Thursday, November 26, 2009

She Made Me Watch Dancing With the Stars

DancingWithTheStars I don’t often watch reality television (or anything approaching it) of my own free will. Under the influence of my college pals, I had some fun watching the ridiculous Survivor. During the 2007-2008 writers’ strike, we watched the ridiculous American Gladiators. Kid Nation was good possibly child labor law-violating legally questionable at best clean fun. Other than those small diversions into the field (and with two of those three shows long-cancelled by now), I’ve rarely sallied forth into that dirty little subgenre of television.

Even more distasteful to me than reality television is celebrity reality television, the Hogan Knows Bests and Scott Baio is 45 and Singles of the world, the ones where the entertainment industry throws a lifeline to the dregs of C- and D-list actors and actresses who live off of syndication money and DVD sales and haven’t actually done anything of note in years in years. Watching fallen stars wander around in a confused, delusional haze while cameras follow them around? Not for me.

Odd, then, that I consented to watch ABC’s Dancing With the Stars with my girlfriend this season. There’s not much here that I like, in theory – celebrities, dancing, having to devote two to three hours each week to watching a single show (the difference in time depends on whether I elected to watch the results show or just hear the summary afterward) – but against my better judgment I actually found myself enjoying it, if not exactly looking forward to it.

My horrible, true story, after the jump.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise: In Dancing With the Stars, a number of the aforementioned celebrities are paired with professional dancers. Each week, the celebrity/dancer pair learns a new dance routine, and must perform it in front of a panel of judges. Said judges – the old one, the gay one, and the girl – each assign the routine a numerical score out of ten. During and after the show each night, viewers are given the opportunity to vote (via email, text, Internet, whatever) for their favorite couple. These scores are tabulated, and then in the results show the next night, the couple with the lowest total score is eliminated. Repeat until you have a winner.

The tried-and-true elimination format is the bedrock of the show, but what distinguishes it from many reality shows is its attitude. Most elimination-based shows revel in the rivalry of it all, pitting person against person in elaborate alliances and schemes. Reality shows thrive on negative energy – bringing out the worst in bad people brings in the best numbers, it would seem.

Similarly, reality shows with panels of judges often follow in the footsteps of American Idol, with the judges being some of the awful-est, bitchiest, craziest people on television. They take their positions as “judge” as literally as possible, and spend all of their time judging everybody everywhere all the time.

DWTS has some pretty fierce competition. Its judges don’t lack personalities or eccentricities. And yet, the negativity that so pervades the reality space is conspicuously absent. Competitors hug and laugh with each other, right down to the finale. Winning and losing is done with grace, and contestants are almost universally humble and thankful to their fans. Judgment is passed, and it is sometimes harsh but generally fair and always constructive. In an area of television usually populated with trash, the folks at Dancing With the Stars actually inject some genuine class into the proceedings.

Another high point is the bold, brassy band that plays all the show’s songs. Their range is impressive, and in all the weeks I watched the show I didn’t hear a sour note. Plus, they seem to be having a damn good time.

It’s not all sunshine and roses – most notably, co-hostess Samantha Harris is frustratingly clueless in her attempts to question the participants and fill air time. Still, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this show. By the finale, the whole show has taken on the air of a big televised party where a bunch of have gotten together just to have some fun. That ain’t so bad.