Dancing With the Stars: How the Mighty Have Fallen

What a lark! What a plunge! It was a week of startling reversals on Dancing With the Stars. Having survived a 2008 record-setting eight-point drop to a 21 score, no-longer-losers Lance Bass and Lacey Schwimmer bounced back with the night's top dance and his top score to date, 27.

Long the season's unstoppable champ, Brooke Burke was ruined by a "disrupted tendon" and danced like every ginger step crowned her head with stars of pain. Ridiculously, the judges gave her a 26, clearly a sympathy vote for past aesthetic services rendered. This week, she danced like a wax dummy scared that her sweat would melt her dimples and give her a face like W.H. Auden's, an eroded arroyo. Maurice Greene and Cheryl Burke's victory grins turned to the chattering teeth of terror as they faced their first ballroom dance routine since their first, which got straight sixes from the stone-faced judges.

Cody Linley keeps getting better, but his proud instructor partner Julianne Hough danced like she's got endometriosis, which she does: she may be a DWTS goner after her appendectomy the next day. They should rename the show Dancing With the Falling Stars.

And further demonstrating my awesome power over the producers (my personal puppets!), my least-favorite judge Len got replaced, this week anyway. The bad news is, Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley replaced Len. Flatley is to dance judging what bank regulators were to the mortgage bubble: a mindless cheerleader who may cause the collapse of civilization. Also, at least Len knew lots about ballroom dance. Flatley knows cowflop about anything beyond his peculiar dance specialty.

The night's major wardrobe malfunction was Cheryl's fluttery getup, like an over-scented lavender Kleenex box. Her dance was "a bit raggedy," said judge Bruno. Her choreography was like wadded-up Kleenex scented with tears.

In one of the staggeringly stupid inspirational interludes, Tony Dovolani took Susan Lucci to a club to apply some emotional WD-40 to her creaky groove thang. "There have been times when Susan has had a little bit of a problem cutting loose," he said with thunderous understatement. "I'm gonna do my best to be really wild and untamed on the dance floor," she said, with all the thunder of Dennis Kucinich on helium. Judges Bruno and Carrie Ann got into a spat over whether it was fair to count Susan's steps, which did not match the beat. We can't have standards or anything! At least not when Len's not looking.

OK, OK, Susan's not that bad a dancer, and she's getting livelier. But she'll always be a desiccated android-ette. I think I hate the little midget.

But not as much as I hate Cloris Leachman's increasingly tuckered-out shtick. She's like the Old Lady in a Playboy cartoon: not funny. All slo-mo, no ho-ho. Thanks to her score of 15, she's probably the next out the door. I wish it were Susan, but the smart money is on Cloris.

Warren Sapp and Kym Johnson inexplicably got away with one dull dance, a rumba with no rumble. Their chemistry has cooled, and Warren's ordinarily emotive face looked dead to me until he got surprised by a generous score of 25. But he gets points from me for reaching around Kym to slap host Tom Bergeron upside his head. Now if only someone would give utterly superfluous co-host Samantha Harris a discreet shove off camera. DWTS does not need her slowing things down with her molasses backstage interludes.

But all was not lost, entertainment-wise. The episode was worth watching just to see Lance and Lacey do that superlative jive to Little Richard's "Tutti Fruti" (a brave number to choose). Judging from the last two shows, DWTS would do better to just ditch the ballroom dance and stick with '50s sock-hop style. That's what's working. When Lance did that excellent little slide on the side of his heels, I thought: Eat that, you snooty 'N Sync guys! You've left the poor guy with a lifelong complex as the Worst Dancer in 'N Sync (and if he keeps yammering about it every week, I'm going to start sending him therapist's bills). But hey, old fellows: let's see you try that at your age.

I liked two other things about this episode. Lance's 'N Sync colleague Joey Fatone showed up to give him useless advice, and it was interesting to see how much Joey now resembles Turtle on Entourage. Also, did anybody notice that when Cody dressed up as a mustachioed Latin dancer he called himself "Cornelio?" Wasn't this a clear allusion to the Great Cornholio? Dude! I always knew you were Beavis.