws to a close with only one more audition stop to go. The first phase of Season 11 wraps up next week with the Atlanta auditions, which never disappoint. Were there any dancers this week I gave too much credit? Not enough? Who are your biggest hopes to get into the Top 20 and the dancers you think will fall flat once the group stage arrives?

See you next week for the ATL rundown!

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SYTYCD: Season 11 Premiere

 

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For 10 years now, So You Think You Can Dance has brought the talents of thousands into our living rooms during the hot summer months. With the exception of one or two less than exciting seasons a few years back, every season has been better than the last. SYTYCD’s 10th anniversary brought with it the first year where the influence of the show on dancing across the country was plain as day, as many of the contestants specifically attributed their love and passion for dance directly to watching early seasons when they were younger. I imagine that trend will continue this season as more of the first generation that grew up watching the show put their talents to work.

I will be recapping the dancing throughout the summer, hopefully mostly consistently from week to week, but looking ahead I already know some week’s I will have to sit out writing if not watching as well (next week I’m already missing a night as I will be in Texas for the 3rd annual ATX Television Festival). Throughout the auditions that take up the first few weeks, it will mostly be rundowns of the standout performers and the music they choose for their first impressions (although the show has moved away from this for the better in recent years, I will be avoiding any recaps of the purposely terrible auditions). Once the live shows begin, these write-ups will take a turn towards more analysis of whether the music makes or breaks the routine, especially as new choreographers and old favorites make appearances throughout the season. I already have some examples in mind as to which choreographers are surely going to make missteps week in and week out as far as music decisions go, and I’m sure you do as well.

Without further ado…Week One of Auditions kicks off in New Orleans and Chicago!

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Shelby Rase: A strong, if not show stopping, start to the season. I would have liked her to dance to the Avicii version of “Wake Me Up” in order to facilitate more explosiveness in her routine, but the Madilyn Bailey cover she chose didn’t harm her routine so much as leave it flat. As with many covers Bailey performs (which you can see on her YouTube channel if you are so inclined) she doesn’t bring anything to the composition that any amateur wouldn’t be able to come up with. Her voice is pretty but there’s nothing behind it, which is more or less how I feel about Shelby’s routine. I agree with Mary that she has great stage presence, but thought the use of that presence could have been more well employed. Annalise’s routine also brought with it the first “awkward family member” called to the stage from the audience, in which her dad did some NSFW things with a water bottle while “Blurred Lines” played. Let us never speak of that portion again.

Tanisha Belnap: Tanisha is one of 12 siblings, so while her story was the first feel good clip show of the night, all it did was bring to mind the kind of musical theater stagings this family of dancers could and should have done at home (7 Brides for 7 Brothers complete with almost full stable of understudies!). Although I appreciate Tanisha’s willingness to work her ass off to get herself studio time, something about this routine still left me wanting. Her technical ability was present but didn’t blow me away, and although I don’t necessarily agree with Nigel that she should have danced with a partner, an additional facet to the performance would have been nice. Staging ballroom steps to “Take it Slow” by Odny (feat. Reija Lee & Kito) was nothing groundbreaking but I liked her willingness to take a risk and pair her style with dubstep. Even as dubstep slowly takes over the entire country taking no prisoners and leaving no survivors, most times when it pops up it is exclusively paired with anything besides classic ballroom routines, so that was a nice difference to see.

Megan Marcano: The skills of a classically trained dancer with the expressiveness and stage presence of a Browadway veteran. Megan is such a clear Top 20-worthy dancer I almost don’t want to talk too much about her here so I can save all of the adjectives needed to describe how great she is for down the road. The song she used was “Oh Heart” by Tank and the Bangas. I had never heard of this artist before finding this song, so I guess I can also thank Megan for introducing me to a new talent in that regard as well. The music matched up well to her dancing, but more importantly it felt like the song matched up with the attitude she puts out into the world. An under the radar choice that paid dividends during her performance. For now, her back story is the classic reality show tragedy-turned-triumph cliche (not in a bad way) and her talent is undeniable. All I keep repeating over and over in my head is “Don’t fall apart during Vegas week, don’t fall apart during Vegas week”. Fingers crossed!

