Sunday, October 5, 2014

Is TV Ready for a Polyamorous Relationship?

I was binge watching Nashville at the recommendation of a friend recently when I came across this scene. I was impressed with the song, but more fascinated by the serious amount of eye fucking going on between Avery (Jonathan Jackson) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio). Not to be left out, Zoey (Chaley Rose), also isn't shy about casting her gaze in the direction of her two sexy guys. If you watch the show, then you know the relationship dynamics of these three characters, but when I watched this scene, I couldn't help but to wonder if we wouldn't be in the market for a Polyamorous triad to take shape. This kind of chemistry and these kinds of wordless reaction shots are the basis of fandom shipping. You can't throw a rock without finding a ship that exists just because two characters shared a room that one time, or sometimes based on even less than that. Wattpad has a nice list of ships that seem to exist for no reason at all. But the thing about this particular scene of lustful eyes is that it seems to be another in a line of moments from shows lately that suggest we might be in the early moments of seeing a real polyamorous relationship take shape on the small screen. And I for one think that that would be a great thing for a number of reasons, so I say bring it on.

Disclaimers: I am not in, nor have I ever been in a Poly or even an open relationship. When I do find myself in relationships, they tend to be monogamous in nature. But I don't devalue Poly relationships at all. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that would work for me, but I fully support it if it works for someone else. So this isn't me pushing forward any kind of an agenda, I wouldn't benefit one way or another from a healthy Poly relationship being explored on screen. My primary interest in seeing this kind of relationship explored is really just about the storytelling implications. Also, I did watch the first few episodes of Showtime's Polyamory: Married & Dating, and while I will say that that's an easy look at real life Poly relationships, I always got the impression that that show was more about having an excuse to shoot hot threesomes than it was about exploring these actual dynamics. I also find the relationships explored in this show to be heteronormative in their dynamics. By which I mean that even the group that features two men is a group in which both men are solely focused on the women instead of on each other. Which is fine for real life, I don't think being in a Poly relationship automatically means someone has to be Bisexual in some fashion. But for the sake of storytelling purposes and exploring deeper character dynamics, I think it would be more interesting to see how a character changes as they inexplicably find themselves falling in love with a person who happens to be a different gender than they're typically attracted to. So, I'm not talking about shows with love triangles, which are a dime a dozen, but shows in which characters honestly find themselves in dynamics in which all three characters can be shipped equally with one another. what's the possible appeal of these OT3s being explored in the canon? First among them has to be the inherent drama that such a thing would create. Sticking with Nashville for an example, you'd be talking about a threeway relationship that would take place between the two ex boyfriends, and one best friend of one of the other characters on the show, Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen). The show already touches on Scarlett's discomfort and uncertainty when she sees these three people who are important to her in different ways performing together and growing closer as friends and performers while she's left out in the cold. Now imagine what that would look like if all three of them were also sleeping together and falling in love. Another character potentially affected by this development would be Chris Carmack's Will Lexington. Will has been struggling with his own homosexuality over the course of the show, and he even made an ill-advised pass at Gunnar early in his time on the series. How might this triad developing effect him?

Speaking of this show's only gay character, imagine what this story could have to say about human sexuality. If Avery and Gunnar (two heterosexual men) slowly find themselves falling in love or being attracted to one another, the sexual confusion would be through the roof. We tend to enjoy watching stories about characters struggling to come to terms with their homosexuality and going through the process of coming out. But those stories are still interested in making sexuality black and white and making the coming out process a bit more linear (Will's story has been an example of this thus far). A TV triad could get us to a point where we're questioning these assumed elements of human sexuality. Can Gunnar, Avery, and Zoey all be equally in love with one another, and equally sexual with one another, and all still claim to be straight? I think the answer is yes, but it would be a lot of fun to see that question explored on screen.

In the case of Teen Wolf's best OT3 (Scott/Allison/Isaac), the reason behind why the show should have gone there is simply that they teased it enough that they needed to get it over with. Teen Wolf is a show that isn't shy about baiting its fans into specific ships, or learning about ships and working to exploit them. Arguably, the show's most popular ship is between Tyler Hoechlin's Derek Hale and Dylan O'Brien's adorable, and probably bisexual, Stiles Stilinski. And since it became clear that fans wanted that pairing, the two's scenes together have gotten more and more shipper-bait in nature. In the case of the threesome issue, the show had been teasing the desire for a televised threeway since that sexy dance way back in the second season. Granted, in context, that dance is a lot less about those three characters being attracted to each other and more about misdirection, but I've always been interested in the closeness and the lustful looks being exchanged between Isaac (Daniel Sharman) and Jackson (Colton Haynes).

But that dance scene is really just a teaser for the ultimate OT3 to come. When Scott (Tyler Posey) and Allison (Crystal Reed) break up, it opens the door for Isaac to move in, but Allison's door isn't the only one that seems to be opened to the curly haired cutie. Disillusioned with the way that Derek runs his pack, Isaac easily and often runs to the comforting arms of Scott. Their friendship is sweet and adorable and you often get the impression that Isaac loves Scott because he's the first person to be nice and caring to him without wanting anything in return. Isaac's birth father is an abusive piece of shit, and Derek turns him and adds him to his pack more for his own selfish reasons than because of any kind of care or concern for the boy. But Scott, being the kind and loving and protecting hero that he is, looks out for Isaac because he honestly cares about Issac's well being. What fallows as a result are a number of scenes like this one in which Scott expresses a kind of interest and Isaac, caught off guard, is left making moon eyes at him. Add to that the way that Isaac and Allison are slow to get their relationship off the ground, both of whom constantly citing Scott as the reason they're hesitant, or even the fact that Isaac's first choice for a new place to live when he's in need is Scott's place and Scott let's him move in without a second though, and you get the fans feeling like "Alright already! Get them all together and let them have sexy fun times!"
Another example of the ship being so great it can't help but to write itself can be found in Dr. Who's Doctor/Rose/Jack ship. One of the things I like so much about this OT3 is that it has the effect of making them all better. It's clear that The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston for the sake of this article) is a better person when he's with a companion. And the best companions are equally made better during their time with the Doctor (Rose and Donna are the best examples of this to me). When you add Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) to the mix, you get someone who is a far better and more honest person when he's with the Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper), and who has the ability to ensure there's a healthy level of fun being had in the Tardis. The Doctor/Rose/Jack is the triad that comes the closest to being canon. They share the kisses shown above, and Jack is an admitted omnisexual being who flirts and loves everyone he shares more than two words with. Rose is clearly and admittedly in love with the Doctor, though admittedly that's more Ten (David Tennant) than Nine, and the Doctor (again talking about Ten this time) does come as close as possible to admitting his own feelings for her. But the point still remains that the presence and popularity of this triad shows just how ready we are for this kind of story to play out in full on screen.

The last reason that I think a Polyamorous relationship should develop on the small screen is visibility. Monogamy is seen as the norm in this world. As such, most relationships we see are monogamous in nature. Any break from monogamy is demonized, and the solution to just about every love triangle that comes up (and there are way too many to count in TV shows) is that the main character has to choose one or the other, or neither. It makes the storytelling feel hackneyed in a lot of ways. We've seen just about every option played out somewhere or other already. So why get invested in these torn-between-two-lovers stories? But more over, where does a person who doesn't believe they'd be happy in a monogamous situation turn to see their story mirrored back to them? How do we normalize different kinds of relationships if we continually refuse to showcase them as being normal? I think shows like Teen Wolf or even The Vampire Diaries are perfect matches to do this given their distribution to a younger audience. Teen Wolf could have just given audiences what they wanted anyway and started changing hearts and minds that way. Or The Vampire Diaries could have given fans something they may not have known they wanted but might have enjoyed anyway in a Klaus/Caroline/Tyler coupling. With Klaus and Caroline being basically in love since day one, and Tyler and Caroline dating, but Tyler at least being sired enslaved to Klaus, it would have at least made sense even if there were some issues of consent behind it.

I think TV is uniquely poised among mediums to really change, or maybe just spark, the conversation about Polyamory. In much the same way that tuning in to shows featuring LGBT characters on a regular basis has helped to shift public perception in positive ways, I think watching fictional Poly relationships would help to normalize a non-mainstream way of life. And beyond that, I think it would just serve to give us more interesting and unique stories to tell. We've looked at the different ways relationships between only two people can be dramatic; I think we've seen just about every combination and possibility available to such a pairing. Long gone are the days when simply making the pair two people of the same gender is enough to add new dynamics, so why not do something new? I think TV shows have been brushing up against doing this for awhile now. So the only real question left is which show will have the balls to actually just go there already? It doesn't necessarily have to be an established show, either. Maybe there's a new series out there somewhere with three characters who are ready-made to find themselves navigating these uncharted narrative waters. If so, the reveal of this show can't come soon enough for me.

