The thrilling physical pyrotechnics were more subdued this week as the dancers competed outside their genres, and it all culminated in a borderline devastating dismissal.
Like a himbo with a speech impediment, it's almost more charming when So You Think You Can Dance has an off-week. Imperfection serves to remind us that these are human beings operating under extraordinary pressure and maybe we shouldn't expect a full-throttle party wagon of flawlessness like last week's episode. I'm not saying this week's episode of SYTYCD was bad by any stretch (impossible!), but now that the dancers have been shuffled into new pairs and tasked with dancing outside their native genres, it suddenly felt like a competition again. Even the choreographers alternated between rehashing old routines ("this routine is about a love that's unbreakable"; "this routine is about love that got away") or making them too difficult (hi, Benji!). And it all ended with the season's first dismissals, which were both surprising and in one case almost unwatchably sad.
Like last season, the way it works is the bottom six were announced at the top of the episode and then the ensuing performances by those bottom six functioned as a sort of 'dance for your life' scenario after which the judges chose who would go home. This ended up working out pretty well, format-wise, but it did really ramp up the tension for those dancers throughout the episode while also rendering the judges' critiques more foreshadowy than usual. Still though, if I wanted to see a lot of open-faced sobbing, I would've gone home for Christmas! Just kidding, I was not invited home for Christmas.
PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT
Valerie and Ricky's Travis Wall contemporary routine. So here I am feeling like a real horse's patoot after claiming last week that I don't always love the contemporary routines on this show. This was a very good and powerful routine and contained some next-level acrobatics that felt way more impressive than your typical running-around-in-gauzy-blouses routine. But I think what really got me was how amazing Valerie was? It honestly shouldn't be surprising when someone so good at tapping (which is very difficult) can transition into more full-bodied excellence, but she was so good here that I'm beginning to suspect she might've been a ringer all along. We're talking instant frontrunner status. Ricky was very good as always, but the bar is pretty high for him when it comes to contemporary, so that could be a problem if he doesn't seem to get even better throughout the coming weeks. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Also known as Billy Bell Syndrome. —JR]
CHOREOGRAPHY OF THE NIGHT
Teddy and Emily's Dave Scott hip hop routine. If I'm openly biased against contemporary, I'm probably also an apologist for hip hop, especially when the routine is elevated above the high school talent show performance they often feel like (which includes this week's Bridget and Emilio / Luther Brown routine). But what made this one so good and energetic had a lot to do with Dave Scott determining what Teddy and Emily's strengths were. And even though Teddy does a lot of mugging for the camera, he was so flawless here that I think he's slowly becoming one of my favorites, deal with it. [EDITOR'S NOTE: "A lot of mugging" is quite an understatement but I'll let it slide. Teddy ... I don't know ... "I just don't like his face" feels like an unfair criticism but I DO NOT. He's every terrible YouTube/Instagram/Vine celebrity I have ever hated made manifest. On the bright side, Dave Scott is a terrifically underrated choreographer. — JR]
Zack and Jacque's Sean Cheesman African jazz routine. The judges raved about this one and the fact that it closed out the show meant producers felt it was also the night's best. But I don't know, guys, it just feels so weird to see geeky kids doing African jazz, sorry. That is probably a personal problem on my part. On the other hand, I absolutely love when this show gets weird or avant garde, so this was a very enjoyable moment overall. Seussian to be sure, but also memorable.
Rudy and Tanisha's Sonya Tayeh jazz routine. I mean, come on. Rudy and Sonya working together? Was it ever going to be possible that I wouldn't love this? (Although it was honestly so weird that they were wearing couture but jumping up and down on Ikea office chairs).
Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies. Guys, if I'm being real, I LOVED the Syncopated Ladies so much and they were maybe my favorite thing about the whole night. Just a flawless group of '90s-era flygirl tap dancers FINALLY. They were absolutely perfect and single-handedly proved that maybe all those Stoned Justin Bieber-hosted dance crew segments were worth it. I mean yeah, I was kind of laughing so hard at how weird it all was, but what is the difference between something being good in a confusing way and also just plain good? I don't see a distinction! Good job, Chloe Arnold's Syncopated Ladies.