Trevor Bryce: THIS ladies and gentleman is how you incorporate multiple styles into one routine. If he had come out and just done the hip-hop aspects of this piece I would have been tempted to send him to choreography (tempted, but not completely convinced to do so), but because he worked in so many other ballet and theatre facets he was able to blow everyone away from the beginning. From what I can tell, the music choice he went with was a remix of “Da Dip” by Freak Nasty, combined with a techno track that utilized Windows 98 start up sounds and ticking clock effects. I enjoyed what he did with the music, and the way that the beat contrasted with his more balletic movements. The only thing I’m worried about with him going forward is his ability to work well with a partner or as a group. It’s a small quibble, but the only thing that may sink him as the rounds go on.

Courtney Barnes: This was a Bring It On blooper brought to life, tracked by “Turn Down For What” which I definitely did not need to hear any more than I already have. The judges have made it clear in the past that flipping and tumbling to music does not a routine make, and that reasoning stands here. A Wendy Williams impression (even an hilarious one) should not give someone a ticket and I’m happy to see Nigel stood his ground here while Mary and Wayne could not and unreasonably sent Courtney on to choreography.

Novien Yarber: Sam Smith alert! Sam Smith alert! There was an 150% chance that someone would use a Sam Smith song during the auditions this year and I am seriously overjoyed it came this early in the season.  I cannot make this clear enough: if you have not heard In The Lonely Hour, call up your closest mental hospital and kindly admit yourself until you have done so. Pleading insanity is the only option for not having at the very least watched his breakout performance during the Louis CK episode of Saturday Night Live.  “Lay Me Down” is one of my personal favorites from his flawless debut album and it makes for an appropriately emotional pairing for this routine. As far as the routine itself, it isn’t likely to be remembered seasons from now, but it was technically very well done and I look forward to seeing what Novien brings to the table when paired up with other dancers.

Caleb Brauner: I really, really wanted Caleb to come back this year much improved over his audition last year. The heartbreaking story about his dad’s unexpected passing after they danced together on the SYTYCD stage was truly gut wrenching like not many contestant clips are (as hard as the producers may try) and his earnestness was endearing. Unfortunately, his skill remained at the level it was last year at this time with no signs of any additional training or aspects of his dancing. Jason Mraz has also been so overused on this show both in auditions and during live shows (especially “Words”) that unless the routine is flawless and emotionally affecting it isn’t worth it to try and force a connection using any of Mraz’s songs. As sad as it was to see him break down after getting cut during Choreography (which, c’mon cameramen, don’t follow contestants in emotional states such as this for that long please) it was the right choice and we can only hope he takes the judges advice to heart and does more partner work before next year, giving him a much better chance at getting to at least Vegas before falling short.

Marqoet Hill & Brooklyn Fullmer: Why couldn’t they have danced to anything else in the world besides “Blurred Lines”? A lot of talent on display here between these two and it was all brought crashing down for me by the presence of Robin Thicke being all rape-y and skeezy in the background. Stop choosing this to dance to, everyone. It isn’t trendy anymore and it does you no favors with the audience in house or watching at home. Other than that unfortunate song choice, Brooklyn and Marqoet had chemistry for days and the execution that everyone knows makes Mary shed tears of joy. Their toe flicks stood out for me, but their spins and symmetrical sections were was just as impressive. They promised sexy and delivered more, which at this early point in the competition is really all we can hope for from ballroom duos.

Not sure about everyone else, but all I saw during the time when they said Justin Bieber was on screen was this:

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Come on, SYTYCDyou can do better than him as a ratings draw for this season’s shameless promotional stunt. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to adding in a dance crew competition, but involving Bieber in any way is just plain dumb. It is plainly below the quality of entertainment that this show subscribes to and whoever is behind this decision should be sent back to America’s Got Talent where they belong.

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Nick Garcia: Even with a few slip-ups as far as sharpness in his steps, Nick came to impress and accomplished just that. He was fiery, energetic, and has ridiculous control over his core which is a must for any ballroom dancer. Many ballroom contestants rely on their partners to control their upper body and arms, thereby hiding any structural weaknesses they may have. As much as I would have liked to see him dance with his sister due to what I’m sure is a great connection between them on stage, something tells me the opportunity for him to audition solo that stemmed from his sister’s ankle surgery was a blessing in disguise that allowed him to show off just how strong a dancer he is. His song choice, “Begging You” by Madcon, brought just the right balance of energy and sexiness to his performance as well. The whole thing screamed “Miami” so loudly I forgot for a minute he was auditioning in frigid Chicago. A performance that makes you forget where you are? Sign me up for that any night of the week.