Addendum: I realized something that has come to cause me a great amount of shame lately: all of these OT3 pairings are male-male-female. While I will admit that given the taboos within our society about male sexuality, this dynamic is the one I personally find most interesting, I don't mean to make it seem like that's the only place TV will be able to find drama and compelling stories. To those ends, I would like to point out what MTV's Faking It is doing with Amy, Karma, and Liam. It's hard to include this three-way in this article because I don't think it's the best way for the show to go. This story feels like it works out best as being the story of Amy figuring out her sexual orientation. But the show isn't shy about there being bumps along the way to Amy's eventual probable destination to Lesbos island. Both of the girls have already slept with Liam, and Amy and Karma are clearly better together. So while I don't really think the Amy, Karma, Liam triad works best in the long term, I certainly think it could make for an interesting dynamic for a season or so. I can't think of any fully same sex poly groups, but if you have any, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

TV Review: Red Band Society: "Liar Liar Pants on Fire" of my favorite side stories in Queer as Folk is about Hunter, the young HIV positive street urchin that Michael and Ben adopt. When he's first introduced, he tells the pair that the reasons he's homeless and hustling is because his father is dead and his mother is in prison for killing him. Come to find out, his mother isn't in prison at all. He's actually a runaway, but the reason he left and the reason he lied is because his mother is horribly abusive. She actually got him started in hustling by pimping him out to guys so she could take the money, presumably for drugs. It makes the moment when she tries to come back into his life and take custody from Michael and Ben very tense. But she's a bad mother and a bad person and Hunter's fear and hatred of her makes perfect sense. It was revealed this week that Jordi's mother isn't dead after all, she's just a bad mother so he's been denying her existence. By bad mother I don't mean that she molested him, or that she allowed other people to molest him for money, I mean she likes to play poker and had parties where other people came over to play poker with her. She doesn't seem to abuse him, she doesn't seem to take these men to bed while he tries to sleep in the next room, she doesn't even seem to neglect him to an extreme extent. Sure there are nights when he has to cook dinner for himself, but in the flashback we see him doing so, he seems to be old enough to do it. So what it all boils down to is that Jordi doesn't feel as though his mother loves him as much as he thinks she should have. I'm not going to say that that's not scaring in and of itself, but I will say that it makes for a significantly less compelling story than Hunter's story with his mother. And for the record, the fact that his mother is the same woman Dr. McAndrew slept with last week doesn't make the story interesting, it just makes it melodramatic and soapy.

So that's the intro to this particular episode which left me with one overall feeling: I don't think Red Band Society is going to make the cut. I've been talking the show up to myself for awhile now because I really do want it to be good. I want to like it for many reasons, but the fact of the matter is I'm just not sure. I think there's a good show in here somewhere, but how deep is it buried, and how long will it take for the writers and producers to find it?

I don't know what the answers are to those questions, but I do know the answer isn't after 3 episodes. Which might be as it should be, 3 hours isn't necessarily long enough for a show to have found its footing, TV is a marathon and not a sprint. But how many missteps can a show make over the course of first three hours before it's acceptable to move on from it?

This week shows us that episodes in which Kara shows no kind of depth leave her seeming less than one dimensional. In the first two episodes, there were brief moments of honesty between her and one of the other characters, but this week the hour is just full of her being awful. And the more she does drugs and screws around in spite of her doctor's orders, the more I think the only reasonable outcome for her story is death.

This week shows us that there's an even worse use for Charlie's voice over than we'd known before: Charlie takes elements of the story that are implicit but obvious and makes them explicit in a fashion that tells me that the show thinks we're too stupid to figure out for ourselves. Charlie is a lot more active this week. It's almost as if without someone falling unconscious and heading to the inbetween space, the show is looking to justify the actor's presence on the show. Which leads me to wonder is Griffin Gluck some kind of big deal I've just never heard about until now? Is he the top billed actor on the show? Because the writers seem to put him to more use than they do Octavia Spencer.

Speaking of which, after three episodes, are we any closer to figuring out who Nurse Jackson actually is? She worries this week that if she can't figure out something redeeming about Kara, then it's possible she'll just let her die at some point. It's a worry, and I understand that, but I don't think we've been given anything to suggest that that's honestly possible, so it doesn't feel like a real character development moment so much as a weak justification for a large portion of the episode.

The only storyline within the episode that felt real and organic to me was the story about the jealousy between Dash and Leo. The strongest element of the series thus far has consistently been the kids trying their best to just be kids in the face of everything they're dealing with. And the connection between Dash and Leo seems to be the relationship that brings that storyline out the best. So Dash getting jealous of Leo's new friendship with Jordi makes perfect sense.

I said last week that I was going to stick with this show until the end, or until I decided to stop watching all together, and I was assuming at the time that the former was more true than the latter, but I'm honestly not so sure anymore. There's a lot I can take from a show, or from any other story medium for that matter, but there were a lot of moments this week that had me rolling my eyes because the show (Charlie specifically) felt the need to tell me things I already knew. I can take a lot from a show, but when you start talking at me like I'm an idiot, I lose patience very quickly.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

TV Review: Red Band Society: "Sole Searching" two episodes enough to really figure out a show's formula? I'm not sure about that since two points make a line and not a pattern, and since two episodes is no time whatsoever. Chances are the show we're seeing in Red Band Society after two episodes won't even be the same show we see in five weeks time (assuming the show lasts that long). But after two hours with this show, I think I see what they're interested in early on. Last episode centered around the St Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. The kids talked about the song in class that day, Leo quoted it in the episodes pivotal scene on the roof, and throughout the hour the show and the characters went through the motion of building the kind of close bond the speech alludes to. This week, in the cleverly titled "Sole Searching," the phrase at the center of the episode isn't from The Bard, it's the seminal classic about learning about someone by walking a mile in their shoes. As such there are a lot of shots of people's shoes, there are a number of lines about shoes, and there's a lot of trying to get to know these characters by way of seeing the world through their perspective.

Framing the story like that isn't so unique, it's actually the same method Revenge uses on a week to week basis with its episodes. And the jury's still out on whether it's the best way for this show to go, but it didn't stop this from being an enjoyable episode. I keep using the word "enjoyable" when I talk or write about Red Band, but it's still the best one I can think of. The show isn't great. This episode suffers from a lot of the standard second episode problems. There's a lot of re-establishing characters through clunky exposition telling us (instead of showing us) who they are. Said exposition is still being delivered by Charlie from his coma. And no one feels fully real just yet. But the enjoyability of this show shines in small, well contained moments that show you just how good its capable of being.

One of the storylines from this week centers around Kara and her two mothers. I could swear there was a man and a woman getting the news about Kara's condition in the last episode, but I could be wrong about that, or maybe the two people in question weren't her parents after all. Either way, giving her two mothers felt a little tacked on this week, but making those two mothers powerful LA lesbians with tangential connections to Ellen and Portia was pretty funny. Making them so singularly focused on the marketing aspect of Kara's condition and showing how that focus affected her was certainly a good idea. Watching the way Kara's birth mother would engage with her while keeping her attention locked on her phone went a long way towards showing us why Kara is the way she is. It made the hug the three of them shared at the end of the episode a lot more cathartic than I expected it to be this early in the show's run.

Also in that mode is the relationship between Leo and Dash, and the general emotional trip that Leo goes on in this episode. After spending the morning blowing off his physical therapy in order to be there for Jodi when he woke up (post surgery and minus a leg), Leo finds out (in what can only be a huge breech of doctor-patient confidentiality) that Jordi's leg wasn't amputated after all. Leo storms out before Dr. McAndrew can explain that the reason why he didn't take Jordi's leg is because the cancer's far worse than they originally thought and amputation wasn't needed just yet. So to Leo, it just looks like the kid he'd bonded with over having the same diagnosis, actually got off a lot luckier than he did when Dr. McAndrew took his leg however long ago. To blow off some steam, he puts on his prosthetic, which he's been railing against all episode, grabs his best friend Dash, and limps across the street to the Frat Party the two of them have been spying on for awhile. Leo just wants to feel like a real boy again, basically, and where better to do that than with a bunch of frat douche bags getting wasted in the middle of the day? spending an hour or two there, fitting in and flirting with the pretty girls, the real world tries to intrude on Leo's escape in the form of his friends and the nurses at the hospital looking for him. Dash tries to get him to leave the party, and in retaliation Leo gets mean and pushes him away. When he takes the pretty girl he's hit it off with to a nearby bedroom and she starts to get undressed and tries to undress him, the horror of her being about to see his fake leg brings the real world crashing into him again and once more he gets mean and she leaves him alone too. It leads to Dash and Nurse Brittany finding him on the floor with this heartbreaking expression on his face.

