Tuesday, November 12, 2013

America's Next Top Model (Cycle 20) - 20x15 "Finale Part 1: The Finalists Shoot Their Guess Campaign"

So what initially appears to be a final-three runway turns out to be another one of Tyra's cruel hoaxes (the biggest one of course being the promise of a lucrative modeling career to the winner), where one more elimination is to take place just before the final runway. And that's where the last episode ends, which is as good a time to address something critical that I've ignored too long in this space: Tyra's mom hair.

She may or may not be sleepwalking through an otherwise invigorated cycle, but the show (ostensibly) remains concerned with fashion, so you'd think she rock something a little less dowdy. But there you have it.

Anyway, to handicap the probable final two, I doubt Cory will make it, even if he's been one of my favorites for the majority of the cycle. Although he's been featured in (nearly) every episode, he's been used exclusively as a talking head, an observer pithily commenting on the other contestants and the various goings on. He has only started talking in earnest about himself and his own chances of winning the competition as of this episode, and the show didn't even start positioning him as the androgynous alternative between Marvin and Jourdan (both of whom have been allowed to talk themselves up) in an overt way until episode 14 -- yes, it's always been a subtext with him, but a reality program lives almost solely on the surface of events.

A real contender then has to present him or herself as a contender (or by proxy, through other contestants remarking on how s/he is a threat to win), which was underscored for me when Jourdan said that she wants to show that she's more than just a pretty face during the Guess shoot. ANTM supposedly being a modeling competition, a pretty face is fairly crucial to the being a model (notwithstanding the show's increasingly tenuous hold with the industry), but the "more than a pretty face" line goes along with the reality tv narrative impetus to (shallowly) psychologize its protagonists. This psychology then gives the contestants a sense of depth that goes beyond the simple parameters that the show is supposedly measuring. That is, it's not enough that a contestant is technically good at the program's challenges; the exigencies of the reality genre require that they also elicit sympathy from viewers to become someone for whom we can root. This requirement explains why we've been barraged all season by Jourdan talking about her abusive marriage and Marvin being a janitor's son, both reminders of which have only intensified as the competition has narrowed down on the two of them. (You see this tension between the demands of the genre and the demands of the industry/medium most clearly on vote-in shows such as SYTYCD, but it's showed up on ANTM as well, and long before Tyra incorporated the social media element to her show.)

In contrast, Cory mentions his difficulties growing up as a biracial kid in the first episode, and subsequently... a lot of pithiness about Marnee and stuff, which deflects attention away from him (well, it may call attention to him, but as a wit, less so as a model). And it's not as if he lacks a storyline -- the producers could've fashioned a classic plot for him where he struggles against and eventually overcomes Rob's obvious homophobia distaste for him. No, the editing of the cycle telegraphs the improbability of his becoming America's Next Top Model, while keeping him around as America's Next Top Sassy Gay Sidekick.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

America's Next Top Model (Cycle 20) - 20x12 "The Guy Who Has a Panic Attack"

True heart, no hurdle, set out by man or nature, will keep me from seeking out thy lovely smizes or the newfangled "booch," not that I swing like that, but hey, it's a novel thing and I'll try anything you suggest once.

In the early parts of the season, I marveled at how much the new format seemed to revitalize the franchise, and the guys have continued to carry the cycle to the overseas portion of the show. Not to say that the girls haven't been pulling their weight -- Nina has finally become the social media beast I expected all along (although I thought she'd be hoovering up all the votes from the start, considering her resemblance to Allison), Jourdan, as boring a reality tv personality as she is, is unparalleled in photos, and Renee has been at the forefront of both the modeling competition and the reality drama (make of that what you will) -- but the guys have provided an unremitting stream of fascinating behavior.

Phil, whose ADHD antics are cast in a negative light on the main show (but which take on a freewheeling and goofy aspect in the recap episode, a portrayal that would complicate the master narrative but which is one of those gems unveiled in recaps), may be old news now, but Cory remains utterly delightful while the lingering figures of Marvin and Chris still captivate because of how they express their masculinities. With the exception of Jeremy, none of the remaining guys are laconic ciphers, and all are in fact so openly expressive that they ably fulfill ANTM's quota of crying. Similarly, Marvin's avowal of camaraderie from a few episodes prior, where he tells his closest friends in the competition in plain (and teary!) terms how he'd be unable to bear any of them going home. Perhaps because of the conventions of the genre as a whole -- not just ANTM, but including series like The Jersey Shore, as well as the wider bro-phenomenon throughout pop culture -- naked expressions of fraternal affection no longer threaten masculinity in a way that used to be automatically coded as gay. What's more, almost none of the guys are too cool for school and are often willing to engage with the show's dumber aspects (at this late stage in the game, I think they're going to miss out on the joys of Tyra's butt-padded tooching teaches, but otherwise, they've played Tyra's games with enthusiasm).

