October 17, 2011 10:48pm PT by Michael O'Connell
'Dancing With the Stars' Diatribe: '80s Week Brings Bigger Hair Than Scores
It was a celebration side ponytails, obligatory leather and an assortment of brightly-colored fonts during Dancing With the Stars' first ever '80s Week, one of the more fully-realized theme nights to date. And though nothing could ever approach the glorious flags-and-eagles orgy of Season 12's salute to America, I'll take it.
After all, it's that point in the season when the rehearsal packages seem a little too long. The newness has clearly worn off for the contestants, but the sparkle of that mirrorball trophy isn't yet in sight. As Jan Brady knew all too well, there's not much fun to be had in the middle.
If only Jan had Tom Bergeron to lead her out of the woods.
Things kicked off in an appropriate fashion with the Bangles singing "Eternal Flame" and "Walk Like an Egyptian," despite the band having the rare distinction of never sending a single member of its trio to the series. Yet.
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The Top 8 didn't have the luxury of being backed by any of nostalgic acts, but the '80s tunes came fast and furious from musical director Harold Wheeler. The house band churned out an eclectic mix of the decade's gems from the likes of Wham, Gloria Estefan and Spandau Ballet. "Hello," Lionel Richie's ballad for voyeuristic creeps, even made the playlist.
Week 5 saw a bit of a shakeup on the leaderboard. With the exception of perpetual low-scorers Carson Kressley, Chaz Bono and Nancy Grace, most everyone else found themselves with a new standing.
Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy were first to hit the ballroom, dancing a Tango to Bon Jovi. The judges (Bruno Tonioli excluded) remain tepid about Solo, possibly because she looks miserable. Bruno, however, praised her sexuality, likening to her to Alexis Carrington. (I'm not sure what pleather-filled bootleg of Dynasty they aired over in Italy...) They earn another 24, which does not seem to please them.
Carson Kressley and Anna Trebunskaya, again, remain a fan favorite. The audience couldn't contain their excitement during their Toni Basil-inspired cheerleading Jive. Most of the people I caught on their way out of the ballroom said it was the highlight of the evening -- clearly none of them were the judges. The over-the-top duo remain at the bottom with a score of just 19.
Nancy Grace also did little to improve her standing with the judges. Despite her zeal for that rumba -- she said backstage that it was her favorite -- she and partner Tristan MacManus continue to frustrate Len Goodman with a lack of connection to the moves. A 22.
He's been a darling of the judges since the premiere, but this Samba finally gave J.R. Martinez something he could really work with. Playing up his latin roots and absolutely no hesitation when it comes to shaking that thing, the All My Children alum took home his first 10 of the season and the night's highest score, 28.
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Pushing her slightly timid partner further out of his comfort zone, Cheryl Burke got Rob Kardashian to be more "sexual" with his Rumba. This was, of course, after he dramatically blew out a candle for the camera at the start of their dance. I sort of wish he'd been molding a bust of Lionel Richie out of clay, but you can't have everything. They nabbed a 25, their highest score of the season.
It's never easy to tell how the judges are going to receive Chaz Bono. He and Lacey Schwimmer took on a playful Samba, probably one of his best dances to date, but it only got him a 21. But why? Well, there is nothing heartwarming about Kool & the Gang. The understandable lack of emotional investment seemed to translate to lower scores.
Though I'd give him straight 10s just for the revelation that David Arquette is a closet street artist, he and Kym Johnson settle for a 25 for their "Tainted Love" Tango. Technically, it didn't appear to be one of the best dances of the night, but the judges rewarded the buoyant actor for really coming into his own this season.
And then there's Ricki Lake. The season's most evident frontrunner faltered a bit this week, thanks to an ill-placed running man, earning only 24 for her and Derek Hough's Foxtrot. Even an appearance from Hairspray director John Waters didn't help her connect with the dance. Though perhaps that's not a bad thing. You need to be a little humbled after getting a 29 so early in the season, like she did last week.
I can happily concede that this show should be based on technique, talent and improvement, but an argument should be made in defense of good television. Carson Kressley, however uncoordinated he may be, has given Season 13 its most lively performances. To punish him for that seems mean and incongruent with the spirit of this show, which is watching random celebrities flail about in tacky costumes.
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Not dissimilarly, J.R. Martinez, though ahead of the pack, also seemed to get the short end of the stick when the paddles came up. Just one 10? Normally at this point in the season I'd agree, but given the gratuitous 10-slinging seen last week, maybe he was underscored. The crowd was certainly clamoring for that lone 10 during the scoring.
Maybe it's just the thought that counts.
"It's the best feeling," Martinez's partner Karina Smirnoff told THR after the show of their warm reception. "You can get a great score, but we're entertainers, we want people to be entertained and happy and enjoy the dance as much as we do."
DWTS packages are notoriously over-edited and sometimes a bit skewed, so I wondered if Cheryl was serious when she said she didn't expect Rob to make it this far. The answer? Oh yes.
"Exactly what I said," says Burke. "The first day, you should have seen his first steps. You could tell he wasn't super into it in the beginning. I thought maybe two or three weeks, but he's really into it and he's improving. I think he's found a whole new way of performing on the show."
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Kardashian agrees, adding that Cheryl isn't the only one who was counting him out early. Stepfather Bruce Jenner, apparently, thought he'd be gone by now too.
The bottom line
To say that I have had any success predicting the order of eliminations this season would be generous. And a lie. But bedazzled score paddles talk. And there is no arguing with the generous gap between Carson, Chaz, Nancy and the rest of the remaining roster. Their technical improvement has flatlined, but they've also proven themselves to be favorites with the audience.
Still, if I had put my money on someone, it would Hope Solo. Unless the legions of Maks-loving middle-aged moms across the country don't rally to her cause, she's not long for this dance world.