I thought, after last week's stellar episode, that maybe I had judged this season too harshly and we were finally getting back into what made this show great. The talent's been culled sufficiently enough that we can believe only the best are left, and we're gearing up for the top 10 which is always an exciting time. And then this episode happened and it became painfully clear that Burim and Asaf weren't season 12's problem; the Street v. Stage conceit and the choreographers are. It's enough to make you see that this show at its best is a well oiled machine of wonderfully working parts. The talented dancers work in tandem with the genius choreographers to bring their vision to life, and then the judges work to bring it all down to earth and give us solid critiques to help us make some level of sense of what we've just seen. At different points of the season, one or more of those cogs weren't spinning properly, and this week I think it's the choreographers.
Though to be fair, when they get it right, they get it very very right. Jim and Yorelis open the night with a number welcoming back a very busy Sonya Tayeh back to the SYTYCD stable of choreographers. And everything about the piece is perfect. It's danced wonderfully, and everything from the concept to the costuming is just pitch perfect. I watched it with my jaw on the ground and my eye bulging and I thought the hot streak of the season would continue. Sadly, it was a bumpy ride from that point on, but we at least started on a serious high note.
Jaja and Edson turn out a good but not great (by any means) performance that left me thinking more about Jaja's skill level at giving a great performance than it did anything else. It was enough to make me think, and not for the first time I might add, that she would have been a welcome addition to the program last year if she'd made it. The girls from last year were never very strong and none of them really stood out at any given time. Jaja would have been the one to really carry the girls through the performances, and she would have been quite a character amongst those other contestants. I don't think she could have challenged Ricky for the win, but it would have been nice to watch anyway. I will say that watching the judges disagree at the end of the performance was a lot of fun. Maybe they do all have real opinions after all.
Virgil and Hailee are paired together again for a Tyce routine. Tyce is one of my least favorite choreographers, or at least I find him to be one of the more hit or miss choreographers in the bunch.
If the first three performances of the night ranged from great to good, the Jazz number between Alexia and Ariana started the overall doom of the episode. It's interesting that the two worst numbers came from same-sex pairings. I've been clamoring for more of these kinds of pairs for the duration of time that I've been watching the show, but what I really wanted were good same-sex dances. I should have been clearer. Instead, the two same-sex numbers of the night have the girls portraying burlesque dancers and pinup models. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing at all wrong with being a burlesque dancer or a pinup model, but it does expose just how limited the choreographers are when it comes to thinking up stories for female dancers. Any all girl performance thus far this season has either been sexy for sexiness' sake, or some bland blanket level "girl power" concept. The judges aren't shy about ripping the girls in both of these dances (Alexia and Ariana in this one, and then JJ and Kate a bit later on) a new one for their performance, but no one thinks to acknowledge the fact that they never should have been asked to do this in the first place? Remember a few seasons back when two of the guys performed some weird Russian jumping dance and Nigel was quick to point out that it wasn't them it was the style, and we've never seen that style on the show again? Where was that same level of concern for these girls? Instead the judges say things like they clearly didn't commit to doing what they were told, and they should just fake it till they make it when put in a position to perform something they don't believe in or that makes them uncomfortable. The extent of how problematic all of this is would break my brain if I tried to parse it all out. Suffice it to say I'm way more disappointed in the choreographers of these pieces than I am the dancers.
The other two performances of the night aren't much better. Megz and Derek's hip hop number is painful to watch. Megz is at least OK and seems to do just about all she can with a significantly inferior dancer in Derek. He's back from missing last week and clearly needs to knock his performance out of the park since his lack of performing automatically put him in the bottom three this week. And yet at no point does he show even a hint of an ability to dance Hip Hop. He dances too high, in his shoulders, and with too much control to hit his pops at all hard enough. It was bad enough to show that had he been asked to dance outside of his style during Vegas week, he probably wouldn't even have made it to the top 20. Unless my notes deceive me, or I missed something, it's his first time dancing a hip hop number, and it comes right before the formation of the top 10. Pathetic. Neptune and Gaby's dancing isn't horrible, but it's a routine in which Stacey Tookey has decided to tackle racism. And of course it looks and feels like just about every conversation I've ever heard about racism from the point of view of a white person. In short, she's not the person to tackle this subject, and she clearly should have left well enough alone.
The group numbers at least brought a high level of skill and concept to the close of the show. Sonya
having two numbers on the night was exactly the right way to go as her number for Team Stage about the immediate moment when you get heartbreakingly bad news is really perfect. And the weird carnival sideshow number for Team Street was a lot of fun too. At this point, it feels like Team Street's group numbers have been been more about team work and pulling together than Stage's have. This one sees all the members of the circus together, dancing, and celebrating their differences. It's both very straight forward and very rewarding all at once.
In the end, the judges can't save anyone, it's fully up to America's twitter voting to decide which one dancer from each team's bottom three will go on to join the top 10. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Neptune and Derek (the only two guys in the bottom at all) get saved. Derek's rewarded for his horrid Hip Hop number by being allowed to stick around for awhile, and Neptune stays in spite of Yorelis' significantly superior performance on the night. It's not that Neptune doesn't deserve it. To me, he shouldn't have been in the bottom in the first place. It's just that if this is the week he ended up in the bottom and we were basing who to save on the performances of the episode, Yorelis is a the keeper for sure. But it's just another lackluster result from this lackluster season, so what more can we even expect?
--Shout out to Megz’s Celebrity Man Crush question to Derek during their video package. Acknowledging our guys sexuality is important and something this show has always shied away from in the past.
--One of the things I noticed in this episode was just how undiverse the dance forms all were. In the episode to decide the top 10, every sing performance was either Jazz, Contemporary, or Hip-Hop. No ballroom, broadway, disco, or Bollywood in the entire hour? What the fuck is up with that?
--Same-Sex Speculation Space: In spite of the show's obvious lack of interest in presenting any good same-sex stories, I've decided to keep this going. This week, the guys. Imagine a routine about two guys who are best friends. One of them has a kid, the other doesn't, and the guy with a kid has recently found out that his wife has died and he's going to be left to raise their baby on his own. His friend comes over to offer his support in the matter, but the guy in a pure macho man fashion refuses to show his weakness to his buddy. In my head, I'm seeing something where one of the contestants puts on a bravado and brave face each time the two of them are facing each other, but every time his friend's back is turned, he breaks down and his true pain, fear, and despair shines through. Until the end when he clearly asks for help and allows his friend to see just how vulnerable he is.