(Meanwhile, over on Project Runway, we've seen the unhinged and violence-threatening male archetype, though of course with a gay spin, with Sandro and Ken. As a further aside, both of them have rather clear rage issues, and I don't mean to make light of them other than to note that traditional modes of maleness are becoming complicated.)

And I'm tickled pink (as it were) that Cory is firmly established as the cycle's den mother, trying to stamp out the pointless blowups that invariably feature on ANTM (my advice to him: Don't! You do realize that's why we I watch this show, yes?). It's preternatural how mature and even-headed he's been in terms of interpersonal dynamics, which would serve him well in his inevitable (I hope!) casting on RuPaul's Drag Race, which would free him from the obvious contempt that Rob Evans has for him.

And finally...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Monday, September 09, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x17 "Top Four Perform"

My gut reaction for this week was surprise that we'd finally gotten a performance finale that lived up to the idea that these four are the best (favorite, if you prefer) dancers of the season. In most seasons, by this time the remaining dancers have been so overworked and fatigue-bedraggled that the last week of performances rarely yields much worth remembering. (Off the top of my head, I can only think of Wade's fox piece for Lacey and Sabra, which might be my favorite Wade duet, in terms of choreography and execution.) But the evening in question starts off so forcefully that the entire night has been propped up in my imagination by two great numbers, with some mediocre routines that still manage to offer some pleasing luster, and then the chaff that gets consigned into oblivion.

Aaron and Amy - Jazz (chor. Ray Leeper)
Ray Leeper likes to for sassy/sultry/slutty (choose one) (or more, if you're the polysemous type), which is not a mood that Amy is able to project. That said, the beginning sets a high athletic bar for her, and she's one of the most physically gifted women this season.

Fik-Shun and Jasmine - Contemporary (chor. Travis Wall)
I'm not entirely sure if the improvement in Fik-Shun's technique meets the judges' praise -- the handful of parts where he has an opportunity, yes, he does point his feet, but he doesn't quite manage full extension with his legs, and his shoulders wander upwards at least once (however, the first two are matters of flexibility and to expect rapid improvement over 10 weeks is a fanciful thought) -- but this is still a beautiful piece, with the choreography living up to Travis' hype this time (and not holding back or being cute with his music geek bonafides and going full in with Arvo Pärt's Post-Minimalist realness), and Jasmine and Fik-Shun both executing it so gracefully, and where the grace stumbles, the performance never falters.

Mary tells Fik-Shun, "When I heard that the two of you were paired together, I honestly thought this would just not work out. Boy was I wrong." I'm tempted to ask when she's ever right about these things.

Aaron and Melinda - Tap (chor. Anthony Morigerato)
I dare say that this is the anti-Curtis routine, all soulful and deeply felt. I still wouldn't say that I get tap -- the complex rhythms continue to elude me in a way that's not the case with clogging, for instance, and Aaron's later solo still doesn't resonate for me -- but the performance of it carries me away. I don't get it at all, but I feel it.

Jasmine and All-Star Comfort - Hip Hop (chor. NappyTabs)
And Jasmine proves me wrong about her problems projecting and serves nearly everything. She's doesn't quite match Comfort, but Comfort's just the best female hip-hop dancer this show has had and will ever have, so Jazz Harp is just going to have to content herself being in videos for some Ciara chick, and it's not like Ciara videos are reservoirs of great dancing or anything.

What's more, NappyTabs have been on a winning streak lately, foregoing the tepid, gooey Kenny G hip hop that nearly derailed the style for a few seasons, and offering some uncompromising teeth-baring, soul-shattering hardness that even outdoes Luther Brown's offering the same night. It all comes down to the personnel (NappyTabs did present "Lovecats" just last season, after all), and with two fierce divas, D'umos give them the chance to both sexy and strong, and not a caricature of female sexual objecthood that gets hauled out too often. (In fact, NappyTabs describe the routine during the rehearsal package as strong, hot, empowering, and feminine, which is something we hear about often but seldom see.)