Rudy Abreu: “Stabat Mater” by Woodkid is a song of epic proportions, and Rudy danced to match that sentiment. His presence on stage is nothing short of magnetic, and the way he used his strength to complement his skill as a dancer instead of using it to compensate and falsely impress is something that few people are able to do (or realize they need to do) when they first appear on the show, which makes Rudy one to watch. The strength he had on display here means he will probably acquit himself well with a partner when the time comes for him to pair up with someone. Is it wrong that I’m already wishing for a Megan/Rudy duet choreographed by Mia when we aren’t even close to the Top 20 yet? I can’t possibly be the only one thinking about it.

Caleb Brauner Part 2: Oh Caleb…Caleb, Caleb, Caleb. I can’t recall if a dancer has ever showed up twice in the same round of auditions but in different cities. Regardless, I was skeptical of what he could have possibly changed in such a short time. I won’t say he proved me wrong completely as his skills were basically in the same range as they were a mere days/weeks beforehand, but he was very smart to frame it the way he did for the judges. By showing up and being honest about the fact that he was coming at this routine with a different strategy and a different mindset, while also admitting it was still going to be his style of dance, he didn’t set their expectations too high and was able to prove himself. The fact that he used yet another Jason Mraz song, this time “Details in the Fabric” (a personal favorite), doesn’t give me much hope when it comes to his originality, nor does his match-matchyness of the song and the theme of the dance. However, Caleb was able to step it up during the partner portion in order to push through to callbacks. I admire his perseverance, even as I don’t think he’ll make it much farther than the next round.

(Side note: I am so happy – sans sarcasm – that the choreography song this year is “Story of My Life” by One Direction. It’s one of my guilty pleasure songs this year and am not against hearing snippets of it two or three times an episode for the next month.)

All in all, an impressive first week back with the SYTCYD crew and this crop of new dancers. Next week Chicago auditions continue, and I will be back with a recap of the episode the following week.

What did everyone else think? Who was your favorite dancer to have made it through tonight? Any instances where you adamantly disagreed with Nigel/Mary/Wayne/Jenna? Let me know in the comments!

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Nashville: Season Finale Music Review

All throughout the second season, Nashville slowly drifted more and more towards becoming an outright soap. Much was made last year of T-Bone Burnett leaving his role as music supervisor mostly because of the way ABC forced Callie Khouri (the showrunner as well as Burnett’s wife) to steer the story lines at play into blatantly soapy territory when her goals were to make the show as realistic as possible based on her experiences in country music. Looking at the transition from the first to second season, the difference is apparent and in my opinion brought the overall quality of the series down a notch even as the entertainment value skyrocketed. The second season finale aired on Wednesday, and even though I don’t have much to say overall I did want to post a few notes on the musical strengths and weaknesses I’ve noticed that clearly manifested themselves in the season finale.

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The main trend I have seen in regards to the song choices in the most recent episodes is the humongous disparity in the quality of the “stadium anthem” songs and the emotional songs the artists sing. Last year there was a pretty clear gap in which style was better as well, but this season it is borderline embarrassing how absolutely boring the supposedly entertaining and rocking songs are here. Not to mention how many times the show reused songs of this nature instead of making excuses for Rayna or Juliette to be rehearsing something new for the tour like they did in the past. It seems as though the producers have all but given up on finding songs that will chart on iTunes or people will enjoy as they hoped would be the case less than a year ago. This was the case in the finale as Rayna and Luke sang “Ball and Chain” for what seemed like the 1000th time in the past 10 episodes, and Juliette and Rayna half-heartedly performed “Ain’t Gonna Change” just so the two characters could be seen on stage together.

I would much rather have some more character building or little moments than waste time on a performance we’ve witnessed multiple times at this point. Would it have been so difficult to have Luke and Rayna magically come on to perform a new love song they wrote together? The show finds it believable that a stadium concert with three major artists could be flung together in 48 hours but they don’t want to put in the effort to shoehorn a new song in to the mix that would actually add some more emotion to the on-stage proposal? That’s simply lazy.

Fortunately, even though the up tempo songs fell completely flat, the show has always done a much better job of landing intensely emotional movements through song anyway. Nothing was different near the end of the season as almost every storyline was brought to some sort of close with a moment between two characters confessing, begging forgiveness, or both. The few cliffhangers that were left hanging were of no real importance. Rayna and Deacon are always going to be a will-they-won’t they, so nothing has changed there as far as suspense, and to be quite honest I don’t care at all if Scarlett stays in Nashville or goes back to reading Leaves of Grass on an Ole Miss bench somewhere. Do. Not. Care. In fact, at this point I’m leaning towards being legitimately happy if they wrote her off the show. Clare Bowen is a talented actress but it is obvious at this point the writers don’t know what to do with her anymore and Gunnar’s plot will only be brought down with her sticking around.

