In the first performance night of the season, the dancers and choreographers all brought their A-games. This episode was a straight-up PARTY.

Like a beautiful letter handwritten on spandex in the ink of teen spirit, So You Think You Can Dance cordially invites us to have a f*cking blast every week. Seriously, is there a more joyful show on television than this thing? The question is rhetorical, because no there is not. For two hours every week SYTYCD presents a total reprieve from the seeming nonstop darkness and cynicism of nearly every other hit show, reality or otherwise. It's earnest, it's unhip, it's undeniably celebratory. At its root? People can do amazing things, but especially these people.

Every season Nigel or Mary claims that the current batch of kids are the best batch in the history of the show, but this boast felt especially real last night. This year's Top 20 are very excellent! Call me a dummy, but it's like there wasn't a dud in the entire bunch? Usually there's one or two people you can't believe made it, but not this time. Yes, everybody danced within their strongest genres, but from the choreography to the music to even the guest judge, everyone brought their A-games in a big way. What a straight-up wonderful introduction to the competition. In this episode almost everything was a highlight, but let's talk about the best of the best.

PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT

First of all, just a reminder: This is an opinion piece and these are my opinions. But I will tell you that my tastes generally go for the weirder things, as I find ballroom mostly annoying and contemporary too often just looks like people in gauzy clothing running around the stage. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I love contemporary to an unreasonable degree. We're the original Odd Couple!"  — JR] Which is why it's especially shocking to me how much I LOVED all the contemporary routines? But my favorite by far was probably Stanley and Bridget's Bonnie Story routine. With way more ballet and synchronized movement than others I just thought it was a thrill to behold. Those high kicks! That crazy "love roll" as Mary termed it. Exhilarating.

CHOREOGRAPHY OF THE NIGHT

The judges spared no hyperbole for this Ricky/Jessica/Sonya Tayeh contemporary routine, and it honestly was very well-deserved. The dancers did a great job, but it's Sonya's predilection for beautiful weirdness that really elevated the piece out of the normal running-around-in-gauzy-clothing mode. When the talent on this show is so closely matched, often a perfect song choice will set a piece apart, and this was no exception. Just a haunting a cappella track to bring some gothic horror into what can so often be dully melodramatic. Very, very good stuff. I mean just look at what Nigel said about it:

I think it's important that American understands that this is another level entirely that we've just witnessed here. . . I'm so grateful we created SYTYCD so we could witness something like that. One of the greatest routines I've ever seen.

HONORABLE MENTION(s)

Right upfront: Rudy's my favorite out of all of them, and this Stacey Tookey piece with Carly made me feel VERY justified in that opinion. As the judges said, Rudy may not have the elegant finesse of some of the other contestants, but his burly strongman presence adds a real charge to everything he does. Plus there's the matter of his having twice the personality of most human beings. Kind of unreal. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Let the record show that Rudy has the exact same gigantic mouth as season nine winner Eliana." —JR]

Here's where everyone's going to think I have mental problems, as this Teddy/Emilio/Christopher Scott hip hop routine was certainly low-hanging fruit for people looking to have a LEAST favorite routine. But don't let the corny costumes or on-the-nose premise fool you: This was some great dancing between two people with mismatched styles. And honestly, let's get real for a second, it all came down to the use of The Commodores' "Night Shift," surely one of the greatest songs of all time (at least in MY heart). I honestly gasped when I saw the song title appear onscreen (and without even a "District 78 Remix" tag!). For every bit of high school talent show corniness of the staging, "Night Shift" just kept melting my heart over and over. I did not expect a hip hop routine set to a mid-tempo weepie of a song, but here we were. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Not sure Teenage Robin Thicke is what Teddy wants me to be thinking about him, but here we are. And Emilio has a weakness for Hispanic women? — JR]

The highly specialized duos of Valerie/Zack (tapping) and Jacque/Jourdan (ballet) also did killer work within their genres, and like Nigel said it was a thrill to see full-blown tapping and ballet on our screens. Sometimes it's hard to remember that this is a national network television show and every week it brings legit fine art to America, the likes of which we rarely ever get to see on such a widely watched stage. THIS SHOW IS IMPORTANT.