This works, in my opinion, for two main reasons. 1) It presents a great relationship between Leo and Dash. Unlike the typical TV reaction, Dash doesn't get hurt by Leo's insensitive comments and go off and sulk for awhile, or rush back to the hospital and rat him out. Instead, he finds Brittany, who is clearly way more of a pushover than Nurse Jackson, and quietly returns to help his friend get home safely. There isn't even a scene in which Leo apologizes for his actions. Dash just gets it and accepts it in a way that I found touching and refreshing. 2) It builds on the image of Leo as a generally good guy who is trying his hardest to both make and keep friends and to keep people at a distance. He admits a bit later on (in another scene that tells me this show will not be known for its subtlety) that he was really on interested in waiting for Jordi because he didn't want to feel alone anymore. So when it turned out that he and Jordi weren't sharing the same fate, he got jealous and a bit less interested. It's a very teen-drama thing to do, but it's also very human in a way I appreciated.

I don't know how long Red Band Society will be with us. I tend not to have much faith in Fox to allow shows to stick around. And when those shows are just good instead of great, I think my faith decreases significantly. And if the show wants to get "better" by any possible objective standards, there are a couple things it'll need to do. For starters, and I'm sure I'll sound like a broken record on this point for awhile, they have to figure out the voice over narration issue. Charlie continues to point out things that don't need to be pointed out at all, and that add nothing to the story at hand. Using him to bookend the episodes with a little narration about themes of the week (shoes and empathy here) wouldn't go amiss. But having him chime in on the regular workings of the hospital and makes pointless observations like "The only thing harder than sneaking out of a hospital is sneaking back in," simply isn't working. The sad thing about this is that they've actually got the perfect way to use Charlie in the episode. When Jordi goes under for his surgery, he wakes up in the in between place where Charlie lives. Charlie tries to offer him a game of chess, but Jordi claims to not be feeling his best and he collapses. Charlie rushes to his side and offers words of comfort and then we never see them in that place again. This is a wasted opportunity. Leo made mention of a similar experience when he had his surgery, and placing Charlie as the kind of monitor and the ultimate strength of this in between space would be a solid way to go. Each of these kids move in the world and interact, and they all put on a brave face to the best of their ability. Charlie is the only one incapable of moving around within the world and he's the one who has the most reason to be scared as he may never wake up. But if you make him into the character who sees these other kids at their most vulnerable and he offers them strength and comfort in those times, you could really run with that. But that doesn't seem to be the direction the show wants to go on, and it probably isn't feasible to have a character fall unconscious every week, but for my money I'd take the in between space scenes over the pointless voice over narration every time.

Either way, Red Band Society continues to be something I'll look forward to watching each week. If it can continue to be funny and moving, then I see no reason not to watch. Even if the deeply emotional parts tend to be delivered in baldfaced and slightly ham-fisted fashion, it's worth it. And so I think I'll try my best to chime in each week for however long the show lasts, or until I stop watching, or until I just don't have anything else to say; whichever comes first really.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E15

So You Think You Can Dance has my all time favorite finale episode of any reality competition show I've ever watched all the way through. Granted, there aren't very many that I've watched all the way through, but of the ones that I have, this one is my favorite. This goes for the performance finale as well as the results episode. This is because these two episodes typify everything I love about this show and everything I think this series tends to do well. The finale, specifically, gets to be two hours of celebrating dance, looking back at how we got to this point, and revealing the winner with as much fanfare and grace as possible.

Epic celebration of dance:

Other than the obvious night full of rehashed performances, the SYTYCD finale always has a number of remarkable new moments and showcasing new talent. The winner of this season's pointless dance crew twitter idiocy got to perform a number. I'd talk about it, but I ran off to the bathroom while it was happening. The real highlights of the night's new numbers have to be the twins' remarkable Hip Hop tag team, that brilliant brilliant group number from Chris and Sonya, and the single most breath taking solo I think this season has seen which came from the Australian winner, Michael Dameski.

Seriously, that solo was strong, powerful, moving, and breathtaking in a crazy way. It left me thinking SYTYCD should organize a world wide competition like the Olympics of dance. Pick a few of the previous winners from each series and have them dance it off over the course of a few episodes and have the entire world vote on who wins the crown of World's Favorite Dancer. Given the current state of the online based voting, it really wouldn't be too difficult. You'd have to figure out when to air the episodes and simulcast them the world over maybe, but other than that, it'd be great. I say all of this to say that if that solo was any indication, I think Michael being on this season of SYTYCD America would have really given Ricky a run for his money.

Not to be outdone by some foreigner, the group number of the night from the wonderful minds of Chris Scott and Sonya Tayeh was just phenomenal. Seeing all of those dancers on the stage at once, dancing with a kind of singularity that can only come from some kind of sci fi mind meld was amazing! And everything about it from the staging, to the music, to the dancing was otherworldly perfect. It also is one of the only group numbers of the last few weeks that doesn't center on Ricky (something the lackluster opening Broadway number can't claim), which is actually an oddly good thing. It made the number fresh and unique and gave it a kind of new breath we haven't seen in awhile.

Looking Back:

Our finalists get to choose their own favorite performances from the year. Ricky and Valerie look back to the beginning and choose to perform their first numbers from back in the Top 20 episode. Zack and Jessica look a little bit closer to home choosing recent numbers danced with All Stars. Seeing as how Jessica is a part of Ricky's choice, and Zack is a part of Valerie's, it's not like they could have chosen the same numbers as their favorites, but it's still interesting decisions since Jessica and Zack are two contestants who've really blossomed into understandable finalist as of the last few weeks. Don't get me wrong, I've pegged Zack for a finalist since the beginning, but prior to the All Stars, I think we all believed that Rudy would be in his place. But as Zack elevated himself to All Star level, he really put any doubts about his place here to rest. Jessica's storyline this year about dancing up and down to her partner predictably elevated her when she was dancing with All Stars each week. So it's only fitting the two of them would choose the performances they did.

Conversely, Ricky and Valerie are two contestants who've owned the season since the word go. In spite of not being one of the stronger female dancers this season, Valerie hasn't found herself in the bottom three even once. What I realized last night is that the constant conversation surrounding this show about dance talent vs personality really should have been being applied to Ricky and Valerie all along. It wasn't because the girls were overshadowed at every stage by the boys, and also because the judges were so busy pimping out Rudy all season long as the only person on stage with an ounce of personality. But here we are at the end and Rudy's been gone for weeks and Valerie's been holding steady. So it also makes sense the these two would go back to the beginning and choose the performances that basically started their season long stint at the top.

The judges choose the predictable numbers to be redone. There's really nothing to be said about these developments. I wasn't at all surprised that Nigel's the first of the judges to ask to see Rudy again, but I was kind of surprised that it was Dirty Diana that he choose to rewatch as opposed to one of Rudy's numbers with Tanisha. I don't want to take anything away from Rudy's work on Dirty Diana, but there's really no way to suggest he's on par with Allison here. The Jazz number he and Tanisha do revisit later on in the episode is the better pick in my opinion.

The one surprising thing from the look back element of the episode is the utter lack of Ballroom numbers. I was expecting Mary to choose one, and yet she went with Jessica and Casey's Like Real People from Travis Wall. Which is a great choice in spite of Casey stumbling a bit on the first lift after the kiss. But after a season in which the producers clearly were placing all of the eggs in the Ballroom basket, the absence of a single Ballroom number is as conspicuous as the absence of a single Ballroom competitor at this stage in the season. Last year, there was a lot of talk about the lack of Ballroom performers on the season as a whole, and now we might be seeing why. The fact is that historically, Ballroom dancers don't do as well on this show as performers from other backgrounds. As such, I for one would really like for this to be the last season to see 6 Ballroom dancers make it to the top 20.

The Results:

The reveal of the results is an odd thing. On the one hand, the reveal that Ricky is the winner of the season comes as no surprise to anyone, but the news that Zack came in 4th place really was shocking, or at least it was to me. And ousting Zack with the first results reveal added an interesting dimension to the rest of the results. After being so sure that this was going to be about Zack and Ricky, and that they'd be the last two contestants on that stage awaiting the results, the reveal that that wasn't to be the case led me to think that it might have been possible that I was also wrong about Ricky's ultimate dominance. At the very least, I would have expected one of the girls to find themselves in 4th making the top 3 two guys and one girl. Alas, it's the other way around.

The rest of the results go, more or less, according to plan and Ricky is indeed eventually named America's favorite dancer. The raw emotion on his face is worth every minute of the season. His story does a great job of capping off a decade of this show. He's wanted this since he was 8 years old, and the depth of how happy and honored he is to be given this honor it palpable. I think every winner has acknowledged that winning is a dream come true, but this might be the first time we've honestly been able to see how accurate that is.

And so there we have it. The culmination of a long and brilliant season of our favorite summer reality show. I'd love to say thank you to anyone and everyone who checked in with me week after week here. It's been a lot of fun getting to put my thoughts on each episode down in cyberspace. Actually it's been so much fun that I'm thinking of doing it again during this upcoming TV season, so I'd love suggestions for which show I should at least try to review weekly. Any thoughts?