Twitch gets the lion's share of adulation, and well-earned as it is -- and believe me, he has hustled hard for that love -- I'd say that Comfort has been burnishing her star since her All-Star run began.

Monday, September 02, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x16 "Top 6 Perform"

One of the concepts that I've developed and carried with me for a while is that reality programs -- especially but not limited to the competitive types -- are inherently moralistic, and that their morality is built on what viewers believe the people on the shows deserve or don't deserve. Just recently, though, two other shows (Breaking Pointe and RuPaul's Drag Race, if you're keeping track -- and for lack of time, I won't be able to delve into them deeply) have foregrounded one of the commonest and most important elements to this morality: humility. Ironically, I haven't noticed the importance of humility on SYTYCD because it's everywhere, which has the paradoxical effect of camouflaging it, at least not as such.

I tend to think that Nigel practically mandates that the dancers at least put up a humble front. First, think of the ever-present sob stories of contestants who come from humble beginnings (pun intended), and consider those rare moments when privilege gets flaunted: Nathan saying that when he gets stressed he likes to unwind by jet-skiing and consequently getting a verbal beatdown from Nigel. Of course, Nigel as executive producer had to have known that Nathan was going to mention jet-skiing -- somebody had to have the footage ready of the kid on the waves -- he may have been using Nathan to warn other dancers against flaunting privilege; conversely, if dancers come from a stable, nuclear background (which reads as privileged for the sake of this argument), they have to mention how fortunate they are to have such a loving and supportive family.

That's when they get to speak -- usually, the contestants' chances to speak are carefully managed by the show. The prompts during rehearsal packages corral the dancers so they stay on anodyne territory, and the ones who are hep to the game use the opportunity to press our moral buttons (e.g. inspirational relatives, deceased friends and family, etc.), and the rest of the rehearsal packages are edited so that the dancers only speak about the choreography (about which I'll revisit). They seldom speak during their critiques, and almost never to argue with the judges, who are almost always right, besides.

Monday, August 26, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x15 "Top Eight Perform"

Ever since their stint as VEAGS choreographers, I've been yearning for Comfort and/or Twitch to get their chance to put routines together, but not even in my wildest dreams did I expect the benefit of their choreography and seeing dance in their routines as well. This is the best idea that SYTYCD has had since the introduction of the All Stars themselves.

Not that every routine is a success; the night starts off with a Jive from Aaron and Chelsie, where the awkwardness builds and builds -- through the belabored transitions (which I'm surprised Aaron has trouble with), or the embarrassing air-guitar styling (which Chelsie should be ashamed of) -- until the routine collapses under its own weight. Mary says Chelsie throws in some West Coast Swing, but I believe that the section she's referring to -- a sugar push to a swing-out to a Texas Tommy -- is as much Lindy Hop (sez the wannabe Lindy Hopper). (And if you're curious, it doesn't look good because Aaron doesn't look like he's leading any of the moves.)

(Considering the difficulty he has in the Jive, and the fact that he's not in the opening group number, you have to wonder if Aaron isn't at full health, and if not, then why no mention of injury was made on the show.)

Where Chelsie's routine has a decent amount of Latin partnering (perhaps to its detriment), Dmitry's routine with Hayley is performed well but in my eyes mostly belongs to that amorphous style of jazz that's the default used for contestants who are dancing out of style. I counted about 6 measures' worth of rumba, near the beginning, and then some swivels later, but after the halfway point (which to me happens when her role gets relegated to the ground), she doesn't have much dancing to do, Latin or otherwise. Even when she's back on her feet, the rest of the routine asks her only to do some moody running to and away from Dmitry, which doesn't exactly give her the chance to show off any Cuban motion (which I didn't see -- but the tails of the men's shirt she's wearing could definitely have masked it). (To be fair, one of my favorite rumbas from is Janette's (with Evan) which has marginally more rumba in it.)

