Sunday, August 14, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance - Top Four (8x22, 8x23)

I hate to align myself with the conspiracy theorists, serial whiners, and miscellaneous feebs, but I can't deny that the finale week is noticeably subpar, even considering the season's overall deficiencies, which are caused in large part by my preferred hobby-horse, the glut of contemporary. Reiterating an old concern I've had about the show, SYTYCD seems to have hit upon a formula that roughly sez:
female + dance = contemporary
Because now, three of the last four winners have been contemporary women and four of the past six, and in fact that demographic slice has comprised a plurality of champions starting with last season. You can cut this dynamic at least a couple of ways: if you're a female dancer, you'd better be contemporary if you want a chance to win (or just to get on the show), while conversely, if you're a guy, your best chance is hip hop (Joshua and Russell). The gendering of contemporary in fact is pretty stark when you recall that the only male contemporary dancer to win is Nick Lazzarini, and season one is its own separate animal.

As a consequence, the show seems to be investing in a new paradigm, pimping the young, cute but not-too-sexy, non-threatening girl and merely using the young, cute but not-too-sexy, non-threatening boy as embellishment. (The young girl is someone that the important but not-all-defining group of female tween voters see themselves as while at the same time being unobjectionable to the general audience, but the young boy has more limited appeal to the broad champion-defining audience. If Kent couldn't win, no COREY is going to win.) Coupled with the typically puerile subject matter (R♥MANCE!!!eleven!), YOUNG, CUTE BUT NOT-TOO-SEXY, NON-THREATENING GIRL has become the all-but-official face of the program. (I dimly recall that Sabra kind of dominated the voting past a certain stage in the competition, so maybe the female contemporary formula has its roots as far back as season three.)

Another shortcoming of the finale week is just how anticlimactic it is, and I don't mean the fait accompli crowning of Melanie; the performances are remarkably uneven, and the results show is particularly tedious. While the performance show's problems are more understandable and largely inevitable -- these kids are spent, just look at the zombie Tadd...

... which is all the more shocking in that the gauntness and the sunken eyes have nothing to do with a Wade Robson number -- but the results episode is inexplicably dull. Although I'll admit that watching the routines in HD this time around adds an obvious dimension to them (for instance, being able to see Sasha's facial expressions deepens the wall routine), even if they had been my favorites, I wouldn't consider watching them for a full two hours a great way to spend a Thursday night.

So, for a program that has historically turned out great spectacles to close its seasons, this finale -- with two new routines, only one outside dancing guest, and otherwise packed with reprises -- is less interested in celebrating dance, as they claim, than in celebrating the show itself.

The other possible explanation -- that they couldn't manage to book any guests other than Matt Flint, who by the way strikes me as an immediately superior UK champion than his predecessor -- is belied by the number of guests that they did get during the season, and I doubt very much that they've emptied the well of possible guests. Whatever the case, where's the specialness warranted by the occasion? Where's the splurge? The end product smacks of a cheap variety show looking to fill time, drab and sadly insular.

(And as an early Iveta fan, I was further disappointed that she didn't get to do anything than provide an anonymous warm body -- though I should more accurately say a hot body --  in a couple group numbers, and my god, I hate that Sonya's geisha routine. If the show gave the Di Lellos a spotlight in their finale, couldn't they have given someone with Iveta's résumé a chance to burn down the house?)

Melanie and Marko - Disco (chor. Doriana Sanchez)
A Doriana routine that includes gratuitous lifts which turn out horribly labored? I am shocked. Generally sluggish, to boot.

Sasha and All-Star Mark - Jazz (chor. Sonya Tayeh)
Sonya puts in some nice moments -- Mark "punching" Sasha down being the one that stands out the most -- but as ever, her number doesn't send me into ecstasy as it does with other viewers. My biggest gripe is that Sasha overcomes Mark at the very end even though little else in the choreography suggests she would -- in other words, it happens so suddenly, with no warning or no narrative motivation.

Tadd and All-Star Joshua - Hip Hop (chor. Lil' C)
The show labelled this number a hip hop, but it's got a heart of krump, especially towards the end. The routine is a welcome respite from the couple's hip hop that's been endemic this season (even if the pinnacle -- Sasha and Twitch's routine -- also falls into that category), and the part where the two guys slide backwards on their knees?

What Cat's trying to say is that Tadd and Joshua are bulldozing every other hip hop routine (save for "Misty Blue") right there.

Melanie and All-Star Robert - Contemporary (chor. Stacey Tookey)
Nowhere near Stacey's best work, though I think if I make the effort to forget that the routine is about unrequited love (ugh), I can appreciate it on purely aesthetic grounds... that is, if I hadn't already been deluged with wilted contemporary numbers this season.

Sasha and Marko - Broadway (chor. Spencer Liff)
After more great choreography from Spencer, how can this show possibly continue to bother with Tasty Oreo? The difference in quality is staggering. Even Nigel comes up with better Broadway than him. Anyway, Sasha is perfectly fine here, but she's playing the straight man to Marko, and he steals the show with his dead-on Clark Kent impersonation. And Katie Holmes' choice bon mot of like ever: "I loved when you jumped up." Yeah, I love that too.

Melanie's solo
It's a good solo and offers stark contrast to the paucity of creativity that characterizes most contemporary solos. What I like here is how she shows off her pacing -- compare her against Sasha, who also avoids the overt contemporary cliches, but who packs so much into her solo that it often becomes frantic.

Marko's solo
He's digging deep, because his solo here is much sharper and more intense than they've been.