Stray Observations:

--Big time congrats to Ricky. Even though we've all been expecting it for weeks, there was something wonderfully validating about seeing it happen. Some part of it has to be that beautiful and moving face of his.


--That moment with Jesse Tyler Ferguson on stage going back and forth with Travis Wall was freaking perfect! I would give anything for him to be long term fixture at the judge's table.

--It was interesting seeing Rudy back for 2 performances because it really reminded me of why he couldn't have been here with the others. In the dearth of amazing dancing on the night, his numbers just aren't as good. They aren't horrible either, but I find it hard to believe he could have kept up with Ricky and Zack and the All Stars.

--The final tally of the night's performances from each of the finalists is actually a lot closer than I expected. Including the two group numbers, everyone dances 5 times except Ricky who dances 6 times.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E14

I honestly don't know what to say besides that was everything I ever could have hoped for from this performance finale episode. A friend of mine gave up on this season a couple of weeks back feeling as though he didn't have anyone to root for. And while I can understand that in a number of ways, I also feel like missing out on this episode was a serious disservice. I don't even know where to start really, my entire body is just still buzzing from what a night of dance that was. So let's start at the beginning.

Travis Wall is and has long been my favorite person on the face of the earth, and the group number to kick off this episode proves why beyond a shadow of a doubt. I've complained in the past about this show not really embracing its LGBT community as much as it could. I've felt as though the show tampered down performances that were clearly LGBT themed in favor of presenting a more family friendly face; Nigel has made comments in the past that cast disparagement on same sex dancing; contestants have (seemed to) downplayed their own sexual orientations in favor of pushing forth a hetero-normative storyline. And it's all drawn my ire at one point or another. But then Travis Wall choreographed a group number that was all about equality and same sex marriage and it was perfect and wonderful. Admittedly, because it's the opening group number we don't hear him say that that's what the piece is about, but Nigel hints at it a bit later in the show, and the constant pairing of Zack with Ricky and Jessica with Valerie coupled with everyone's all white costuming makes the point pretty clear. The other thing that these pairings do is give us the opportunity to see Zack and Ricky dancing together in a manner that accentuates their strengths perfectly. If it wasn't clear that Zack and Ricky are the best performers in the competition before now, I think this group number did a lot of work to put any lingering doubts to rest. I don't want to take anything away from what Valerie and Jessica were doing because they were also great, but my eyes never left Ricky and Zack, and every time they weren't on screen was a waste to me. It was a beautiful piece with a beautiful message and it was the first of many on the night. 

I'll skip over Zack and Valerie's African Jazz number which I thought was OK at best, and move on to another deeply moving piece of the night: Zack and Valerie's Contemporary number from Tyce. I enjoyed this number a lot, but I think I would have loved it if it had come from a different choreographer. Tyce has never been my favorite, and his video packages this season have been exceptionally sad as if someone shot his puppy. I like a tear-jerker performance as much as the next guy, but there was something about this routine that felt oddly exploitative. I don't know if this is a story or subject matter (a blind woman and a seeing man in love with one another and trying to overcome the obstacle of her disability) Tyce has any history with, but it didn't feel as genuine as his breast cancer piece. But that's not to take anything away from the way Valerie and Zack danced it, which I thought was beautiful. Jesse Tyler Ferguson makes the point that Valerie has to sell the connection without ever really making eye contact with Zack and she nails it and I couldn't agree more.

Comparatively, I thought that Jessica and Ricky's Jazz number on the night was equally great but for different reasons: Remember when I said that I thought Zack might have the edge over Ricky in performance but Ricky’s got the edge in pure dance? This is the perfect example of that. Zack gets the bigger story number with Valerie and he knocks it out; Ricky gets this number that doesn’t have much of a story but is just a pure celebration of dance and of the genre and he performs it flawlessly. These early two numbers from these guys perfectly highlighted what they each did well. 

And then the two of them came together in a Hip Hop routine and blew the roof off of the building. Did you see how hard Ricky hit through that whole thing? He’s danced Hip Hop before, but I don’t think he’s ever hit that hard before. And Zack was right there with him for the entire thing. I can’t even pick a winner in this one. They were both low, they both flowed, they both felt the music, they both looked so perfectly within their element that it’s just scary. The fact that they can't both win this season is just a travesty because they're perfect.

I know I've spent most of this time talking about the boys (and rightfully so), but if there was ever a moment when I thought I understood why Valerie had made it to this point in the competition, it was in her dance with Aaron. This was the first time that I can remember thinking that she wasn't overshadowed by her all star at all. I don't know if that's a compliment to her or an insult to Aaron (I'm guessing the latter), but it's true never the less. When she gets to dance in her style while also performing a story, it's really a beautiful thing to behold. 

And if anyone thought the night was going to slow down at any given moment after that Zack and Ricky Hip Hop piece, they were dead wrong. Keeping his foot on the accelerator, Ricky gets his own tear-jerker story routine with Kathryn and boy oh boy does he bring it! There were so many moments that literally took my breath away, and this routine left me in tears. There's something specific about this routine in comparison to Zack and Valerie's routine from earlier that I'd like to point out: In this one, Kathryn gets to be the strong one and Ricky needs her whereas in Zack’s number it was the reverse. It’s not a judgement call on either performance, I just really really love that we get to tell both of those stories. I also think it works so well here because of how amazing and strong Kathryn is. I don't want to take anything away from what Zack and Valerie did, but if we place these two performances up against one another, this one wins for me. 

But just in case we were starting to think Ricky had run away with the competition, here comes Zack dancing Tap with Aaron to remind us that he deserves the win too. I can't help myself on this one, I have to say it: I think Zack was better in this number. I think Aaron is amazing, and he was a favorite of mine last year, but I think Zack has really risen the bar for Tap on this show. Aaron showed what a Tapper needs to make it to the finale, but I think that Zack has been showing what a Tapper needs to win the competition outright, and the truth is if he does indeed win, I won't be surprised at all. My jaw was on the floor for much of this performance, and I was grinning like an idiot, and I just loved every single bit of it right to pieces. 

Jessica also comes to life in her all star performance tonight. Dancing Contemporary with Robert, she shows again what I've been saying about her all along: she's constantly either elevated or diminished by her partner. Luckily this is the kind of routine she couldn't help but to flourish in. I also loved the very original concept from Travis Wall. Struggling with the possibility that someone won't want or need you anymore is something that I think is universal, and I certainly felt every minute of Jessica's journey from being hurt that he wouldn't need her to realizing that she, in fact, didn't need him either. It was powerful and uplifting, and it was danced beautifully. I don't know that I think Jessica was the best girl in the entire competition (I love Jacque and Tanisha too much to say that), but I certainly think that she's the best of the two girls left, and this routine made me realize just how much she deserved to be here. 

Here's the deal, I fully expected to be able to walk out of this episode declaring a clear cut winner between Zack and Ricky, but I simply can't. I think the night proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this competition is between those two hands down, but I think tonight only served to show just how evenly matched they are. If I have to give the edge to anyone, it might go to Zack because I think he and Jessica's Broadway number slightly outshone Ricky and Valerie's African Jazz. But the reason I hesitate to say that is because I think both of those routines had more to do with the choreography than the dancing itself. In every other routine they did tonight (including their solos), I think they were evenly matched. But I can't let these things get me down because for the first time in years I can honestly say that I'll be equally happy for either of them to win this thing. They've both worked remarkably hard, and they've both earned it. Part of me wishes the season could just end here and now. 

Stray Observations:

--Speaking of solos: Ricky's actually brought me to tears, and it's been a long long time since a solo on this show did that. Valerie's solo happened, but that's about all I can say for it. Jessica seemed to finally tap into a place that felt more passionate than desperate to me, which is saying something. And Zack's was just beautiful. He continues to show a penchant for picking the right music to go along with his Tapping.

--Zack's "looking back" video package told us the story of his audition and the judges not liking his solo but putting him through after choreography. Did we see this during the audition episodes and I just forgot? If they didn't show us his audition at all, then I must say that that's sad as this was a great story they missed the opportunity to showcase early on. 

--Nigel's comments about suicide after Ricky and Kathryn's piece really rubbed me the wrong way. As much as I recognize that we should urge people battling depression and other issues that might cause them to be suicidal to get help, I don't think any good is done by calling the decision to end one's life "stupid." There's nothing to be served by blaming the victim ever and this case isn't any different.

--Not to harp on it too much, but the end of Ricky and Kathryn's number where he was just standing alone in the spotlight was perfect. It's not the first time we've seen this kind of imagery of him this competition either. He's clearly everyone's favorite. 

--I also loved the rhetoric employed in the video package for the Hip Hop number. I don't think anyone involved with this show was trying to kid themselves that this week was going to be all about these two boys duking it out to see who would come out on top.

