RECAP: Dancing With The Stars: Fights On Broadway

Perhaps tired of people like me hammering them for their “everyone gets a prize” scoring these last few weeks, the three Dancing With the Stars judges were suitably tough on Monday night, devoted to music from Broadway musicals. Acknowledged co-leaders J. R. Martinez and Ricki Lake had scores befitting that status, and the surprisingly decent Nancy Grace was given numbers that reflected her improvement.

But the other four dancers all had lower scores this week than they had last week, which is not the direction you want to be going in this late in the season. The dreaded 6 paddle appeared a couple of times, as the trio of judges insisted that the time for kid gloves was over. All of this proved to be too much for Maksim Chmerkovskiy, not the most cheerful of fellows even in the best of times, and someone who has made it clear in the past that he believes he and his partner have unfairly lost out to dancers with “better stories.” He was so irritated a year ago when he and Brandy were eliminated before Bristol Palin that there was speculation he might not come back to DWTS, and expect those rumblings to rumble yet again, especially now that brother Val is carrying on the family tradition.

Maks’s mood was lousy even during rehearsals for this week. It can be demoralizing for the pros when they are given a celebrity partner who initially seems as if they should be a contender, only to realize in time that they don’t have a chance. Maks campaigned to have Hope Solo as a partner, presumably believing she could become the latest DWTS sports success story (the closest he ever came to winning was his partnership with boxer Laila Ali). But it’s become clear that hope, and Hope, can carry him only so far, and that he’s playing for third place at best.

Hope got some rehearsals assistance on this week’s rumba from the ladies of the Troupe, and they seemed to be beneficial (I’m still not going to remember any of their names, though). But afterwards, Maks gave his version of a pep talk, telling her that she looked like a scarecrow, suggesting the consensus is that “she might actually not be a good dancer, even potentially,” and insisting he’s the only person left on the show who still has faith in her ability, and even that was wavering. What makes him think this sort of “motivation” will work? Hope is arguably the best in the world at her day job, something Maks certainly can’t say. She no doubt feels bad enough struggling on a public stage; being beaten up about it can’t help.

Their dance was pretty mediocre, to be honest. Hope was styled as one of the waifs from Rent, and was way too mechanical and non-sensual for a rumba. Carrie Ann Inaba, as usual, was as encouraging as she could be, but Len Goodman flatly told Hope that it had been her worst dance of the whole season, which can’t possibly be true. Maks encouraged the crowd as it booed Len’s comments, and responded to the judge defending his long tenure in the business by saying, “Maybe it’s time to get out.”

When their score of 20 came in, Maks implied, without naming names, that he thought it was unfair that Hope scored only point higher than Chaz Bono. “With all due respect,” he said disrespectfully, “this is my show, you know? I helped make it what it is. I love every aspect of it … having said that, I’m a little tired that we’re being judged, some on effort, and some being picked on our heel leads.” Ouch. It’s hard to see any of this (especially “this is my show”) benefiting Hope, who just barely finished out of last place in the scoring, and doesn’t have the sort of cuddly personality that would cause folks to rally to her. Maks may have already forgotten that he was on the other side of the Chaz equation just one season ago, when he got all the way to the finals with fan favorite Kirstie Alley even though she fell down on two separate occasions.

Outside of these fireworks, six other dancers performed, and an unjudged group number filled out the night (a maneuver that allowed the show to not only kill ten minutes near the end, but enabled DWTS to bring back Carson Kressley for the purposes of keeping everyone loose. Going from the top:

Ricki Lake had the quickstep this week (music from Guys and Dolls), and I don’t think it’s a coincidence she and J.R. had the same dance, one where an ability to be precise really counts. They are each other’s only real competition, and so the quality of the routine was all-important. If Ricki ends up winning, Derek Hough’s choreography is going to be the main element that pulls her through, because he always knows how to make her look good. Len was the only thing separating Ricki from the first 30 of the season, and it’s hard to know what he’s waiting for.

A question going forward with J.R. is whether Karina Smirnoff has what it takes to choreograph for a DWTS champion. But this couple managed to combine the technique of the quickstep with a sense of fun, and as usual, it didn’t take J.R. long to make us forget that he had a few issues in rehearsal, and never did anything like this before. I think people appreciate that J.R., for obvious reasons, isn’t going to complain about a little thing like a televised dance competition. And Karina looks revitalized and thrilled to be with a contender.

Did Nancy Grace really deserve her score of 24 (which included a 9 from Carrie Ann), putting her in third place for the night? 9 is a bit much, but it was a solid foxtrot. She actually asked Tristan MacManus to give her some more difficult choreography, before complaining that it was too tough and she’d look bad. Tristan was not amused. Despite Nancy doing at least one thing in rehearsal every week that reminds me why I wasn’t looking forward to her on this show, the couple managed to channel the goofiness of Spamalot better than I figured she could.

David Arquette took a narrow lead in his battle with Rob Kardashian, if only because he doesn’t have his mom around to make him look like an idiot. Of course, David manages to do a lot of that himself. Seriously, the boy is strange, what with his obsession with doing jazz hands. But he and Kym Johnson usually manage to pull it together for the performance; and even though their quickstep routine to music from Grease could have been cliché, it showed off his slow improvement. Coco will continue to be allowed to go to bed late on Monday nights.

At some point, isn’t Rob going to resent DWTS presenting him as just an appendage of the women in his family? Never mind that he actually is. Mother Kris showed up at his rehearsal to praise him for turning into a man, which is exactly what most guys in the mid-20s want to hear from Mommy. And sister Khloe was her usual boorish self, screaming for 9s before the judges spoke. It seems to me that he’s hit the wall these last two weeks – his “stiff and starchy” (Len’s words) cha cha with Cheryl Burke lacked pizzazz, and it’s not a good idea to lack impact when you’re dancing first.

Lacey Schwimmer informed her partner that they were going to have to up the difficulty level to have a chance to stick around, but their Phantom of the Opera tango was more of the same – Lacey doing almost all the work while Chaz stomped around a bit behind a mask. Their score of 19 was probably still too high, but at least the judges are no longer pretending that there’s great improvement happening here.

Whether Chaz or Hope goes home Tuesday depends on what sort of rallying power Maks has at this stage. My guess is: not enough.