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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Film Review: Lucy (2014)

I could say that Lucy is a film about a woman conned into acting as a drug mule for some very disreputable men, but I'm not sure how accurate that is. The film is actually about the myth that people only use 10% of their brain's capacity and what might happen were we to tap into the other 90%. I think the fact that this myth has been debunked many times over is interesting as it brings up some questions about the amount of science needed in Science Fiction, but more on that in a bit.

As a film, Lucy is OK at best; it's certainly watchable if not fully enjoyable. Scarlett Johansson is wonderful as always, and she does a great job presenting Lucy's progress from a sweet, normal (whatever that means) girl to someone seemingly devoid of humanity or empathy. The suggestion that higher brain capacity and function leads to someone being less human instead of more is certainly interesting, though not very unique or original. Morgan Freeman is also a pleasure, but that's mostly because Freeman is always a pleasure. He does little more here than deliver exposition in his great Morgan Freeman voice. The film also features a diverse group of top billed actors, which is always commendable. But that's about where the compliments end. Spoilers to follow.

The film's cinematic problems include general plot hole and continuity struggles. Early on in her brain activation, the point is made that Lucy is becoming less and less human. The implication being she's starting to lose some basic human empathy. She quickly finds the man responsible for her current state. She effortlessly kills all of his guards, immobilizes him, uses her new telepathic powers to find out where all of the other drug mules were sent so she can start the process of hunting them down, and then she leaves him alive. Why? She has no problem killing the men working for him, and yet when she has this man (who is far worse than his little worker bees) at her mercy, she leaves him alive. The film offers no reasoning for this choice, so I'm left thinking that it happened because the plot required it. They would have been robbed of their big finish showdown sequence had she killed him early on. The movie is full of these head scratching moments.

But these storytelling problems are nothing compared to the films extremely faulty logic and science. I think there's a fair amount of balance that is expected from a Science Fiction film. If there's more fiction than science, I think audiences (or more specifically just me) will be capable of suspended disbelief and just going with it so long as the bad science doesn't ask more questions than it answers. When there's more science than fiction, you run the risk of the story being boring. For an example of this, read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park which is far more interested in how dinosaurs might be made than it is in telling a story and, therefore, isn't near as good as it's film adaptation. Lucy falls into an odd space where it feels like the filmmakers are more interested in science than story and yet their science is horribly flawed and nonsensical.

Let's say for the moment that we were to suspend our disbelief about the 10% problem; that still doesn't explain why more brain function would in anyway alter the basic physiology of the human body. You can't think yourself into a new hair color just because you've got a bit more brain power. Octopus and Chameleon cells can do that, human bodies cannot and nothing the film posits suggests that that basic physiology would change. Likewise, the chances of the human body morphing into some weird goo to form a super computer is highly unlikely. The film doesn't intend on its viewers asking the questions of how or why Lucy is capable of doing the things she ends up doing. They fully expect you to take them at their word that this is what would happen. In doing so, it feels like the writers heard once that viewers will suspend disbelief but they never stuck around to find out the steps needed to ensure that would happen. I couldn't stop asking these questions and when the film refused to provide answers, I was left being pulled out of the narrative.

I seriously wanted to like Lucy. As a person who's been wanting a Black Widow film since the character was introduced back in Iron Man 2, I thought this might be a nice way to bridge the gap to that film. A female fronted action movie starring Black Widow herself that was successful might lead the people behind Marvel Studios to see just what they were missing by keeping her out of her own franchise. Instead we got a film that seems to want to walk in between genres and doesn't really do one or the other well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance S11E11

First off, so sorry it's taken me so long to get this review up. Thursday was my birthday, so I've been having a very busy week with friends, and I didn't even get around to watching the episode until today. But either way, here we are at the 11th episode of this 11th season of SYTYCD and with it, we get to look at our Top 10 and their first routines with the All Stars, so without further adieu let's get down to it.

The night opens with a group number that I think perfectly set the tone for the night to follow: Fun! It's fast, its adorable, everyone gets a bit of the spotlight and some time to shine, and I loved every minute of it. Including the costuming which I couldn't say enough good things about. It was just a wonderful way to kick off the night where we usher in the 10 "best" dancers of the competition and bring out the all stars.

Once we get that out of the way and we're introduced to our judges (Tara Lipinski is the guest judge this week, and she's actually a lot better than I thought she'd be), Cat informs us that the results are going to be handled differently. The dancers will each get their results at the end of each performance. Because America is deciding who stays and who goes without any input from the judges, there's really no point in telling the dancer's who's in danger before they dance. Nothing they do during the routines will be able to save them anyway. So unlike in the weeks leading up to this, the knowledge of who's in danger is purely formality. In general, I like this outlook, and I like the way it helped us to get right into the dancing, but the only drawback to doing results in this fashion is that after the dancers have danced and gotten great feedback, the moment is then ground to a screeching halt as Cat has to tell them if they're safe or not. So while this move improves the momentum of the show leading into the first routine of the night, it also has the ability to derail that momentum right at the end of the judges' feedback.