--With that being said, I can't wait to watch some of these performances again and when I do, I have every intention of grabbing some screenshots and posting them within this review, so feel free to check back over the weekend.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Writing Process know this is a departure from my typical subject matter--I don't generally spend any time on here talking about myself, but my friend Teege challenged me to a battle of words. He removed his pristine white writer's glove and smacked me in the face with it before insulting my mother and belittling my manhood. Or he just asked politely that I answer a few questions about this thing I do. Either one of those interpretations would be accurate, and so in an effort to defend my honor (and just to have a little fun actually thinking about aspects of my writing that I otherwise wouldn't think about), I decided to respond. And just FYI, Teege is a regular contributor to The Drunken Odyssey, which you should totally check out. His In Boozo Veritas section is always funny, quippy, insightful, and just a general delight to read. So you should read it. Like right now. Really, I'll wait.

For the record, this is about my writing process as it relates to  fiction and not to the stuff I blog about on here. These concepts are always pretty straight forward: I watched this TV show, or movie, I had thoughts about said TV show, or movie, I write those thoughts down in something of a rambling, unfocused kind of way, and then I second guess myself and realize I probably have no idea what I'm talking about. My fiction doesn't (necessarily) work in quite that same fashion. So, without further adieu:

1) What are you working on?

Right now, I'm working on my first novel. It's a gay romance (of sorts) that takes place during the zombie apocalypse. This idea came to fruition a couple of years ago when I was watching The Walking Dead and Falling Skies and realized there were no gay people on either of those shows. More over, I couldn't think of any post-apocalyptic work I had ever watched or read that featured queer characters. Admittedly, I've been told The Walking Dead comics do actually feature gay characters, but I haven't read those; which, as we all know, means they don't actually exist. I did ask around a bit at the time to see if this was a subject matter any of my friends had remembered seeing, and everyone said no, they had not read a post-apocalyptic story with gay characters, and certainly not with a gay protagonist. I was left thinking that people just don't assume the gays will survive a zombie uprising, and I for one find that to be horribly problematic. For the record, I would not survive a zombie uprising, but I am in no way meant to be representative of the entire gay population. And so the idea for this story was born and I've been slowly making my way through it ever sense. I'm actually going to be reading a section of it this week, so I'm in the midst of editing that section as much as possible, and then when I'm done with that, I'm planning on giving my brain a bit of a break and getting started on a short story idea I've had for awhile now. So I'm kind of working on (or will be working on) a number of things.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I don't feel that I write within any specific genre really. I'm a lot more interested in interesting and unique characters being put in somewhat unexpected situations. With the novel I'm working on, for example, I was far more interested in what it might be like to have a specific lifestyle and community be totally stripped away from you in the blink of an eye. Queer identified people make up roughly 10% of the population, and it stands to reason that that number wouldn't change even if the vast majority of the world's population became undead. But 10% of 7 billion is a lot more than 10% of like 7 million. Or at least I think it is; I don't really math all that well; I'm an English major for a reason after all. So what happens if a person goes from being a solid member of an active queer community to being the only queer person left in a community dedicated to survival and even the propagation of the human race? It fits in with common post-apocalyptic themes of what really makes us human, what happens to our basic humanity when civil structures break down, and what it takes to really survive in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, but when you filter all of that through a queer lens, I think you add a unique element that causes the story to at least bend and twist a bit within the genre. Or maybe I'm delusional.

3) Why do you write what you do?

This one is pretty easy for me: I write what I want to read. As a child, I (like many other minorities) struggled with finding accurate representation. I was a young, black, gay man who liked to read and write, but also liked rock music and loved sports. In our society, almost all of those things contradict one another in some fashion. As a teenager in the late 90s and early 00s, I was lucky in the sense that there was a lot more queer representation on TV than there had ever been before. But it wasn't that simple. You could find gay characters on TV, but the vast majority of them were (and still are) white. In the event you did find a black gay man on a reality show somewhere, chances were he was either extremely feminine or extremely masculine in a very thuggish "urban" manner. I'm none of those things. I tend to be just masculine enough to pass as straight in front of people who aren't paying much attention (ie most straight people in the world), but just fem or gay enough to be readily excluded from certain hyper-masculine spaces. I'm also a total nerd who's actually better at analyzing football than a lot of the idiots working for ESPN. So when you get right down to it, the chances anyone's ever thought of creating a character who looks like me inside and out are extremely rare. So I realized from a very early age that if I wanted to read stories about awesome people who were allowed to be more than just the stereotypes their race, sexuality, or gender imposed on them, or who were just allowed to be more than simple metaphors or symbols standing in for this grand racial theme or allegory, I'd have to write them myself.

4) How does your writing process work?

Who's to say it does? My writing process is about as sporadic as you're likely to find. I have stretches where I'll write multiple days in a week, and then stretches where I won't write anything at all for multiple weeks. I can sit down and crank out over a thousand words in one day, or I can sit down thinking I'm ready and just stare at the screen for awhile. Sometimes I write with music playing (by which, I mean full on songs, lyrics and everything. I know a lot of people listen to classical or instrumental scores, and I do that too sometimes, but I'm also capable of writing while my favorite band plays in the background), sometimes I need silence. I tend to consider myself more of a storyteller than a writer. This usually means I'm capable of sitting down after weeks of inaction and just pick right up where I left off. So long as the story is progressing linearly, I generally know what's to come next and, therefore, can be good at just plugging along. If there are any consistences in my writing process, I'd guess they'd be these:
  •  I always try to stop writing at a point where I at least know what's coming up next. So I try not to write to the point where I'm so burnt out that my brain is fried and I feel totally stuck on what the next leg of the story is. I'm not always successful at this, but I try. 
  • I always read the most recent couple of paragraphs (or maybe even pages sometimes) that I wrote before starting to write more. 
  • I try not to have the TV on when writing. I've found lately that I'm capable of writing in short bursts during commercial breaks if need be, but I never feel like I get enough done to justify that, and I can't split my attention between what's happening on the screen and what I'm doing on the page.
  • This is the first novel that I've ever written, so I've never had to do this before, but now I'm also learning to keep a separate file of the major edits I want to make to the story so that I'll remember them for when I do finally finish this first draft and start the editing process. 
  • I almost always write chronologically.
So there you have it folks. While I doubt my process and drives will do much to illuminate the darker mysteries of writing and literature for you, I do think it'll go a long way into informing you of who I am as a writer. And in keeping with the seeming tradition of this post, I'll throw down the gauntlet for Mistie Watkins,  Kristen Arnett, and Abbott Jones. I would love to hear how your beautiful brains work when you're creating the stories and the poems I love so much.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

TV Review: Red Band Society: Pilot what's becoming a more and more frequent marketing strategy, Fox has posted the pilot episode of Red Band Society online and also on sites like Hulu. I think this leads to an interesting question about the future distribution method of TV and whether or not we're seeing the last days of cable dominance. As more and more people are going the route of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and other online services in lieu of having an actual cable subscription, the TV landscape could be changing forever. But that's a topic for a different day; for right now I want to focus on just how enjoyable I found the first episode of this new series to be.

Red Band Society is the story of a hospital and the long term residence of its pediatric ward. In the first episode we're introduced (rather quickly I might add) to the principal players. The primary staff will be comprised of Octavia Spencer's Nurse Jackson and the very very handsome Dr. Jack McAndrew played by Dave Annable. The residents on the ward include the established patients: Leo, Dash, Emma and Charlie (played by Charlie Rowe, Astro, Clara Bravo, and Griffin Gluck respectively), who have all been on the ward for some time by the start of the episode. The new comers are Kara and Jordi played Zoe Levin and Nolan Sotillo.  There isn't much in the way of a story for the first episode. It mostly serves as a way to introduce the characters and establish the setting. The characters are painted with broad strokes and their backstory is filled it through exposition. Leo is the ring leader who's worried about his cancer diagnosis and tries not to form lasting bonds with people in order to not have to say goodbye. Emma has an eating disorder and used to date Leo, now they spend most of their time sniping at each other in an effort to justify some quippy dialogue. And Kara and Jordi find themselves in the hospital as of this episode. He's recently found out he's got cancer and wheedles his way into the good graces of Dr. McAndrew in order to guilt the man into performing his surgery, and Kara discovers she has an enlarged heart after she collapses in Cheer leading practice. It goes without saying that Kara's a total bitch, as Cheerleaders tend to be on TV, but somewhere underneath her brash exterior is a softer side which is hinted at and will no doubt be explored as she progresses through her illness and gets to know the other characters.

I recognize that none of that sounds wonderfully exciting or unique, and in a lot of ways it isn't. The pilot isn't spectacular, in my opinion. It suffers from the horrible exposition you tend to expect from a pilot episode, but it's worse here since it's all delivered in voice over narration from Charlie, who happens to be in a coma. The characters don't really feel like real people yet. They mostly exist to either deliver overly emotional platitudes, and to fill prescribed roles. The pilot also suffers from an odd lack of Octavia Spencer. Since the promos all suggested she'd be a major part of the series, it's an interesting choice to not fill in any of her back story just yet.

