DWTS 15: Why I Hated the All-Star Season

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated…much to the chagrin of my detractors ;-)

Yes, I am back, after a rather prolonged post-season 15 hiatus. Part of it was due to a hectic year-end at work, part of it was due to other stuff, and part of it had to do with what I’m about to elaborate on in this post. Thanks to everyone who checked in on me on Twitter, and I can assure you I’m back full-time now :-)

Many of you have noticed that I tend to take a bit of a break from Pure after the end of each season – mainly due to the level of burnout we all seem to reach after being in full-on DWTS mode for 3 months straight while we’re covering each season. Generally, I just need a break – some time to appreciate other things in my life besides DWTS – and I’m back after a week or two. This time, though, I had a harder time getting back into the swing of being excited and inspired to write about DWTS – and for awhile, I couldn’t figure out why. Then I had a revelation…

…I HATED THE ALL-STAR SEASON.

There, I said it. I hated the all-star season, and I think it has now surpassed season 9 as my least favorite season of DWTS EVER. Reflecting on this past season, aside from a few standout performances (and all the great interactions I had with Pure readers :-)), I was hard-pressed to really feel nostalgic and pleased about it. In fact, what I tended to remember the most was all the frustration, chaos, and general feelings of “WTF is going on???” that I had while watching and blogging from week to week – and when I really got to thinking about it, I found that there were 5 key problems that left me feeling totally turned-off the all-star season. Without further ado, I give you those reasons…

1.) They tried to make lightening strike twice.

The premise of this season was flawed from the get-go: take a bunch of memorable celebs from past seasons and recreate the magic of all of their respective seasons, to create one really great new season. Good idea on paper, I guess – but once you realize that not every single celeb is going to be able to have their original partner, and that the level of competition has improved drastically over the years, and that life has gone on since their original seasons…the cracks in the foundation start to show. Of the intact original partnerships, I don’t think any of them managed to come across as “magical” this season as they did the first time around; of the newly-created partnerships, the only ones that seemed to spark more magic than their original seasons for me were Shawn & Derek and Kelly & Val. Some rose to the challenge of a higher level of competition this time around (namely Kelly, Shawn, & Apolo), but most seemed to either somewhat get by (Sabrina, Melissa, Emmitt, Gilles) or come to the painful realization that the skills that served them so well the first time around were now outdated (think Drew, Pam, Helio, Kirstie, & Joey). This season also seemed to replace the “I’m doing this for fun!” attitudes of some of the celebs’ first seasons with an off-putting sense of desperation – once-charming Gilles turned into an egomaniac, fun-loving sexpot Pam became emotional hot mess Pam, and laid-back cool guy Drew became anxious, discouraged Drew. I think the painful reality of this show (which TPTB either didn’t realize or chose not to consider) is that each individual season is a closed universe, with a specific set of variables (celebs, pros, level of competition, show climate, etc.) that can’t ever be replicated again – and consequently, results that won’t ever be replicated again. To paraphrase an old quote I’m fond of, I’d rather remember a broken vase as it was in its heyday, when it was whole & perfect, than try to glue the pieces back together again and pretend that the result is as good as the original. Leave us with the memories we have of the original seasons – don’t try to make us form new ones that aren’t as good as the old ones.

2.) They reverted back to the “more is more” mentality.

I have always called season 9 the “kitchen sink” season for a reason – it was the season that they decided they needed more of everything in order to make the show better: more pros, more celebs, more dances, more eliminations, more gimmicks, etc. The end result was a season that had wayyyy too much going on, and got unecessarily complex & hard to follow. Well I guess from now on, I’ll refer to the all-star season as “kitchen sink, redux”, because they seemed to regress 3 years when they cooked up the plans (or lack thereof – see below) for it. First of all, 13 couples? That’s (at least) one couple too many, and forces us into double elimination territory…and as I’ve seen firsthand from fans here at Pure, double eliminations make fans really, really cranky. It also creates the need for shortened dances, critiques, and rehearsal packages, and a general rushed, frantic feeling to the live shows…which also makes fans really, really cranky. Then there’s all the new (and ridiculously gimmicky) dances they threw at us – when did the standard 10 ballroom & Latin dances plus the Argentine tango (and the occasional salsa or mambo) become not enough??? Some of the new dances were redundant – why add Lindy Hop, jitterbug, rock ‘n’ roll, and Charleston into the mix, when most of them end up looking like just slightly more wacky jives? Why do you need both salsa & mambo, when most viewers can’t tell a difference between the two? Ditto for bolero – to the untrained eye (watching an equally untrained pro), it’s nary indistinguishable from rumba. And why would you add flamenco, when it’s already incorporated rather heavily into the paso dobles we see? Some of the new dances just had no place on DWTS – if I wanted to watch Bollywood, contemporary, hip-hop, or jazz routines, I could (and do) tune in to SYTYCD. And who the hell knows (or really cares) what a bhangra is, within the context of DWTS???! And to add insult to injury – many of the core ballroom & Latin dances were omitted to make room for these extraneous and pointless dances.