JUDGING THE GUEST JUDGE

Another thing I was pleasantly shocked by? I LOVED Jason Derulo as a guest judge. I may never, ever forgive him for changing his name from the much more amazing "Desrouleaux," but as far as I'm concerned he was one of my favorite guest judges in recent memory. Like many of the celebrities he had actual experience as a dancer and choreographer, but mostly he kept his critiques quick and legitimately funny. His clever interplay with Mary and Nigel proved he was genuinely engaged in what was going on and it made the overall vibe of the night that much more festive. His pre-taped performance of something called "Wiggle" deserved polite applause at best, but it was nonetheless so charming when the camera kept cutting to his girlfriend, a giggly Jordin Sparks, sitting in the audience throughout the night. Plus Derulo's fake-gold-chain tank top accessorized with an actual gold chain was a truly inspired fashion choice. Yeah, bring this guy back.

BEST HOST

In my opinion the best host of the night was definitely Cat Deeley, who, even though she's the current best host on all of television, still managed to outdo herself with quick-witted ease. Is there a warmer, more engaging, and appealing person on TV? These live shows are where she really thrives. (I loved when Teddy started mugging for the camera while she spoke and she stopped to call him out for it.) Cat Deeley is a genius.

ETC.

... These Getting-To-Know-You-in-8-Seconds intros remain a masterstroke on this show's part. Not only is it an efficient way to introduce TONS of contestants in a single episode, it's fairly amazing just how much you can learn about someone by how they behave under that kind of pressure. I loved how surprisingly dark some of the kids' admissions were (Serge: "I was born two months premature. I looked like a dead bird when I came out"; Casey: "I'm deathly afraid of being choked.") and many of them were genuinely hilarious. Seriously, I feel like I learned more about their personalities in these segments than a several-minutes-long pre-packaged sob story, you know? More shows should do it like this.

... Up for grabs this season? A single cash prize of $250,000, the cover of some dance magazine, plus a role in an actual Broadway show. Whereas other talent competitions suffer diminishing rewards or real-world value (ahem, Project Runway, Top Chef, Top Model, American Idol), it should come as no surprise that SYTYCD is STILL an apex achievement for a dancer and could feasibly jumpstart his or her career in a very real way.

... Sonya's hair is purple now and she continues to look perfect and be perfect in most ways. When I first started watching this show I thought she looked like a Hot Topic worker or something, but now I think she's maybe the only person on TV who truly gets it? If I ever found out that she hangs out with Cara Maria from The Challenge I might pass away, just pass right away.

... Did you love the shade Nigel threw at Dancing With the Stars? Personally I think that show is unwatchable, but he at least seemed to view it with a measured camaraderie. Which, considering how many SYTYCD alums wind up on that show, is probably about right. [I stopped watching Dancing with the Stars when I stopped getting paid by the American Broadcasting Company, but the last few seasons that I did watch featured steadily more contemporary/modern styles, many of them imported over from SYTYCD alums, including the following, my favorite piece of Travis Wall choreography ever, and which I realize is exactly the kind of flowy-clothes contemporary that Price abhors, but we coexist anyway. — JR]

... Do you plan to participate in National Dance Day if only to get close to Christopher Scott up close and in person?

... Hi Casey.

... The judges took up too much airtime raving about the dancers throughout the episode, so there was no time for a final recap of all the routines. But that meant we got even MORE time to watch the dancers bop around and cavort onstage as the credits rolled, which may actually be my favorite part of every episode. Better yet, since there were no eliminations this week, the party atmosphere was turned up to 11. Seriously, I couldn't get enough and will never get enough of the end credits freestyle dance party. Every episode ends with the best part:

"Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let all the children boogie." - D. Bowie

Have I said enough good things about this episode? No, I haven't, it deserves more compliments, but I'll stop here. So You Think You Can Dance remains very great and we are all lucky it exists, bye.