But what makes this first episode so promising are the little things. First there's the refreshingly diverse cast with black and Latino characters and female characters that I'm sure will prove to be more than just love interests. There are also queer storylines and characters that are established (or at least hinted at) in this first hour. And as cliche as it is, I really like the story of the heartless bitch girl who discovers that her problem is that her hearts actually too large. The show is also playing with what it means to be in a coma as Charlie narrates and has meetings with other characters when they're unconscious. The show has a fun sense of humor with a lot of Spencer's moments serving to bring the funny, and nice moment in a convenience store when the underage boys try to buy booze for their party. And I don't think there's any doubt that the show will bring the pathos in the weeks to come as its entire premise seems created to make you cry when the time is right. And I think the show has a great grasp of its setting. The comparison Charlie makes to life in a hospital being a lot like life at a boarding school is an interesting one and I'm curious to see the multiple ways in which that might play out.

There's still a lot of uncertainty with the show, and it has its bumps it will need to iron out to be fully believable. I'd love to see the voice over either fully eliminated or at least paired down to the basics. Charlie delivering exposition in this fashion doesn't have to be horrible, but so long as the show wants him to deliver reaction zingers to the things happening on screen, things are going to remain a bit choppy. And we'll have to get to know these characters a lot better in the time to come. They're working with a fairly big ensemble and this first episode didn't offer much hope that they know how to balance out the characters' screen time just yet. The lack of balance also speaks to the episode's problem with pacing. Jodi's ability to get Dr. McAndrew to agree to perform his surgery after the course of one conversation was a bit unbelievable, and the fact that all of these kids came together by the end of the episode and are all now, ostensibly, friends isn't something I found to be fully believable. But even with all of that being said, I think there's a lot of potential to be found in this first hour. If nothing else, I found the show to be wonderfully entertaining and I hope Fox gives the show room to breathe and to find its audience.

Friday, August 22, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E13


When America gets it right, America gets it right. And this season has truly reaffirmed for me that what I tend to love about So You Think You Can Dance so much is that I often feel as though America gets it right with this show. This is rarely a show in which a contestant can coast by forever on just personality and a cute smile. I think it's a show in which personality and a cute smile will get you very far, but they can't and most often won't, get you all the way. This isn't a show where the majority of the contestants are so evenly matched that they might as well be interchangeable. And this isn't a show where it's difficult for the Audience to see the truth of a performance or a performer and to vote accordingly. To that end, just look at the ultimate fate of Rudy; no amount of the judges smoothing over his continued technical flaws was enough to allow him to make it as far as a lot of us were worried he'd make it. Some part of that, I think, has to do with the manner in which this show has risen America's general dance IQ to a point where we're capable of seeing past even the judges' weekly critiques, but another part of that simply owes to the way people have always viewed this show.

And so we reach the final elimination episode of the season before the finale and the crowning of America's favorite dancer. In honor of such an occasion, how about we look at each of our remaining 6 dancers' journey from the beginning until now? Or at least from the moment of the earliest competition episode, which is when I started my writeups anyway. 

Ricky's been my favorite, and I think the Show's favorite as well, since his audition. He came kind of prepackaged for everything this show looks for in a dancer. He's an attractive young male (something the core demographic of teen girls just swoon for), with a bubbly personality and a heavy heaping of talent. Couple all of that with his precious story about following this show closely for the last 10 years and dreaming of the day he'd be on the stage, and he's the producers' wet dream. It's been a great decade for SYTYCD, and they've done a lot to affect the way this country views dance. Wouldn't it be the crowning achievement of this show to crown its first winner who's been around watching and following the show's progress since the very beginning when he was too young to compete? 

In my first review, I pointed out that I thought Ricky would prove himself to be just as capable in other styles as he did in Sonya's emotional piece of that night. With a fun and exciting Bollywood number, and possibly the season's best Hip Hop number under his belt, I think we can say that that's been proven many times over. His performances this week are no exception. I pointed out last week that he might be the dancer who's danced within his element the most often over the course of the season. As if looking to eliminate that complaint, he's given Broadway and Cha Cha tonight. I do think his performances suffer a bit from just how good I know he can be. There wasn't anything spectacular in the Broadway number with Valerie, but I think that also has to do with how disappointed with Spencer Liff I've been all season. The Cha Cha was a much better number for him, but no matter what the judges said to the contrary, I couldn't take my eyes off of Anya, and I don't believe that he manhandled her nearly as much as everyone else claims. I think he was good within it, and he danced it very well, and I also think he looked a lot more at home within the style than you would have expected, but this was also one of the few times that I felt as though he was just overshadowed by his partner. I doubt this will be a problem going forward, and I still fully expect him to win, but I do think this point in the competition is an odd place to stumble. 

Valerie was a contestant I felt had found her way into the top twenty because of the producers' desire for a second Tap dancer. I still think that the manner in which the series started, with everyone paired with a dancer in their own style, was a problematic choice which led, perhaps, to certain dancers being here that maybe shouldn't have been, and off and on during the competition, I've felt like Valerie was one of those dancers. She was slightly overshadowed by Zack in their first Tap performance so long ago, and it often felt like she was being carried by Ricky when they were partners. But that's to take nothing away from what were some spectacular moments for her. The Voodoo Doll Hip Hop routine she and Ricky did, and their Viennese Waltz come to mind. 

But that doesn't mean that she necessarily deserves to have made it this far, and her performances tonight kind of prove that. I've already mentioned that I didn't think there was anything special about the Broadway number, but I'll take that a step farther and point out the amount of time spent at the beginning of the number where she's just sitting or standing on the swing while Ricky dances around her. There's also a moment in her Hip Hop number with tWitch where she's sitting and doing a few hand articulations while he does most of the dancing. It all carries with it a feel of the choreographers wanting to shunt her off to the side so they can feature her better partners a bit more. I think she proved in the Voodoo Doll number that she's far more capable of dancing Hip Hop than a lot of the other dancers this season, but that number blows this one out of the water in a lot of ways. But America loves her and she moves on to the finale, so there's really no point in complaining. 

Jessica has had the roughest journey to reach this point of any contestant left. From having to dance for her life during callbacks and earning her spot on the show, she fell into a perfect routine with the season's strongest contestant. It was a way to set the bar higher than she'd honestly be capable of achieving for quite sometime thereafter. She was also beset by partner after partner in danger of going home. She was locked in a number of nonsensical performances with partners that just weren't going to make the cut, but to her credit, it took a long time before she found herself in danger of going home (lasting until the 10th episode before being in the bottom for the first time). This goes to show that America saw something in her that might not have been as obvious week after week. 

But when it was time for her to shine, Jessica kicked the wattage up to a thousand. Her and Casey's Contemporary number in the 10th episode is the primary reason they're both still here this week. They were both in danger of going home then and they came out and gave it their all and danced with a passion and a level of chemistry the likes of which we hadn't seen from either of them in their previous partnerships. I commented that week that I was sad we didn't get to spend more time with them as a couple, and I will repeat that statement in the wake of their excellent Disco number from this week. This was Disco the likes of which we haven't seen all season, and it was outstanding! It was fast, fun and powerful, and Jessica was perfectly on display throughout all of it. Not so great was her Jazz number with Ade from later in the evening. I found all of that to be a hot mess from top to bottom and don't care to get into it, but after a rocky up and down journey, Jessica's done more than enough to prove that she deserves her spot in the finale. 

Casey's road to this point was also a little rocky in places. His talent level has always been evident, but in a season where the boys were just so great from the word go, Casey often felt like the junior partner. He was constantly having to chase after the bar being set ever higher by Ricky, Zack, and Emilio. But from the moment he found himself in the bottom three after the first vote of the season, I think it was clear that Casey came to work. He fought during that episode to prove he deserved to stick around, and to his credit, he didn't find himself in the bottom again until the 10th episode, sparking the superb routine with Jessica. I'll admit to not having been wowed by many of Casey's numbers over the course of the season, but if there were an award for most improved dancer, I do think it would go to him. I think it's easy to see how Casey was overshadowed very often by the stronger guys, but when he needed to dig deep and bring out something in a performance that made him worth keeping around, he showed himself more than equal to the task. 

This week saw something of an anomaly though: After a wonderfully spectacular Disco number, he was given a deeply emotional Contemporary number and I simply didn't feel it. I need to watch the routine again to see what I wasn't connecting with, and admittedly I was distracted by what I thought was a horrible wardrobe choice on him, but something about it just left me a little cold. Normally these kind of obvious tear-jerker Contemporary routines work like magic on me, but this one didn't have it. I'm a little gun shy to blame the dancing, as I thought it was danced well, but if not that, then what? Either way, I think it ended up being a little easy to see why Casey wasn't going to go any farther than this point in the competition. He was constantly fighting to show that he was capable of dancing up on the level set by Ricky and Zack, and in the end, it just wasn't going to be enough to allow him to outlast those two. 