3.) They flew by the seat of their pants.

Show of hands: who, besides me, got the impression from watching week-to-week this past season, that TPTB were just kind of making things up as they went along? I’m willing to bet many of you got whiplash like I did, just trying to keep up with all the changes in schedules, voting, and general format – and for me, there was the added confusion of having a insider who was kind enough to share the schedule for the season with me before it began…and then watching as that schedule basically got ripped up and thrown away as the season wore on. The show already had one major obstacle to overcome before it even began: the election. You’d think they would have worked out all of the details of planning around the election festivities long before the season started, since they had plenty of advanced notice – but working around the debates and election night itself still seemed to trip them up, as we dealt with split performance shows, no eliminations, double eliminations, & funky voting. And then Mother Nature threw in the added complication of Hurricane Sandy – and that’s when things seemed to REALLY get shot to hell. At the very least, it made them realize that the “live elimination” that was supposed to occur at the end of the week 7 performance show was just a bad idea to begin with – and would be a horrible idea if the bulk of the east coast viewers, who would likely be determining who was eliminated, couldn’t watch (let alone vote). So they seemed to scramble for a solution – nix the elim in week 7, throw in an ill-conceived swing marathon dance, and then eliminate two couples in weeks 8 & 9. This is what happens when you take an already funky schedule, make it unnecessarily complicated, throw in a bunch of pointless dances, and then get hit with an unexpected complication – you get an aimless, chaotic season.

4.) They relied too heavily on gimmicks.

It kind of ties in with my gripe about the “more is more” mentality, but really – why the hell did we need all these strange little “twists” TPTB threw at us? Would the season really have suffered without all the new dance styles, the couples picking dances for one another, the team freestyles, the fusion dances, an extra judge, rehashing old routines, etc.? Obviously the show had been ok up until season 15, without these strange little nuances – why mess with a good thing that obviously works? You’d think they would have learned from season 9 – the season that will probably always be remembered for all of its hard-to-follow (and often pointless) novelty dances, and was the first significant dip in ratings since the show premiered. The all-star season was like season 9 on crack – with the added fun of an election & a natural disaster.

5.) The “man behind the curtain” seemed a little too involved.

As the season progressed, there seemed to be a few too many “convenient” (or just strange and out-of-character) things happening for me to believe there wasn’t some manipulation going on behind the scenes. There was the usual favoritism by the judges – it seemed like Gilles was the “chosen one” right out of the gate, and seemed to maintain the lead (no matter how great or how bad he danced, mind you) until about week 6, when the judges suddenly became enamored of Melissa, whom they really hadn’t paid much attention to for the first half of the season. Shawn & Apolo, arguably the two best technical dancers in season 15, seemed to get raked across the coals more often than not, regardless of how well they performed.  My guess is that they were trying to level the playing field, but I don’t think they necessarily got the results they were hoping for…especially as far as Gilles & Apolo were concerned.  Then there was the commentary and the emphasis placed on salacious, attention-grabbing gossip: the constant “are they or aren’t they a couple???” about Kelly & Val, the delicious reiteration of the “most shocking elimination ever!!!” where Sabrina was concerned, and the playing up of injuries galore.  All of the constant attention placed on side-items like these really seemed to shift audience focus, and it wasn’t for the better.  Then there were just a multitude of small but peculiar items that bugged – the mini MBT “falling apart” when Melissa was chosing her instant dance for the finale, the shady “real bottom two/not necessarily the bottom 2″ toss-up on results nights, the strange dances picked as “redemption” dances in the finale, etc.  I can’t be bothered to rewatch the entire season and make up a laundry list of all the weird quirks I noticed from week to week (since I hated the season as a whole), but there were definitely things that made me go “Hmmm…that doesn’t seem like the most logical outcome!” and wonder just who was pulling the strings behind the scenes.

So there it is – why I hated the all-star season and hope they never do it again, and why I’m praying that season 16 is season 10, redux: a return to basics and just good, honest dancing.  I’m skeptical, though, and I will say this: since about season 11, I’ve noticed that it has progressively gotten harder for me to return to blogging after the season ends, and it gets harder and harder after each season for me to feel optimistic & excited about the next season.  And that’s the show’s fault – all this tinkering and manipulation and the constant need to make each season “bigger, better, and more exciting!” than the previous one is starting to seriously turn me off to the show.