Even with all of this weak storytelling surrounding most elements of the show, it’s a real testament to the local songwriting talent the show taps that the emotional beats they want to hit hard actually manage to do so. Look at the duet between Scarlett and Gunnar, for example. “It Ain’t Yours to Throw Away” is a solid piece of music, and I was genuinely moved by the plaintiveness and longing in Gunnar’s voice and by the way Scarlett joined in just the proper amount by barely joining in at all. We saw this performed once before this season when Gunnar was originally writing it, but instead of last night’s scene being a retread it was a new take on the song due to a different situation. Two characters that haven’t done much in months on the show all of a sudden seem worthwhile to watch again just by the addition of a genuinely powerful piece of music. The same goes for Avery’s love song to Juliette, who even though was halfway blacked out at the time and itching for a beating from Deacon understood how much it meant for him to write something like that for her. Plus, I am not ashamed to admit how biased Jonathan Jackson with a guitar in his hands makes me.

These are songs that could easily have been sold to multiple artists in Nashville if the show hadn’t bought them first. Many songwriters have a dozen songs or more in artist’s pipelines at any given time, so long as a show that highlights the industry like this is using them properly it could bring more publicity than some artists actually choosing to record them. The fact that these slower, more deeply felt pieces of music are when the show is still truly able to shine says a lot about where its strengths lie. The fact that the producers and music coordinators would rather rely on chart-topping songs to tell a story that would be more effectively portrayed through poignant and reflective music says a lot about where the priorities lie behind the scenes. ABC announced this week Nashville would be back for a third season, so even though my expectations for the show at this point remain tempered, I do hope everyone in charge takes a step back to reassess what kind of music they want to be dealing with versus the kind of music they should be searching out.

 

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Whatta Man, Whatta Man: Brooklyn Nine-Nine Has Found Boyle’s Sweet Spot

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Right from the start, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has proven expert at presenting character traits that feel true to the environment of the show and the precinct, yet don’t seem as though they are thrown on a page and expected to make sense. Each character has years of back story to explore as the show moves forward and each inter-office relationship has different quirks to work out, exactly as you would expect a normal group of coworkers to function. Even so, not every character started out perfect (realistically, no character is on point right from the start of any comedy), with some having more issues than other. Thankfully, throughout this freshman season the writers have done a great job of building on the good things about each character and scrapping the things that didn’t quite land. The best example of this during B99’s short run has been Boyle and the way every member of the team has different reactions to his antics. He started as the odd man out, with few friends and stuck admiring Diaz creepily from across the room. It was easy to see he had been written as Parks and Recreation’s Gerry/Gary/Larry counterpart, yet somehow less appreciated. Boyle’s weird moments stuck out too much to make him seem like a real person. Nobody being friends with him made sense because in real life not many people would socialize with someone who behaved the way he did for the first half dozen episodes or so of the season.

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By the time tonight’s episode rolled around, however, Boyle has become a fully realized character with idiosyncrasies that make sense even if they still aren’t fully acceptable all the time. His interactions with Peralta when asking for help with Vivian are consistently hilarious and sweet and allowing him to be just friends with Diaz (at least for the time being) has paid dividends for the comedy quotient of that relationship. The moment that really underlined this transformation for me was him breaking out in song and dance to Salt n’ Pepa’s “Whatta Man”, a song that no karaoke bar or high school dance has gone a night without. A true classic, it’s the absolute correct choice for office sort-of-weirdo to choose to goof off too. Maybe it’s a bit too cliched at this point as a “random classic 90’s song” that plays on a network sitcom but it worked for the situation so I’ll give it a pass. Boyle being completely comfortable in how he behaves, case in point dancing to “Whatta Man” in the middle of the precinct, comes off much more natural now rather than seeming unnerving. This point is really driven home when Peralta and Jeffords surrender to the magic of the music
at the end of the episode and Boyle wisecracks about how no one can resist the urge to dance to some S n’ P. It’s a nice picture of three coworkers who each have just as many little quirks as the others and have each other’s backs, instead of seeming like one or more members of the precinct are left out of the fun in a cruel or judgmental way. Great song choice to cap off a solid season-long character build for Boyle. Add in that Peralta has been toned down, Jeffords and Santiago have been toned up just a notch, and things can only get better on the character development front from here.

