PureDWTS Season 29, Week 7 – Power Rankings

Well, I guess I’m glad they at least mixed things up a bit for Halloween this year – rather than the standard fare of vampires, monsters, ghosts, etc. and horrifically overused songs like the themes from Ghostbusters and The Addams Family, we at least got some new material to work with; the downside of it appeared to be taking some creative license and shoehorning some songs/styles to fit themes. Seems like they had a handful of random songs that they somehow paired (with mixed results) to a list of villains they had cleared, and then picked a dance style that the couple hadn’t done that (sort of) fit the song. I found it somewhat interesting that all but two couples ended up with tango or paso doble as their style; the two who didn’t happened to be the only two couples who had ever been in the bottom two. Not sure if they were banking on those two being in the bottom two again or what, but it was just a bit of a strange coincidence to me.

As of last week, I was unsure as to what to expect as we edged closer to the finale; this week, I’m still not 100% sure, but at the very least the judges weren’t afraid to drop the hammer on some of those who weren’t up-to-snuff. I’m still wondering if we end up with a six-couple finale or an 11-week season – we still have (9) couples left now, with an impending double-elim this coming week; there’s been no mention of an additional double elimination in week 9, so I tend to think that will just be a single. That would leave us with a six-couple finale; however, given the current fluid state of affairs in pandemic tv scheduling, I think it’s possible the network might give us an extra week (since the show would still wrap before Thanksgiving), in which case another elimination (or a double) in week 10 could leave us with a five or four-couple finale, which seems a bit more manageable. Who should be in the finale? In terms of consistency, I think Kaitlyn, Nev, Johnny, & Justine deserve to be there; however, I think Nelly, Skai, and/or AJ could all potentially play spoiler to one of the four I mentioned making the finale. If the judges are still on their bullish*t, Chrishell could probably be in the mix as well…god, I hope she isn’t, but the bar is on the floor in terms of anything in 2020 turning out like it should.

So after what felt like an eternity of the judges gushing disingenuously over just-ok performances, they did a complete 180 and decided to go all in critiquing Monica’s dance this week – and honestly, I don’t think it was undeserved. As I’ve repeated ad infinitum since probably week 2 (and as some uppity Monica fans seem to forget when they accuse me of “hating” on Monica), Monica’s problem has never been her dancing; it’s in her performance-quality, or lack thereof. She can technically nail the steps, but completely fail on selling it to the point where I just tune out because it’s so dreadfully boring. I also felt like the tone of her performance this week was just totally wrong (although I tend to blame Val/TPTB for that): Nurse Ratched is a cold authoritarian, not a seductress. For someone that had no prior knowledge of source material, one might assume from Monica’s performance that the character is a femme fatale of sorts; but sex appeal is not part of Nurse Ratched’s arsenal – psychological manipulation and general bullying are more her forte. Then there was the matter of her costume giving me more Britney Spears’ naughty flight attendant in the “Toxic” video vibes than nurse vibes, and we’ve got a performance that just kinda fizzled, unfortunately. I guess the judges finally decided this week that they couldn’t protect Monica forever, and needed to focus on saving the really strong dancers (like Johnny, who fell into the bottom 2 last week) for the finale – so Monica got the chop. And I think Monica was cool with it – her comfort zone is behind the mat, directing her squad on their performance; I don’t think she ever quite got used to being the one actually performing.

 

1.) Nev & Jenna – So Nev got the first perfect score of the season, and the judges were about subtle as a sledgehammer during their critiques in implying that a perfect score was coming – so that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.  And while I do think Nev danced what he was given perfectly, I don’t think the song was ideal for a paso doble – owing to the flow-ier quality of the music (and the fact that they were trying to emulate ballet), this felt too soft to be a real paso. Nev did shape well through his torso, though, which is something that most of the other pasos we saw this week seemed to lack.  But here’s the issue I have with Nev now: his dances feel somewhat hollow to me. He’s doing them, and doing them well, but something about them just seems absent. The only other time I can recall feeling that way about a contestant on DWTS was watching Kenzie Ziegler on Juniors – the best way I can describe it is that it felt like she was treating each dance like a job, rather than something she was actively enjoying and learning from. I think it’s something that contestants with previous experience are more prone to, though it doesn’t feel universally true for all of them.  There’s a funny coincidence about Swan Lake as it relates to DWTS, though: the only other times it has been used have been on contestants that had previous dance experience but either denied it or tried to downplay it – Rumer and Alexis. Sense a pattern? 😉 Anywho, from what I hear, the most casual fans of the show are just eating him up, so he’ll likely be safe for awhile.