The night also bulges in the middle with the contemporary and jazz routines -- and I do mean routine.
Fortunately, none of these are as hobbled as the Jive or as fulsomely angsty or sentimental as my least favorite examples of contemporary and jazz. Shortney's number threatens to go in the latter direction when she says that her piece is inspired by Romeo and Juliet (I have a sneaking suspicion it's actually Romeo + Juliet that she has in mind), but thankfully, it's not weighed down by convulsive backstory (or regurgitated emotion) (or giant props) and the movement can become the focus. I particularly like the moments where she and Tucker are dancing solo but in sync, which, as I've mentioned previously, is an incredibly pretty vision. Still, a part of me wonders if having so much side-by-side synchronization is sign of choreographic unsophistication (like I haven't thought about what you should do right now, so just mirror what I'm doing = half the choreographic work). 

(But what's up with SYTYCD alums and apparently being crushed beneath the heel of Fate lately?)

Allison's number with Fik-Shun also occupies an inoffensive middle ground with Shortney's. Despite her rehearsal explanation that she would be tackling Prejudice, the ensuing result is amiably modest, and is a chance for Fik-Shun to show again that he can do gentle, lyrical vulnerability in addition to the earnestness he brings regularly. On the choreography front, Allison seems to get unmoored from the music from time to time, like during the slower passages in the song, she and Fik-Shun are still doing busy moves.

Something ancillary to the dance but which is tangentially brought up during the rehearsal and Nigel's critiques is the way the show tiptoes around examples of human ugliness (though Nigel exempts himself when the subject lies near his crotch heart). Usually it's the love that dare not speak its name (Tucker, for example, saying that his tough-guy sports-loving dad inspires him because he's fully supportive of his dancing son -- which is a roundabout way of saying his dad isn't ashamed of a gay son) (i.e. when has any contestant on the US show plainly said that he or she is gay?), but this time it sounds like Allison has been getting some paleolithic contempt for her engagement to Twitch. Another example is during the rehearsals of "Gravity," in which Kupono explains the potency of the routine on him because one of his friends battled addiction to "drugs" -- it's a context-less ambiguity that seems striking in how it tries to sanitize the ugly. I think that's what's motivating Nigel here: a paternalistic desire to shield viewers from our worst impulses, I think largely because this image sums up just who it is that he's protecting (and I don't mean Cat):

Anyway, all that brings me to my long hoped-for Twitch routine, which seems to have underwhelmed the blogosphere but which I enjoyed. I can understand the lack of enthusiasm for the skit-like nature of routine, which results in some dead-air and forces Jasmine to act and thus rely on her biggest deficiency as a performer, which is her inability to project much farther than the edge of the stage. Follow her eyes -- they usually don't seek the outer edges of the audience (certainly not in this number), and consequently I'm surprised that she's made it this deep into the competition with so little trouble. That said, Jasmine is an accomplished hip-hop dancer (NSFW lyrics), so when Twitch is challenging her with dance (he throws in some bone-breaking for her!), she excels with the kind dense, gravity-loving groove that hip hop often requires.

And to the undisputed champs of the week. I've never been much of a fan of Mark Kanemura, but the awesomeness of his jazz with Jenna is unmistakable. What really makes this number rise is that Mark drags up the routine to the gills with all the voguing in here. And Jenna is sharp and in full diva mode, and she takes turns with Mark at out-fiercing one another as the HBIC of the routine. How crazy is that?

Monday, August 19, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x14 "Top 10 Perform"

I missed a bit of SYTYCD, didn't I?

Routines of note have been fairly sparse, too, with this week only offering two performances: Comfort's virtual solo, and Travis's routine for Tucker and Robert Roldan.

First, Comfort is a starving lion eating up that routine -- her hair even looks like a mane -- and NappyTabs serve up something that well avoids their twee-romantic impulses (although they do indulge in their tendency to over-literalize parts of the lyrics) and opts to channel aggressiveness through animal pantomime. (I have no idea how Nico fares, and I'm not terribly bothered to find out.) Oh, and? "Get  Ur Freak On", which needs little explanation.

As for Tucker and Robert, their routine marks the second time he's choreographed a male duet on the show, and the second time the results have been stunning and beautiful -- all the more so because the dancers involved have resided or continue to reside beneath the shade of my disdain. However, something about seeing guys performing balletic moves in unison cuts through a lot of the problems I have with the personalities of the dancers, though I should note that Tucker and Robert fall out of sync during a couple different runs (which may have been intentional, I unno). Moreover, for once, the judges add something constructive to the routine by expanding on the fact that the routine is based in part on Travis's relationship with Danny -- for some reason, during the rehearsal package, I heard "brother" but didn't make the connection, and was more focused on Robert, whose accident was total news to me.