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Flashbacks and Wine: ‘A Few Words’ Fills in the Gaps in Good Wife History

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Just what makes that little old ant
Think hell move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, cant
Move a rubber tree plant

It is an inherently difficult thing for a television show to set up a will-they-won’t they from the premiere episode and four and a half seasons in still be going strong with that same pairing. The Good Wife, however, has bucked this trend with what seems like ease over these 100-odd episodes and it has brought nothing but fabulous moments over and over again. Not without some bumps here and there of course, but if you look at how the writer’s room has navigated the ins and outs of Alicia and Will’s interactions over time, overall it has been an equally enjoyable and tense affair consistently enough that the missteps are barely noticeable. Of course, there are the Alicia and Peter ‘shippers, of which there are many, and they are probably right in the long run. But without all of the risqué elevator rides, sneaking around, double-edged comments from Diane, and illicit phone calls, we wouldn’t have been able to witness the conversation the two shared in tonight’s episode over a few drinks.

The Good Wife sending the entire cast, minus Kalinda, Eli and a few others, to New York City for a large conference of lawyers this week gave them the opportunity to not only have all of the best characters (and caricatures) in one place without that location being a courtroom, but also to embrace the city they film in as its actual self instead of masking it as its Midwestern sibling as usual. Among the many highlights; Elsbeth coming across a costumed bear in  Times Square and consequently being call a dirty stinking Jew, Clarke getting stuck in traffic in a Yellow Cab without the ability to turn off the mayor on auto play, and Alicia and Will coming across one another at a 24 hour diner. Not that any of these things would’t have been executed in a similarly entertaining fashion if the show was in its normal setting, but just another example of the writer’s room exploiting opportunities they don’t have very often in the best way. I’m entirely convinced that whenever Alicia has a drink in her had it automatically means good things are about to happen on my television and tonight was no different, as her and Will finally had the opportunity to face each other one on one after the split from the firm. Even with Will pretending he didn’t hold anything against her based on their romantic history, Alicia managed to throw some snide remarks and drunk bitterness in to the mix to combat his anger and resentment.

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The brief conversation between these two might have been the most electrifying part of the episode, but it most certainly wasn’t the best. All season long, the Kings have relied on unreliable memories, flashbacks, and outright parallels to the past in order to raise the bar when it comes to character growth and shading. That was the case once again here, as Alicia found herself drifting back to when she first decided to go back to practicing law while writing  her keynote speech for the conference. Spurred on by Cary to use “personal stories” in order to blow everyone away, Alicia falls into flashbacks of her many interviews and life changes at law firms post-scandal. Since the show began shortly after all of these events it’s a nice thing to be able to see what Alicia went through after we know the end result. The best thing about these scenes is that until they began I almost forgot we never had the chance to witness any of this time period at the beginning of the show.

It’s a testament to the talents of the writers on staff that Alicia, Will, Peter and Co. had such well-developed backgrounds based almost entirely on small conversations and events that led to larger things than what they were really referencing. Alicia’s commitment to having and keeping the apartment was clear without us seeing how badly she wanted it for herself in the first place, Peter’s ongoing digressions weren’t any less important even if we never saw how acute and heartbreaking Alicia’s embarrassment over his betrayal was 5 years ago, and the sexual tension between Alicia and Will wasn’t any less amazing even though we didn’t see their reintroduction at Stern, Lockhart & Gardner and he actually pushing for her hiring. These details weren’t bombs being dropped by any means, but lovely enough that they still made a difference in how we view ongoing interactions and relationships. I especially enjoyed Alicia’s memories of Will stopping the elevator doors from closing between them for the first time and the look on Kalinda’s face when she found out Will was considering hiring Peter Florrick’s wife. The music they chose to background Alicia’s writing and daydreaming was perfectly tuned to that sweet spot nestled in between operatic and romantic comedy. It could have been the closing music for the next Jennifer Lopez/Ryan Reynolds joint coming around the bendbut at the same time the soaring notes wouldn’t have been out of place in an adaptation of Jane Eyre.