But there's nothing to be done about that, so let's get down to business with the first routine of the night: Bridget and Brandon dancing a cool hybrid Disco and Bollywood routine. If the theme of the night is Fun, then this routine started us off on exactly the right foot. I thought it was an interesting and really great fusion of styles. The ending result is a routine that lacks the typical number of lifts we get from a Disco routine, but managed to make the lifts it did feature really count in terms of strength and athleticism. I thought Bridget did a great job of keeping up with Brandon, and it actually wasn't until I watched the performance through for a second time that I realized he fell on the last acrobatic trick of the routine while she pulled it off well. So in that sense, at least, she might have even out performed her All Star. After the fun routine and glowing praise from the judges, Bridget is informed that she's the first girl in the bottom two. It's a clear let down and sucks some of the energy out of the room and out of the performance, but there you have it.

Tanisha and Ryan follow up with an Argentine Tango which happens to be fun and ridiculously sexy at the same time. Tanisha is the last Ballroom dancer in the competition. As such, it's almost as if she has to carry the mantle all on her own after a season that seemed poised to be the first Ballroom dominated season we've had in quite some time.  Tanisha effortlessly keeps up with Ryan and matches his skill level and his passion. Ryan's strength is also well on display here as he moves her through some of the most intense and crazy lifts I think we've seen thus far. Anyone who doubted that Rudy was holding Tanisha back from being able to shine to her fullest extent need only watch this performance. None of what we saw from these two would have been possible if she had still been dancing with Rudy instead of Ryan. Tanisha has quickly established herself as one of the strongest girls in the competition.

The night progresses to Emilio and Jasmine's amazing Hip Hop number from the returned NappyTabs. With a story about a king and his pet snake who actually is scheming to try and steal the throne, this is easily the best Hip Hop routine we've seen on the show this season. Emilio is perfectly in his element and he shines as you would expect him to. He's also well aided by the sheer perfection that is Jasmine, and the fun and exuberance that is NappyTabs' brand of choreography. If there's one thing I could say to detract from this performance at all, it would be that for certain stretches of time, I couldn't take my eyes off of Jasmine. But whether that has to do with a failing on Emilio's part or just because I've been in love with Jasmine from day one remains to be seen. After another perfect and glowing review from the judges, Cat tells us that Emilio is the first boy in the bottom two. Clearly America didn't enjoy the Soul Stealing number from last week as Bridget and Emilio find themselves in trouble early on.

The first hiccup of the night comes from Valarie and Ade's Jazz number. I think we can start by pointing out that Valarie is slightly hampered here by yet another uninspired and unoriginal piece of choreography from Tyce. But on the other hand, I also think there's something to be commended in the way Tyce seems to want to challenge her to step outside of herself and play a character that's really the opposite of who she is. Versatility is very important in this competition and as a dancer in general. This is to say versatility as a dancer and as a performer too, and it's the latter that Valarie lacks. I've loved Ricky since day one, and I enjoyed the majority of he and Valarie's performances, but they weren't ever a couple I felt sad to see split up and this is why. While Ricky is elevated by his All Star, Valarie is overshadowed by Ade. She doesn't get into the character, she can't sell the emotion, and as a result the performance fails. It's also a glaring misstep in what was until this point a fairly perfect night. Valarie is safe this week, but I'm guessing she won't be so lucky next week.

Rudy pairs with Jenna for a Cha Cha and.... yeah that happened I guess. I don't know what more I can say about Rudy that I haven't already said. While I'm willing to concede that he certainly danced well in the weeks leading up to forming the Top 10, I still don't think he's talented enough to be here, and this week I feel as though that showed. The confusing thing to me is I've officially found myself in a position whereby I'm totally incapable of telling if it's my own personal bias against him that's coloring my view, or if he really just isn't dancing well enough. But either way, I wasn't impressed with the Cha Cha at all. I didn't find it sexy, I didn't feel any chemistry between him and Jenna, and I wasn't captivated by it. Moreover, I find the faces he constantly makes to the camera to be distracting and a false affectation, and his demeanor during the judging feels forced and fake to me. Compared to Ricky's banter with Cat later on, it looks like someone trying hard to have some kind of personality that he doesn't have otherwise. But of course he's safe, and if the judges' kid gloves this week is any indication, he'll be safe again next week. I mean, really, Nigel doesn't even say a single word about the dance routine, he simply talks about Rudy's personality and performance, and I'm over it. I'm officially guessing Rudy will be in the finale going up against Ricky, and here's hoping talent wins out on that night.

The second fusion number of the night is Jacque and Chehon's Contemporary and Ballet piece from Travis Wall. I wish it was possible to put the beauty and perfection of this number into words, but it really isn't. This was a number that simply couldn't have been danced nearly as well by any other two dancers. Nigel points out the direction of the performance and the way their shadow's were perfectly in frame in the background the entire time, and he couldn't be more right. I don't think the direction of these numbers gets enough attention, but this is a number that demands attention. I had goosebumps from beginning to end on this one. Jacque is the second girl in the bottom, but I'm honestly hoping she doesn't find herself there again after this. I suspected that she'd really shine with the All Stars (not that she didn't also shine with Zack) and this week proves that's highly probable. So I hope she sticks around for awhile.