2.) Kaitlyn & Artem – I think Kaitlyn was also on the “hollow” train this week – something about her paso just seemed empty to me. I don’t think Cruella De Ville’s style vibes well with paso doble; her brand of evil is slinky, sneaky, and prowling, and more at home in a foxtrot (like NeNe & Tony’s) or jazz than a paso doble. So right off the bat – potential mismatch in character and dance style. And “Disturbia” just seemed like a random song they had cleared and stuck Kaitlyn & Artem with it. Hasn’t it almost always been used as a tango in the past on the show? Something about the music may have contributed to the sense of being off-time that Bruno mentioned – the dance seemed to skim over top of the rhythm than really land directly on it to me. And did anyone else think Kaitlyn looked a bit too forward-weighted or hunched over at times? Quite possibly the most distracting thing for me was the fact that Kaitlyn’s costume didn’t so much give me Cruella vibes as it did Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! vibes 😛 Although I love Carol Channing, so maybe that’s a positive instead of a negative. Not her best dance, though she’s still “reliable” as Derek put it; doubt she’s in danger of leaving anytime soon, though.

3.) Nelly & Daniella – Before I get into their performance this week, anyone think they missed an opportunity when they gave Nelly Nightmare on Elm Street instead of Candyman? With the Jordan Peele reboot coming next year and the trailer for it using a creepy version of “Say My Name”, I think Nelly could have really delivered as the titular character with the hook for a right hand and a ribcage made of bees. But I digress, and I thought Nelly made a great Freddy Krueger. Another dance added to Nelly’s upward trajectory on the show – he is still improving, little by little, and he’s still got some progress to make with his frame to illustrate his growth; I did actually think his footwork improved somewhat this week, as he seems to be doing less stomping and more flowing through the movement of his feet. I also commend Daniella on some more clever choreo, which was still very in keeping with Argentine tango character while also playing on the Nightmare on Elm Street theme. I’ve sometimes wondered if Daniella just being a phenomenal dancer has distracted me a bit from some of Nelly’s shortcomings; to a degree, it might, but I think at this point they’re just vibing so well that I don’t even care.  He’s improving, they’re both having fun, and I like watching their journey.  Sue me 😉

4.) Skai & Alan – Going into this week’s show, I thought Skai was the most screwed when it came to theme – Bride of Chucky seems like something most people have heard of, but likely aren’t familiar enough with to catch certain references that might get made in a dance.  Luckily, it didn’t matter for Skai & Alan – this ended up being my favorite dance of the night. Maybe it was the fact that the Tiffany and Chucky being in love fit nicely with Skai’s tendency to maintain eye contact (often awkwardly so) with Alan during their dances, maybe it was the crazy contact lenses working well to conceal Skai’s tendency to get a “deer in the headlights” look, maybe it was the fact that it was a variant of tango that allowed Skai to relive her week 1 success while also using her diminutive size to rock the lifts – who knows. But something here just really WORKED for me – plenty of Argentine tango content, without any glaring mistakes from Skai. And they gave us two black diamond-level lifts: the famous death drop Ryan & Ellenore attempted like ten years ago on SYTYCD (as I recall, they had to modify it from over-the-head to hip level, because it was so difficult) and Lindsay’s legendary star-spinning lift from Calvin’s “Hotel California” Argentine tango in season 23. Sure, Skai was a little wobbly coming out of the second lift, but beyond that, I was impressed. The eerie, understated Billie Eilish song and the psychotic glances these two gave each other at the beginning just gave me goosebumps.  Anyone else think Alan looked like a completely different person clean-shaved with the red wig and blue contacts? 😛 She may have been in the danger zone last week, but as long as she can keep churning out performances like this one, I think she’ll be okay for the time being.

5.) Justina & Sasha – Ok, first things first: Carrie is not the villain of Carrie; the true villain of Carrie is religious zealotry, and the rest of the characters are simply human in their flaws.  This is a hill I will die on, and I strongly suggest you read this well-written piece about how the “bad guy” in Carrie is much more nuanced than that. But I digress. Another solid routine from Justina, and I think they had an obstacle to overcome that most other routines this week didn’t: their music had some pretty significant tempo changes, which necessitated those pauses which Justina cleverly filled with Carrie-inspired screams. I also loved that Sasha made use of his gymnastic background to evoke the impression that he was being thrown around via Carrie/Justina’s telekinesis.  Overall, I found the whole thing fun to watch, and I thought they got around the odd timing of the song well while still paying tribute to the theme. I did agree with Derek that Justina’s chaines turns at the end were a bit sloppy, but I also thought that was maybe a deliberate choice on her part to illustrate Carrie being delirious from using her powers. Either way – a good routine, and another strong argument for why Justina deserves to be in the finale.