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Elsewhere, we got a great guest turn from Jill Hennessey as a high profile lawyer who exited her previous firm and was now being pursued with great fanfare by what seemed like every one of the lawyers at the hotel. Suit yourself, but I’m choosing to believe that she is meant to be a continuation of ADA Claire Kincaid two decades removed from her departure from the Law & Order universe. The timeline works out, and (name change aside) what was once a hot shot young prosecutor of state cases becoming a fiery middle-aged viper in the courtroom makes too much sense not to be true. Pairing her with Elsbeth in the formation of an all-female partnered law firm is a genius move, and as long as the two of them are still employed in small doses the future is brighter than ever in regards to recurring guest stars on the roster. I mentioned the music used for Alicia’s flashbacks as one highlight, but I’m pretty sure the musical peak from this episode was Elsbeth belting out “High Hopes” with Clarke on the piano. The only way that moment could have been improved was if Nathan Lane actually got in on the action and had the chance to show off his own musical theater skills. Regardless, a bright little throwaway moment that also represented what it’s like to be at a business conference perfectly. For every one hour of work being done, there is always somewhere around three of fraternizing and drinking.

In the grand scheme of things, there really wasn’t much in this episode that was important in regards to the season’s ongoing arcs. The Office of Integrity goons remain on Will’s tail, but if Eli isn’t involved in parts of episodes about the voter fraud issue my interest immediately dips until the story heads somewhere else. Alicia and Will continue down their path of mutual detestation with a hint of lingering sexual tension. Cary and Kalinda didn’t interact one bit so who cares, and the state of Florrick/Agos was static without the addition of Rayna Hart. I tip my cap once again to the Kings here, as this was essentially a filler episode before the final stretch of the season, yet managed to be 90% as exemplary as any other episode this year.

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Hannibal: Kaiseki

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Hannibal returned for its second season last night on NBC, and with it returned the most beautiful, haunting, perfect score on television. The signature orchestral arrangements that the show so wonderfully uses were just as well done as they were in the first season, but with Will Graham behind bars due to Hannibal’s maneuverings and the FBI looking more wrong by the minute the score held more weight than ever in multiple scenes. Last season had corpses and gore, sure, but it also had a certain sense of positivity in certain spots. Even with his mental instability Will was good at his job as an FBI consultant, had what he thought was a friend in Hannibal, and until the back end of the year everything seemed to be more or less humming along for the entire team. None of that positivity made it past last year’s finale unfortunately, and the weight and doubt on everyone’s shoulders is palpable. The way that darkness pervaded almost every corner of the episode was only further underscored by cellos and their ilk chiming in at the exact points necessary.

The score was highlighted the most during the myriad of meetings that took place this episode. Hannibal hosting Jack Crawford and Dr. Chilton for a friendly dinner (even though we can see his ulterior motives, these men clearly can’t at this point) on separate but similar occasions was paired with music a little less foreboding than the rest of the episode, whereas Alana’s multiple visits to Will in his high security jail cell was accompanied by an arrangement that can only be described as wistfulness and intense depression having a baby. Which, I guess, is a perfect description for those two characters themselves. Alana’s use of a metronome in order to lure Will’s memories from the depths of his mind was the first time that tool has been used in the service of good rather than Hannibal’s darker purposes, and even here the rhythm throws Will into a horrifying space of his mind. The final shot of the episode, a slow reveal of countless bodies organized in the shape of an eye, was probably the best example of how well Hannibal can match a single moment with the proper feeling using only screams and an instrumental.

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What is most impressive is the fact that Hannibal doesn’t even need music to be as good as it is; the acting, camerawork and set/costume design accomplish that just fine all by themselves. It would be a great show with only its stellar sound design elements (case in point, the flashback to Hannibal shoving a plastic tube and an ear down Will’s throat), but Bryan Fuller and music supervisor Brian Reitzell know exactly how to enhance the show while staying within the aesthetic they chose. Very few shows with scores as excellent as this one can claim that they don’t actually need that aspect to be high quality. It’s an interesting spot to be in, obviously, but not a bad thing. So many perfect pieces of production seamlessly coming together to form a show is actually harder than a situation where a strength in one area compensates for a weakness elsewhere. Here, everything is a strength with very few weaknesses.

