It appeared as if the Dancing With the Stars judges had two main goals during Monday's Week Three performance show. First, to go relatively easy on the dancers and say nothing even remotely controversial, in the wake of the surprisingly loud (and dumb) criticism of Bruno Tonioli's accurate assessment of Michael Bolton last week. And second, to dispel the widespread early sense that nine dancers are simply battling to see who comes in second behind Jennifer Grey. They succeeded in both respects, but the dancers failed to create many genuine sparks.
This week brought a repeat of the storytelling format, an ideal way for a dancer who has been a little stiff so far to display some personality, or for a pro to bust out with some memorable props and choreography. Last season, Story Night was memorable for Nicole Scherzinger's weak (for her) quickstep and for Kate Gosselin hitting rock bottom with her clanky "Paparazzi." But nothing Monday will be talked about in the same way six months from now. In fact, the failure to cast anyone as entertainingly terrible as Kate may have been a mistake in the casting process.
But while there might not be a historic klutz in this field, the judging Monday made it clear that the judges see six dancers (with scores clustered between 26 and 23) as being plainly superior to the other four (who scored between 20 and 18). And of those four, Margaret Cho is probably in the most precarious position. The comedian was short on rehearsal time this past week, so the thinking might have been to up the spectacle level (she wore a rainbow outfit and giant yellow headdress, and danced to "Copacabana") because she didn't do much samba-ing. Afterwards, she announced that her dance was "the gayest thing that ever happened," which isn't even true about this show. But identification with her pro-gay theme and affection of partner Louis van Amstel could pull her through, despite the night's low score of 18.
Bristol Palin was busy last week too, as we saw footage of her delivering a pro-abstinence speech, something she is qualified to do on account of having delivered a son. Her story worked out with Mark Ballas had something to do with ignoring the homeless, which isn't very sporting. Bristol again showed that learns the steps reasonably well (this was a foxtrot); she just can't seem to do them quickly enough to make it look like dancing, and the judges all noted that she can't express emotion. Her 19 left her one behind Florence Henderson, who has little problem with looking expressive. She and Corky Ballas appeared convincingly in love during their waltz to "Edelweiss," from The Sound of Music (which Florence had starred in on stage). But it was slow and elementary, with Len Goodman stating "the technique in your feet is nonexistent."
It might not be possible to do a coherent foxtrot to "Boom Boom Pow," and even if it is, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino won't be the one to pull it off. But to his credit, the goofball does seem to care about doing well, and the judges cut him a break with their score of 20 (grumpy Len hated it and doled out a 6). Karina Smirnoff worked out a theme having something to do with a time machine, and for a change The Situation wasn't the only one confused. He sometimes bops around like he's barefoot and there's glass everywhere in the studio, and the foxtrot content here was minimal; but of all the also-rans in the field he's easily the most energetic, and the judges appreciated that.
Kurt Warner has shown more personality on DWtS than I figured he had. The idea behind their foxtrot was that Anna Trebunskaya would play the depressed Russian, and he would cheer her up. He prepared for the delicacy of the holds by having a tea party with his young daughters, but I'm not sure that helped because Warner's inability to control his arm gestures was the one negative the judges zeroed in on. But he received a score of 23, and is moving into the upper tier. Already in that tier is fellow athlete Rick Fox, who caught a break by landing a 24 for his samba with Cheryl Burke. The routine took too long to get going, something Len usually harps on; and Rick didn't seem to do much other than throw in a little crowd-pleasing hip action. Cheryl made the apparently last-minute suggestion that he perform with an open shirt, possibly because she sensed his moving wasn't up to par. But the judges had few reservations about how good this was, and the bare chest should keep him safe for a while.
Jennifer Grey had her first little bobble with the judges. Her score of 24 was unchanged (she has yet to receive anything but three 8s from the judges), but with scores rising in Week Three, it was only good enough to put her in a tie for second. The flipside of Derek Hough's difficult choreography is the higher risk of mistakes, and their samba had a stretch where things got off course. But the rest of their "naughty teacher" storyline worked well and pleased the crowd. The judges felt compelled to note the mistakes, so even though Derek and Jennifer re-tried the middle section just to prove they could do it, they fell from the peak. Still, Jennifer won't have anything to worry about for at least a month.
It's a good thing this show can't register negative votes, because I wonder if Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer aren't bugging as many people as they are charming. Seriously, how can someone have never heard of The Eagles? I know you're young, Lacey, but no one should be that young. I thought the waltz might be a problem for Kyle given his lack of precision thus far, but he was able to tone down the goofiness long enough to look believably graceful (he was the only male to waltz this week). Len felt compelled to say that he hadn't improved his footwork, but the negativity didn't show up in the scores at all, as Kyle received a 23. Bonus points for Lacey sarcastically telling Brooke Burke she felt "atrocious" after the dance.
It's rare the a celeb responds directly to anything shown in rehearsal footage, but Brandy felt compelled to stress that she was just kidding around last week when she used rude language in front of the always retiring Maksim Chmerkovskiy. And Maks had no hard feelings, as we could see for ourselves when he slapped her on the back during this week's rehearsal. Whoa! Not sure the viewers will appreciate those Russian pedagogical techniques. So far Brandy had been the "contender" who had yet to do much contending, but this was her best effort yet, a samba with energy and flair that got the audience behind her. Their score of 24 might mean that Maks will forgo the whip and cattle prod in the rehearsal room this coming week.
The big winner this week was Audrina Patridge, who wound up on top of the voting with a 26, including the first 9s awarded this season. The judges were especially insistent this week to stress the ability to sell the dance and the story, which makes me wonder why Audrina was scored so highly. Emoting is not her strong suit, to put it mildly. But she and Tony Dovolani came up with a soldier boy storyline that was effective, and one has to admit that she's picking up these dances (the waltz this time) with little trouble. I suspect her lack of personality will come back to bite her in the end, but perhaps Tony can make up for that. The man got his legs waxed for her! Now that's dedication.
I can't sign off without mentioning a classic Brooke Burke gaffe: telling viewers that Kurt's 23 was the highest score so far on the night, even though he was only the third dancer and Jennifer Grey had gotten a 24 less than a half hour before. As the saying goes, math is hard.