Ricky is paired with Lauren for a Jazz number. Again we see a great dancer elevate his game for the Top 10. I think Ricky dances it really well, he keeps up with Lauren effortlessly, and embodies Mandy's odd quality of movement well. But with that being said, this wasn't my favorite Ricky performance. So much of that is because I'm just not really into Mandy's choreography here. It's oddly nondescript and just kind of there. I think it's a lot fun (there's that word again), and to his credit I think it didn't matter that he was dancing with an All Star (a previous winner no less) because I thought he would have been equally amazing with anyone. So while it seems like he elevates his game here, I think he's just been at all star level all along. Either way, he's wonderful and perfect, and I love everything about this kid.

Casey and Kathryn are brought together for a Broadway number and it's a very interesting affair. I think that Casey fought hard last week and elevated his game to find himself in the top 10 this week. He earned his spot, there's no doubt about that, but the odd thing is that I think he had to kick his game up last week in order to find himself on equal footing with the boys. In a week when everyone had to elevate a little higher than they were last week, Casey is leg behind. By which I mean had this routine been danced in this fashion a week ago, I'd be raving about it, but it being danced here just makes it feel like the junior partner. Casey lacks the technical skill of Ricky (no matter what Nigel says to the contrary), and the personality and perceived personality of Zack and Rudy. As such, I don't know what his place is in the competition. His stellar performance last week earns him a place in the Top 8, but I'll be slightly surprised if he makes it farther than that.

Jessica and tWitch get the second Hip Hop number from NappyTabs. Jessica also earned her way into the Top 10 with her dancing with Casey last week, but I think she might have punched her ticket to the finale this week. I pointed out the oddity that has been Jessica's messy partnering situation last week while suggesting that she needed to be with the perfect partner and in her own style in order to shine. I think I was half right; when she's found herself with Ricky, Casey, and now tWitch, she's been at her best. She can do other styles wonderfully well, as this week shows, but she does seem to be the kind of contestant that'll dance up or down to her partner. Given that the rest of the competition will see her dancing with All Stars, I think this bodes well for her. If she can deliver this kind of fun every week, then there's no doubt that she's here to say. Tanisha, Jessica, and Jacque seem to be the girls distancing themselves from the others. Or at least they're the three who's names are easily remembered, which is saying something.

Since it was revealed that Casey was safe back on his performance, the writing is on the wall that Zack is the boy in the bottom two with Emilio. This makes him the only contestant to know he's in danger before he takes the stage. He's joined by last season's winner Amy in a Sonya Tayeh Contemporary number that's designed to grab votes and sympathies. It's about a friend that died suddenly. Zack is playing said friend while Amy plays the part of the girl who misses and grieves for him. It's an obvious tearjerker performance the likes of which we've seen many times on this show, but it's no less affecting and perfect because of that. Zack dances with a powerful kind of somber poise that is moving and chilling at the same time. I've never hidden the fact that Zack is my second favorite guy this season, and my guess is that with the group so stacked with talented boys, he finds himself in the bottom this week simply because someone had to be. It's going to be tough from this point forward as guys are in danger and sent home not through any lack of their own but simply because someone has to go until we reach the (seemingly) inevitable Ricky/Rudy showdown at the end. But I will say that if Rudy does indeed outlast Zack this season, it'll be a real travesty.

In the end, Bridget and Emilio are sent home and while I'm disappointed to see Emilio go (he was certainly the third guy on my list of the best boys this season), I also recognize that the cuts are just going to get harder and harder on the guys going forward. The longer the judges continue to play like Rudy is the best thing since sliced bread, the more likely it is that we'll see more deserving talent fall in his wake. I think Jessica, Jacque, and Tanisha are at least the three best girls, but where we go from there is beyond me. As such, my expectation is that Valarie and Casey go home next week, but we'll see.

Stray Observations:

--Oliver is back over on AV Club this week, and his review, as always, is well worth taking a look at.

--Also about Oliver's review: he points out that we're only having one winner this year instead of one guy and one girl. I don't remember anyone saying that, but I have no reason to doubt him on this either. If it is indeed the case, then I have to say I'm really happy about it. One winner is the way it always should have been.

--Did anyone else get a slight Pee Wee Herman vibe from Ricky's performance tonight?

--I don't generally talk about the guest performances on here, but this week featured something I've wanted to see on the show for a long time: a musical guest accompanied by a pair of dancers. Christina Perri's singing left something to be desired, but I thought that Chehon and Kathryn's dancing was almost worth it.

--Nigel mentions that next week will be the Michael Jackson tribute episode I've been wanting them to do for years and years now, so I can't help but to be excited for this. But on the other hand, their tribute episodes tend to be a hot mess, so maybe I shouldn't get my hopes up?