6.) AJ & Cheryl – So for those that were so eager to shade Nev & Jenna for “ripping off” Frankie & Witney’s Argentine tango during Disney week…y’all were bitching about AJ & Cheryl doing the same with Ricki & Derek’s Psycho tango back in season 13, right? Because I definitely saw some “copied” choreo here, and some of it was even at the exact same point in the music that Ricki & Derek did it.  But I honestly don’t begrudge them for the copying (as I didn’t begrudge Nev & Jenna), as that is the environment that TPTB have created when they dictate songs/styles/themes/sets/etc., and just tell the pros “choreograph it”. I remember Heidi & I mentioned back in season 13 that the Psycho theme was a tough song to get, as it had so many weird tempo changes and not a very tango-y feel – Derek was just talented enough to pull it off, which I think gave TPTB the impression that any pro could do it. So if Cheryl (or whoever is ghosting for her these days) looked to Ricki & Derek’s version for inspiration – more power to her. At the very least, the aesthetic was different – I would say Ricki & Derek went for more of a sophisticated, red-and-black look that just hinted at the the Psycho inspiration, whereas AJ & Cheryl leaned fully into the Psycho theme (complete with Norman Bates in his sweater, and dressed up as his mother at the beginning) and seemed to use more of an orange-toned palette. If Ricki & Derek’s dance was like wearing a tasteful red dress to Christmas party, then AJ & Cheryl’s was like wearing an ugly Christmas sweater 😉 And in both instances, it worked for the couples. As for the technique itself – I feel like they weren’t quite as in-the-pocket of the music as Ricki and Derek were – R&D were really emphasizing the more staccato parts of the song, and still giving tango character in the flower portions; AJ & Cheryl were a bit more…muddled, and seemed to be skimming along with the tempo rather than landing on it (much like Kaitlyn & Artem). This goes to show why shoehorning styles and songs doesn’t always work – some pros can do it, others can’t.

7.) Johnny & Britt – Thank GAWD Johnny had a better dance than last week and the judges learned their lesson, because there was going to be hell to pay if Johnny got sent packing this week. This man should be one of the last ones standing at the end of the season; not someone taken out by the mediocre likes of Monica and/or Chrishell. Loved this Viennese waltz and thought it was right in Johnny’s wheelhouse – he was able to glide across the floor and give us those lovely extended arms and upright carriage. He also seems to be planting his feet more, after getting a little loosey-goosey last week. The costume was gorgeous and quintessentially Johnny; I did think the smoke monster got a bit out-of-control, to no fault of Johnny & Britt, and there were moments that I actually had to squint to see them. So I guess I’m hoping that Johnny tumbling into the bottom 2 last week was a fluke, and he should be okay from here on out; after all, Kel fell into the bottom 2 early on in his season, and ended up in second place when all was said and done. But I’m still a bit spooked, especially with Chrishell still around and yet to make an appearance in the bottom two…

8.) Chrishell & Gleb – To quote the Phil Collins song to which they danced, the judges gushing over Chrishell has ALL been a pack of lies. Honestly, if I were any of the three judges, I’d be embarrassed about how much I gushed over this turd of a paso doble – and Derek, we all know you know better, so what’s really going on here??? Just as I still have no clue why it seemed like the judges were sheltering Monica from elimination, I have no clue why the judges wanna keep these two around – Gleb does most of the dancing while Chrishell stands still, and when she moves, it’s terribly awkward. This wasn’t really a difficult dance for Chrishell to do, and yet she still managed to somehow look painfully off-balance while simply walking backward. As for any paso content, I think I saw a few awkward arm flails and maybe a few walks in-hold, but it was mainly just Gleb paso doble-ing around the floor like a low-rent Jon Snow while Chrishell stood in place and made some feeble attempts at looking menacing. The fact that it somehow scored the same as AJ’s tango (which had four times the amount of content) and only got one point less than Johnny’s Viennese waltz tour de force is asinine. If the judges are smart, they’re gonna drop the hammer next week, because I don’t know how you justify keeping Chrishell over any of the other dancers left – Jeannie, okay; Nelly, maybe; but any of the others? They’re miles ahead of Chrishell in technique and showmanship. I guess I’m going to hope that Chrishell gets taken out by the double elim, because this is becoming harder and harder to watch.

9.) Jeannie & Brandon – If Skai was the most screwed with her villain assignment, I think Jeannie was the second-most screwed – not only did she have to portray a villain of the opposite gender, but she also got a villain that isn’t necessarily outwardly menacing: the thing that set Hannibal Lechter apart from other villains is that he’s cool, sophisticated, composed, and has a code.  Hannibal was really the precursor to Dexter Morgan: a killer with a moral compass, who only goes after those who are evil themselves (side note – what does anyone think about the Dexter sequel that just got announced?) So in terms of being able to physically emulate Hannibal – Jeannie was a tad screwed, and given Hannibal’s lack of outwardly aggressive behavior, I thought paso doble was a poor choice, and like Cruella, the character would have been better served with a foxtrot or an Argentine tango.  But anywho – Jeannie did alright, but she still seems to be throwing away her arms and having some balance issues. And then there’s the fact that paso doble is a dance that can easily get a bit boring to watch if you don’t get any torso shaping, and Jeannie didn’t have much of it.  She tried, but it was a bit of a non-event for me; loved the dress, though – reminds me of late 90s Versace, when he was in a love affair with belts.  At this point, I think Jeannie has either plateaued or just isn’t improving fast enough to justify keeping her – I think she’ll probably be toast next week, but I’ll be damned if she hasn’t been really fun to watch!

Thoughts on villains week – was it a win or a loss? Who’s gonna fall victim to the dreaded double elimination? And now that Monica’s gone…will Chrishell follow?