Even the in media res opening, which I am usually not a fan of across the board, was so well choreographed as to be impossible to dislike. The music used to start out, sparse and chilling and sounding like they pulled it directly out of a 40’s noir film, paired with the shots of Jack and Hannibal sizing one another up about as well as the latter’s tie and shirt combinations throughout the episode. But as soon as the actual fighting starts the music segues in to something a little more edge-of-your-seat appropriate while still weaving in that suspense geared music. Overall, the excellence of this premiere was entirely excepted but no less welcome because of that assumption. Fuller and Co. rose to the occasion once again, setting up a season filled to the brim with betrayals and craziness (hot damn that sizzle reel) without sacrificing any of the pacing, score, or little moments that got it here in the first place.

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Grace notes:

  • I mentioned that darkness pervaded “almost every corner” of this episode. The few moments that managed to be even remotely uplifting were Alana playing with Will’s dogs (an underrated directing moment) and Will’s attempts to get outside the four walls of his cell with some imagined fly fishing trips.
  • This season the episodes are named after Japanese courses or meal related terminology. “Kaiseki” is not only a traditional multi-course meal in Japan, but can also refer to the set of skills required to prepare such a meal. I’ll let you draw your own parallels to the eponymous character’s extracurricular activities here.
  • Another season of Hannibal, another season of me having Alana Bloom boot envy.
  • I probably won’t be writing about Hannibal regularly over the course of the season unless they do something out-of-the-box with the score or there is a specific moment that stands out specifically because of the music choice; there’s just not enough that I can say that won’t be “how great is this score?” over and over again.
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The Hannibal Trailer is Here!

Arriving on the heels of NBC’s Hannibal panel this morning at TCA’s, the first trailer for Season 2 of everyone’s favorite nightmare-inducing drama is here, and boy is it a doozy. Don’t watch if you’re afraid of spoilers, as there are definitely some things that give away major plot points. Highlights on first glance for me were the exchanges between Mikkelson and Fishburne, Mikkelson and Dancy, and Dhavernas and Fishburne. From what I can tell, the show is giving Caroline Dhavernas much more to do this season, at least in the early going, and I can’t wait to see her be unleashed. Don’t know about everyone else but I’m definitely champing at the bit for this premiere (and the “reckoning” that comes with it).

Aside from the fully expected gorgeous visuals and creepy imagery, the music they chose for this trailer was perfect. The parallels to be drawn between the well known lyrics of “Stand By Me” and the situations everyone finds themselves in at the start of the season are incredibly obvious and easily drawn, but also perfect. I can’t tell who the cover is by as of yet (as it is clearly not the original version) but am hunting it down. Regardless, this slowed down acoustic version serves as an apt and haunting accompaniment to the terrifying feel of the trailer. There is also the possibility that they commissioned a cover specifically for the show’s use and plan to release it on iTunes either this week or closer to the premiere date. Season 2 premieres February 28th,  so synchronize your medication schedule and start thinking about what meal to pair with this nice Chianti, Fannibals. Only a little more than a month before the doctor is back on the prowl.

UPDATED: The cover is performed by MONA, a Nashville based band that has been on the rise for quite some time now and whose sophomore effort, Torches & Pitchforks, I was absolutely a fan of. If this trailer isn’t enough to check out the band you should think again. 

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The Song Jason Katims Used to Make You Cry This Week: Promises

Nothing at all, in my head, to say to you
Only the beat of the train I’m on
Nothing I’ve learned all my life on the way to you
One day our love was over and gone

I can’t remember the last time Amber was left out of an episode completely. It can’t be within the last few seasons, certainly, at least since she started becoming a fully realized character rather than simply Sarah’s daughter and Drew’s sister. But last night both her and her human sadness machine of a fiancé were nowhere to be seen and the episode was the better because of it. Almost every subplot succeeded last night and I’m pretty sure if Amber and Ryan were involved in the episode they would overwhelm everything else that was happening with ease. Or, if their storyline was pared back in order to let everything else breathe, it would have been a disservice to the power of their relationship and current problems. “Promises” was one of the strongest installments of the season and included just the right amount of character balance from which to come back from the break, any more stuffing would surely have brought the entire effort down under its weight.