Sasha and Tadd - Cha Cha (chor. Mark Ballas)
Uhhhhh... hell of a time to dance the season's worst routine. Nobody comes out looking good in this. With all of the missed connections and thorough lack of hip action, it makes Chris and Ashley's salsa look Blackpool-ready. Mark Ballas doesn't help things out either with the un-cha-cha-est song he could've chosen. I'd been looking forward to Sasha and Tadd getting paired together, but I get this instead -- Sadd indeed.

Marko and All-Star Lauren - Contemporary (chor. Tessandra Chavez)
As far as heteronormative contemporaries go, this number is more tolerable than most (part of a good faith effort to not dismiss it out of hand). However, it's also emblematic of a lot of the problems I have with the genre this season, i.e. that they're all so narrative and literal, which to me seems like the powers that be imagining their viewers as unsophisticates to whom they must pander. I'm sure that in moderate doses, literal narrative on such a level is fine (I don't think that I had these complaints in the prior seven seasons), but instead, the effect has been not unlike watching only romantic comedies for eight straight weeks, and I am ready to puke. (Though on the other hand, I am very interested in the new Zooey Deschanel sitcom.)

Tadd's solo
For whatever reason, I want b-boys to pay some at least courtesy attention to the traditional breaking elements, e.g. toprock, downrock, freezes, and of course, power moves. Tadd features a lot of freezes but generally avoids toprocking in his solos, which may be a reason why they've generally underwhelmed me. Fortunately, though, he throws in some downrock to go with his usual stuff, and that appears to be his MO, i.e. deploying b-boy vocabulary into a more general hip-hop idiom.

Tadd and Melanie - Jazz (chor. Ray Leeper)
For all of its sass, I find this number to be trivial.

Sasha's solo
So right when I complain about the pacing in Sasha's solos, she dances at her most sedate and offers a solo that breathes more than the others she's done so far.

Sasha and Melanie - Contemporary (chor. Stacey Tookey)
See what happens when Stacey choreographs something about anything other than a male/female relationship, even if it has a Boston marriage subtext?

It's also helped by how Stacey uses an instrumental track rather than yet another tuneless song from yet another mediocre singer-songwriter.

Tadd and Marko - Hip Hop (chor. Chuck Maldonado)
Oy. Tadd has the distinction of being in the two most brutal routines of the finale, but this time Marko's dragging down the routine, struggling mightily to articulate and hold the actual stepping. I'm sure he's entirely out of gas, and it shows (whether Tadd is slowing down to match Marko or if he's equally winded is beyond my grasp).

(Cat seem to have the misfortune of being the third wheel this week.)

By my recollection, this routine is the third time stepping has been performed on the program (third-and-a-half if you count the brief section in "Five Guys Named Moe"), all of them have been dire.

Top 20 Jazz (chor. Sonya Tayeh)
I like like the staging an awful lot, but the stuff that happens in between the poses is what I'm ambivalent about.

In their interview, Cat asks Melanie an uncharacteristically gauche question about Melanie's late father: "Do you think he'd be really proud?" And Melanie responds, "Who wouldn't? GIGGLE!" I know how she means it, but considering my growing animus towards her, I'd rather use it as "evidence" that she has high regard for herself. Did I mention I can be kind of a prick?

Not to play Captain Save-A-Holmes, but I can think of one guest judge who was a greater waste of judicial space than Katie.

Not that anybody would be curious, but the "website" that Cat teases Tadd with is here. And I certainly did not post to that, nope. ("Leee" is a very common internet name, don't you know.) (Interesting, though, that the editors changed a couple things about the thread, first of course is the ugly banner, and second is that they removed the Youtube watermark in the lower right-hand corner of the screencap and moved the screencap to occupy that unseemly white space next to the video. A-a-a-and now I've spent too much time gazing at shirtless Tadd.)

Looks like I'm trying to curry favor with the tween set again, but hey, when in Rome.

Love the little exchange when Cat wraps up her interview with Sasha by extending her hand for a closing shake, and Sasha's all, "Come on, don't I get a hug?" Cat relents of course, which Sasha punctuates with a fist-pump. Hey, it's 10:00 PM Sunday night, I'm exhausted and anxious to finish my last recap of the season. I'm scraping the bottom of my barrel now.


Amanda said...

Thank you so much for all your hard work, Leee! I've certainly enjoyed it.

And you are SO right about the gendering of dance on the show.

Daniel said...

Thanks for all your recaps, Leee - they are vastly superior in every way to every other SYTYCD recap out there, and not just because of the lolcatdeeleys!

I find it interesting, though the shift that occurred last season with the winner. Prior to Frogurtman, seemingly the only way a female could win the show was to be a contemporary dancer with no screen time at all before Top 20 partnered with a ridiculously popular hip hop male partner. Both Sabra and Jeanine followed this trajectory, but Katee, who was showcased heavily in auditions and Hollywood, couldn't pull the win away from initial partner Joshua. Of course, Season 7 was weird and different for a lot of reasons and the constant injuries destroyed much of the series' usual narrative trajectory, but it's interesting that this season had the same outcome as the last: Heavily favored, cute, "relatable" female contemporary dancer wins. It is interesting to note that since Season 1 (which really was its own animal) no male contemporary dancer has won, and doubly interesting that the only ballroom dancer to win was male. Of course, it's also interesting that Nick and Benji have sort of been swept under the rug by the show... has Benji done anything since that killer Rockefeller Skank routine in Season 3? Interesting that he hasn't been asked back (or come back) since then but Travis has become a regular contemporary choreographer.

GAH! So much to think about with this show... I really need to stop!

Anonymous said...

Benji choreographed another West Coast Swing in season 4 for Katee and Joshua that was not as good as Sara and Pasha's.