Zack was another contestant that burst out of the gate as an early favorite. Some part of that early on was of course the novelty that tends to come with having a Tapper on the show to begin with, but he quickly started to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with during callbacks. Every bit of feedback we heard him receive had to do with how amazing he was outside of his own style in each round of the competition. If there's a formula for non-Contemporary dancers on this show to do well, it's found in the ability to excel in other genres, and Zack has had that in spades. He's done African Jazz, Hip Hop, a great Paso Doble, and the single sexist Jazz routine in the history of the series. He dances outside of his element every single week, and he never fails to be perfectly entertaining each time. There's something about this show that demands a high level of technical skills, wonderful personality, and great performance/showmanship. Ricky might beat out Zack in technical skill, but Zack owns him in performance/showmanship. Luckily, they're fairly evenly matched in personality, so the upcoming finale with the two of them (the finale I've wanted for weeks and weeks now) should be a heavy weight boxing match of two perfectly matched opponents.

His performances this week did more that prove why he fully deserves to be in the finale; they also marked the first time this season that I honestly thought he might actually beat Ricky. The judges complain about the Foxtrot he does with Jacque, but I have to disagree with them. On the one hand, I fully agree with Mary's observations about the moments when the couple were in close hold; I expected the movement to be a little smoother too, but I also really didn't care. I was really happy to see these two together again, and I thought that their easy chemistry and great performing ability was more than enough to smooth out some of those performance wrinkles. I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the routine. And if that first routine had me grinning, his second number with Fik-Shun had my jaw on the ground. This was everything I had hoped it would be when I heard they were paired together last week and then some. How the judges didn't get off their asses and give this number a standing-o is beyond me. I can't even begin to talk about the dance critically because I was blown away by every aspect of it. Great concept, great choreography, great dancing from both of the performers. Zack kept up with Fik-Shun in a style that was more that just a straight up Hip Hop, this was hitting right where Fik-Shun lives, and yet Zack was there with him for every moment. Zack won the night with this performance (and also his great solo) as far as I'm concerned, and for the first time I found myself thinking that Ricky had really better watch out. 

As a Ballerina, it could be said that Jacque started the competition with the deck stacked slightly against her. I think she quickly added a little distance between herself and the season's other Ballerina, Jourdan, and then she proved week after week why she deserved to be here with her spectacular routines with Zack. Every one of the routines I mentioned about Zack a couple paragraphs ago can equally be mentioned about Jacque. She was there with him the entire way, she was dancing just as much out side her comfort zone as he was, and the two of them worked hard to elevate one another. I knew she would soar when she was paired with the all stars, and I haven't been disappointed once. From her excellent Contemporary and Ballet fusion piece to the Hip Hop number she danced last week, she's more than proven herself as a strong contestant.

In fact, I think she's shown herself to be the girl to beat; which is why I'm surprised and saddened that she went home this week. I already said I thought her and Zack's Foxtrot was great, but I have to admit that I thought he Contemporary dance with Will was even better. I heard the concept and immediately thought there was no way for this to work, and then I was promptly proven wrong. The opening section with the ball was smooth and effortless in a fashion I never would have imagined. And the two of them fully embodied the youthful love that Cheesman was aiming for. I think Valerie is adorable, but I honestly think her spot in the top 4 belongs to Jacque. 

And there you have it, the story thus far. Next week we get the performance finale, and the week after that will be the season finale and results show. I think it's really wonderful that Jessica and Valerie have made it this far, but I also think that anyone who doesn't recognize that this is a fight between Zack and Ricky at this point is fooling themselves. I hope we can figure out some way to keep score between the two of them next week, because while I think that Ricky's entire body of work shows how much he deserves to win the title, Zack has never been too far behind him and he's really emerged in these last couple weeks as someone who is more than capable of making a real push for the win.

Stray Observations:

--The opening number is very pretty, and it’s well danced. But I’m wondering if it doesn’t showcase the problem with not having a hip hop dancer at this stage in the competition? No one really wows me or knocks the routine out of the park, and I think that has a lot to do with the continued problems of Hip Hop being these guys’ weakest style.

--I didn't spend much time talking about the solos, because why should I? But I thought Ricky, Zack, and Jacque really did a fantastic job in that realm. I think Jacque's choice of wardrobe and music went a far way towards telling a story within a style that doesn't tend to tell much of a story in such a short amount of time. It was also cute and fun in a kind of fusion manner that put me back in mind of the Ballet/Contemporary number.

--I couldn't help but to think that Disco is really the style that Casey was made for. That 1000 watt smile of his really really shines in such a fun and fast routine. And he was a strength and composure that I don't think we've ever seen from him before. I was ridiculously impressed. 

--I had a couple of problems with some isms in this episode. Namely the slightly sexist language surrounding Ricky and Anya's number and what I felt was an oddly racist bent to Jessica and Ade's number. Why exactly did that need to be set in Japan, and what was being said about Japan and Japanese clubs by way of that extreme wardrobe choice? It's always possible I'm a bit too sensitive to these things, but something about that didn't set well with me at all.

--What routines do you expect/hope to see again in 2 week's time? I usually love to guess, but my guesses often skew a bit towards the Contemporary and Jazz side of things. I'll take some time this weekend, maybe, and watch through all of the performances and then try to formulate a list, but it's a bit too late to do so now.

--Also, there's another check in from the AV Club on this week's episode. I love it that Sava and I don't necessarily have the same view on things.

--Also also, I forgot to draw attention to Philip Chbeeb. He's back in his first (hopefully of many) stint as a choreographer, but he's also the focal point of the New Ed Sheeran video, and I think we know how much I love Ed Sheeran, so this is awesome.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E12

Oh man oh man oh man! What an episode. And not necessarily because of the dancing, but because of so many other reasons. I don't even know where to begin. Should we tackle the episode in order? I guess we should because I'm honestly not sure how else I want to go about it. First things first, I guess: Michael Jackson Tribute episode!!!! I have wanted this show to do a Jackson episode for a very long time because I have long been of fan of his music. I fully understand the sort of mental gymnastics one has to do to be a fan of his music without ever condoning the things he's done and been accused of doing, I also fully understand why this show with its past ties to Wade Robson would have found it a bit difficult and maybe even inadvisable to do a Jackson episode, but I couldn't help but to be psyched up for this week.

To make matters even better, it's a tribute episode done right; something I had very serious doubts this show was capable of. But the reason this tribute works is because they allowed the choreographers to be inspired by Jackson's music instead of simply trying to recreate specific dance performances or capture his signature style of movement. The Mia Michaels' episode could have been good (maybe) had they asked their choreographers to all create routines inspired by Mia, or dedicated to Mia, or maybe if they had just asked Mia to come up with 7 or 8 all new routines herself. OK maybe that last one would have been asking a bit much, but after her prolonged absence from the show, I think it's the least we deserve. But I digress. Here is an episode where the choreographers were allowed to come up with their own routines and the only requirement was that those routines be set to an MJ song.

This starts with the great opening number by Travis Payne set to "A Place with No Name." Allow me to take this moment to say if you are a Michael Jackson fan and you haven't checked out his new album of previously unreleased tracks, "Xscape" you should do so immediately. Because it's way better than posthumous work tends to be. With that being said, I enjoyed the opening number a lot. It was weird and futuristic in a fashion that, I felt, played up the timelessness of this particular artist. There was a feeling of Gone But Never Forgotten to the piece, as if his music will be remembered even when we've been replaced by weird metallic robot (or alien) things. Or at least that's how it felt to me, I could be totally wrong on that.

After that, Cat informs us that each of the dancers are dancing a solo because, why not? And to kick things off we get Tanisha. In the past, I've talked about the way "Ballroom relies too heavily on partnering to ever look great in solo," allow me now to eat those words because I thought Tanisha was wonderful. There was a fire and a passion to her movement that grabbed and held my attention the whole way through. I've mentioned before that she's the last of way too many six Ballroom dancers in the competition and she's had to hold it down for the genre; I certainly think she did that with her solo.

Ricky and Jaime are next up with a Travis Wall Contemporary number set to "Smile" and there simply aren't enough synonyms for "great" for me to do this routine any real justice. There's a part of me that thinks it's worth noting that during this voting portion of the season, Ricky has danced either Contemporary or Jazz (which always looks enough like Contemporary to me to not really be able to tell the difference) 4 times. And that's excluding the group numbers he's been a part of in that style. In the show's defense, he has done Bollywood, Hip Hop, and a Waltz, but I do think the argument could be made at this point that maybe he hasn't been pushed as hard outside of his comfort zone as some of the other dancers have been. Zack for example who is out of his comfort zone every night. But I'm biased, and I love him, so I'm not going to complain about it. And when he dances as beautifully within his own style as he does, it's hard not to want to see him doing it night after night. Nothing takes away from the fact that this performance is breathtaking and those lifts are just to die for. Travis says in no uncertain terms that Ricky is just the guy to beat, and I couldn't agree with him more.