This episode featured easily the highest amount of non-soundtrack music of the season, but only a few songs truly stood out and none that were distinctly cry-related. However, most of the song choices succeeded in complementing what was on screen, as they should. Ray Romano’s work as a whole in this episode was top notch, but the point at which he realized how similar he was to Max while perusing Adam’s suggested reading material was heartbreaking and lovable at the same time. His subsequent visit to Sarah’s apartment and brief but deep rant about his realization was not only a moment that proved how versatile Romano can be in the span of a few minutes, but also an effective way to bring the way Aspergers impacts people’s lives back into the show without it involving only Max and others in his age group. Hank’s life and past slowly unfurling before his eyes in a new light was truly touching, as was he and Max making up with an awkward but moving apology and game of chess. The latter moment, scored with Supernumerary by Vanapresta, is the type of thing that no other show does with quite the same amount of skill as Parenthood can. The way Adam and Kristina, framed by Max’s bed, looked on with pride and love was a nice capper to the entire thing, especially as it served as a complement to the relationship, rather than a relationship starter, between the two.

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Elsewhere in the relationship-complementing category, was Drew and his newly assembled harem of college girls. Is there any chance this doesn’t end in a threesome? I mean seriously, that’s exactly where this is headed and there’s nothing you can say or do to convince me otherwise. It’s not like Katims hasn’t gone down that road before, so I guess as long as it turns out to be more satisfying and creatively competent than “Riggins, Street, and Lyla Go to Mexico” I’ll be OK with it. I do think the return of Amy was handled tactfully and realistically as applicable to college students, except for the whole “everyone misses classes at some point”. Yeah hun, that’s technically true, but the excuse is more frequently along the lines of “I had 8 shots last night and if I try to go to my 9 am my head will actually explode” than “I flew across the country to see an ex-boyfriend and now I don’t feel like going back”. Try explaining that one to your professors when you ask to make up assignments in a week. All in all I liked the Drew part of this episode. We had girls being passive aggressively catty to each other in the bathroom, a casual hookup getting all blatantly “I didn’t want him until I couldn’t have him but now BACK OFF” on the quad, and Drew deciding to make good use of his roommate being MIA with Amy (not the smartest decision but this is also Drew so it works). Everything casual college relationships are, all in one place, with the added accuracy of old high school hookups complicating things. Also, the best use of Feist on television since 2007. I don’t thing I would put Feist and Ben Gibbard together for a duet off the top of my head, but man the two of them doing a cover of Vashti Bunyan’s “Train Song” (which I somehow hadn’t heard before now) is just perfection.

You know what isn’t perfection? Julia and Joel turning their marriage into a pretty convincing human representation of a front lawn that hasn’t been watered for a while catching on fire in the middle of a dry summer. I get what the show is trying to do here, and I bought almost every character act and the motivations behind them throughout the episode, but I’m not entirely sure if all of them put together works for me at this point. Like I said, I can appreciate what the story seems to be working towards but I don’t completely buy that Julia wouldn’t tell Joel about the kiss when he was begging her to do so or that logical, intelligent Adam would choose to tell Crosby about the mess of a situation instead of confiding in the twice as tactful Jasmine who he also knew would be present. The sibling/in-law combinations deployed in this episode (Julia and Adam, Sarah and Jasmine) were ones we haven’t seen for a while, if ever, so I don’t think more of Adam and Crosby playing Batman and Robin in regards to protecting the family was super necessary. I do buy however, that Joel would defend his wife the way he did in spite of all the trouble they are having in private. Sam Jaeger continues to be amazing with what the writing has given him this season, retroactively making me upset about the first 3 seasons of material he received.

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Nothing about Sarah’s storyline was particularly good or outstandingly bad, although Lauren Graham did get to show off her wonderful “silently show emotions with only facial expressions” skills  during her time on screen with Ray Romano. Not many women would go from feeling insulted that a guy invited them as a plus one and then proceeded to flirt with half a dozen other people leaving them to fend for themselves, to all of a sudden changing their minds about having feelings about them. Doesn’t mean there are exceptions to this rule, only that the execution of Sarah having feelings about a tenant could have been more well done as far as the transition itself. Zeke pretty much only served as comedic relief this week, what with his diner buddy bonding sessions and the opening montage of him not being able to eat anything in his own home (backing track: Life is Hard by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros). At least we got mention of Camille being 6,000 miles away this episode, seeing as neither her husband nor any of her children have acknowledged that she even left a month ago. Happy to have the show back, and excited to see how all of these story lines proceed during the back half of the season.

Snippets From Next Week’s Episode Synopsis Cry Potential Rundown:

Maybe Something, Probably Nothing – Sarah receives good news about a job

A Few Sniffles – Jasmine is less than thrilled when Crosby opens his home to Oliver Rome

A Tear or Ten –  blah blah Zeke and Camille something or other

BRB SOBBING – Amber is faced with a painful reality

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