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.

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