Zack's solo reaffirmed just how much I want a Zack/Ricky finale this season. Here's another place where I'll have to admit a bias: I love Tap. I know it isn't everyone's favorite, but there's a joy, a youthfulness, and a rhythm/musicality to it that I simply love. Zack's solo is fun, expansive, and energetic. He uses the stage in a fashion that's mesmerizing, and he reminds us just what he's capable of when he is in his element. In that sense, I feel the same way about Zack that I do about guys like Fikshun (with whom he'll be dancing next week, by the way. I'm giddy with excitement over that prospect!), which is they wow us week after week dancing outside of their style, but then blow us away when we get to see them cut loose with their solos. I love this kid, and his safety brings us one step closer to the final episode I crave!

Valarie and Ryan Samba to "Wanna be Startin' Somethin'" and it's one of those performances the judges love and I hate. I haven't had the time to watch it through again yet, but in the moment I felt no chemistry between the two of them at all, I thought the Samba Rolls looked sloppy as hell (really it just looked like Valarie's body wasn't capable of bending that way), and I found it all to be without passion. Ryan's strength was on display again, and that was fun to watch, but I didn't feel any connection to this performance. Mary, however, loved it and knows more about this sort of stuff than I do, so I guess we'll defer to her. Either way, Valarie gets the news that after her hot mess of a performance with Ade last week, she's still safe and that put me on pins and needles. I thought for sure it was her time to go, but her safety puts someone else in danger of going home, and that's just a bit sad to me.

Casey dances his solo next and..... OK I guess. It was cute, it was danced well, we all know that boy can spin, but there felt like an odd disconnect here between his movements and the intentionality of the music. It was on tempo and everything, but there were times when he had a seeming force or even anger that I didn't think the music called for. All of it felt a little odd at the end of the day.

But even with that being the case it's still heads and shoulders above Rudy's solo. I honestly laughed during the entirety of this dance. Everything about it shouted "Hey look at me! Look at how manly and masculine I am! Be impressed!" And in so doing, it felt like a little prepubescent boy flexing in a mirror to try and convince himself his manly physique was coming in properly. The sad part about the facade here is that its obviously falseness shines through in the quality of the movement. His jumps don't feel like they get much height to them, we know he's not as physically strong as some of the other dances by just looking at his lifts (the one single arm that I loved withstanding), and nothing about him screams manly man at all. Or at least it doesn't to me. So as he jumps and struts around on stage and I'm left thinking, wait til they drop, kiddo, and then try it again.

Casey and Comfort dance a Pharside and Phoenix Hip Hop number set to "Xscape." I honestly don't want to take anything away from Casey on this number. I thought his movement was sharp and he hit really hard. He could have gotten down in the pocket a little lower, and I never really felt the "He wants her but knows he shouldn’t have her” story elements that were supposed to be there, but other than that I thought it was a performance that certainly showed, as Nigel points out, just how much better he's been getting over these weeks. My real problem with the routine is the feeling that Pharside and Phoenix choreographed it more for Comfort than they did for Casey. I felt like she was more in the forefront, and there were a number of times that Casey seemed to be just on the ground or in the back waiting for her finish up or to come to him and bring him into the number more. Comfort is amazing, and I fully understand the desire to create a piece just for her, but this competition has to be about the competitors and not the All Stars, and I feel like the number more so than the dancers did a disservice to that. It's revealed that Casey's in the bottom two, which I don't think surprised anyone really.

Jacque's solo is beautiful and I couldn't take my eyes off of it. That's really all I have to say about that. I also don't have much to say about Tanisha and Nick's Contemporary routine set to "She’s Out of my Life." I will say that I think this is the sexiest we've ever seen Nick. That five o'clock shadow is doing wonders for him as far as I'm concerned. But I didn't feel like there was much to latch onto in the choreography. It was danced brilliantly, and I think Tanisha effortlessly keeps up with Nick, but the number didn't really stick to my bones. This, however, was totally Stacey Tookey's fault in my opinion. Tanisha's the first girl in the bottom and I can't help but to feel she got the spot that should have went to Valerie. I've been thinking she's probably the best girl in the competition for awhile now, and her dance last week with Ryan was out of this world sexy, but oh well I guess.

Jessica gets a solo that felt oddly desperate to me. We know she's good in her own style, and she certainly danced well, but there was just an element to it that left me feeling a bit out of place. And then Rudy and Allison get a Jazz number set to "Dirty Diana" which gains them the most undeserved standing ovation from the judges in the history of the show. I'm so over the judges' continued fallateing of Rudy, but I've also said all there is to say on this point. He's revealed as being in the bottom two finally, and so American at least got one thing right and ensured Zack would be safe after his phenomenal performance last week.

I'm tempted to jump right into the results after that, but Valerie danced a solo that proves why Zack is the only Tapper this show needs. And then Zack and Makenzie tackle a Broadway routine to "The Way You Make Me Feel." It wasn't a highlight for Zack to be sure. They two of them weren't as in sync as they probably should have been, and I don't know that they had quite as much chemistry as they could have had, but it was still a routine that was danced well. I also think Spencer Liff has just kind of been off this season in general as none of his routines have been real standouts, but he did make it a point to mention how professional Zack is. Between this compliment and Travis calling Ricky the dancer to beat, I'm starting to think the choreographers agree with me about which two performers deserve to be moving forward.

Ricky's got the last solo of the day, and just when I was starting to think that I'd seen everything there was to see from Contemporary solos, Ricky jumps and lands in a controlled split that's simply to die for. This one trick is the wow factor that's missing from Casey and Rudy's solos. His body control is really unparalleled, and he's got skill and personality and he's just generally amazing.

Jacque and tWitch dance a Hip Hop routine to "Slave to the Rhythm." I've praised Jacque in the past for her outstanding performance ability. She and Zack threw themselves into each character and each story they were given, and this wasn't any different. She embodied the character well, even though we were never really told who the character or what the story was. What I found to be less believable was her dancing. She still feels like a Ballerina stuck in a Hip Hop number to me. She's not low enough in the pocket, she isn't hitting hard enough, and there was something about the entire number that felt as though tWitch was labored and bogged down by a lesser partner. In an odd move, Jacque joins Tanisha in the bottom two. I'm left wondering if this is again because the girls are back to just being interchangeable really? Jessica and Valerie are clearly the two weakest girls in this mix, and that's even taking into consideration Jessica's recent surge to the top, but they're both safe.

Speaking of Jessica, I thought her Contemporary routine set to "Earth Song" was good, but by no means standing ovation worthy. Jessica continues to the trend of dancing up (or down) to her partner's level and easily keeps up with Will, but I didn't think this performance was remarkably memorable in the long run.

Which brings us to the results. Cat calls Rudy and Tanisha to step forward, everyone takes a deep breath, and then she reveals that they are.....going home. And I cheered. Sad though I am for Tanisha's early exit, it was starting to look like a Rudy/Ricky face-off for the finale was inevitable, and I can't help but to be overjoyed that we've avoided that. I don't think this is always the case for this show, but one of the reasons why I've continued to watch it over the years is because the way talent more often wins out over personality. Or at least a strong combination of talent and personality are needed from the winners. In the end, more often than not, I think the truth will out on this show, and no amount of the judges' slurping was enough to keep Rudy around indefinitely. In the end, his fans weren't strong enough to help him out last more talented performers (except Emilio. Poor Emilio). The results for the girls are more confusing at this stage, but I also find them to be more inconsequential. It's been obvious that the boys are stronger this year from the very beginning, so the chances of one of the ladies swooping in and stealing the win from Ricky is highly improbable. Rudy might have seemed to be the biggest competition to Ricky's eventual glory, but now that he's gone, I don't think we've got much of anything to really worry about. There should just be some great dancing and a happy finish in the weeks to come.

Stray Observations:

--I generally never vote for this show. There's no specific reason behind that, I just don't. But I'm so dead set on getting a Ricky/Zack finale that I actually did vote last night. I split my 20 votes equally between Ricky and Zack, and I'm honestly hoping this pays off.

--How poetic would it have been had Rudy and Jacque been voted off in the same episode? Am I the only who found the prospect of that funny?

--From the moment Justin Bieber was revealed to be involved with the dance crew element of this season, I knew it would be pointless, but even I'm surprised by just how pointless it has been. I think if the show wants to spice things up by adding dance crews to the competition, then that could be something to explore, but I don't know how they'd do so without sacrificing something. I was thinking earlier on that the dance crews would show up weekly and compete against each other, maybe get a couple numbers a night in some sort of bracketing system with the crew getting the most votes advancing week after week until there were only two left before the finale. Then we could crown America's favorite dancer and America's favorite dance crew in the same night. That would at least be interesting and give me a reason to actually pay attention during these performances, but I doubt the show has enough time week after week to do all of those things. But if this is something they're going to continue doing in the seasons to come, I'd like to see them integrate it into the show and the competition as a whole better.