It should come as no surprise that a season light on dead weight sent home two very strong dancers in its first week. But longtime viewers with a modicum of savvy probably were surprised that THESE were the two dancers to whom the judges chose to give the boot. For one thing, Nigel and Co. have always seemed to extend mercy to the particularly beautiful dancers, but also Nick has a built-in story arc going in that he was competing alongside best friend Rudy. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Nick was always going to have to fall so that Rudy could go further. I'm kind of glad to have gotten on with it so early. — JR] On paper both dancers seemed to be safe for TV reasons, but it's like SYTYCD wanted to disabuse us of these assumptions right off the bat? Anyway, Malene's Spencer Liff phone-cord routine was aesthetically amazing if sort of boring and Nick's Benji-choreographed West Coast Swing piece wasn't doing him any favors either (though he acquitted himself very well). [EDITOR'S NOTE: Nigel's such a shill usually that when he decides to shit on a choreographer, it feels cruel and pointed. Benji's been through enough. And I rather liked Spencer's choreography with the phone cords. Most importantly: two weeks, no Tyce. Keep it up, show. — JR] But apparently the judges felt that Jourdan, Brooklyn, Casey, and Serge had more to offer the show than these two, and maybe they're right. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Team Serge. — JR] Still though, how tough was it to see Rudy openly sobbing from the sidelines? Very tough, but maybe not even that was as tough as Nick's shell-shocked, utterly devastated expression. Aw, poor kid. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Eh. I kinda didn't like his face either. — JR]
JUDGING THE GUEST JUDGE
Ballerina Misty Copeland was fine. She was no Jason Derulo, obviously, but she was fine. Definitely knows about dancing.
For the second week in a row, the best host was definitely Cat Deeley, whose charms continue to know no bounds. This week we even got a segment wherein Cat Deeley threw out the first pitch at a baseball game and it only went mildly wildly astray, plus she did an impromptu bit where she intentionally weirdly pronounced ostensible sponsor Shazam's name. It's one thing to have a very good and competent host who can think on her feet, but Cat Deeley also manages to look like she's having tons of fun while also providing a humanistic and empathetic touch to dancers who might need a warm hand up there. Cat Deeley is the best.
... Similar to last week's 8-second getting-to-know-you segments, this week each dancer interviewed his or her new partner for 10-seconds and again, it worked so well. Not only did we get tiny info tidbits with big doses of personality, there was also tons of weird sexual tension between them? Also Stanley pronounced Malene's name as "Mayleen," and that made me laugh.
... Did you learn the "jazz phrase" with Sonya? I did not follow along in my living room, but I do love this show's touching devotion to getting audiences up onto our feet. My major friendship crush on Sonya continues unabated.
... Hi Spencer Liff.
... America, why did you put Casey in the bottom three? Or Nick, for that matter. Was this a case of people forgetting to vote for frontrunners or what?
... As happens with a particularly sad dismissal, there was no final dance party. Understandable! But also, dang, that's my favorite part. Also the opening roll call did not have the "these are the girls, and here are your guys" part. You are breaking my heart, show.
... One thing that makes this particular reality competition so superior to the other ones is how much it truly does not relish kicking people off. American Idol's results show is a master class in torturing the bottom three and playing it all up for maximum entertainment value, but contrast that to Nigel's opening speech to the dancers in which he reminded them that most of them will not win, but all of them have the potential for great and long careers. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The closing of Newsies on Broadway is a bit of a bummer in this regard, considering how many Dance alums it employed. But think of the touring! — JR] By the time he quoted Winston Churchill and then called them all "impeccable representatives of this art we call dance" I was basically crying. Credit where credit's due: This show has one of the loudest beating hearts on TV.