The Top 6 performers brought their A-game in what may prove to be the best episode of the season.
Phew! Sometimes as a
critic person who types things about TV, I'll have a disappointing experience with a show I really love and then start to question whether maybe it's just MY judgment that's off. The dirty secret of all art criticism is that the critic could have just been having a bad day when he or she decided that a work wasn't very good. Like, for all you know my children could have been carried away by seagulls the day I was underwhelmed by an episode of Teen Wolf. Just kidding, that would be impossible, I will never not love an episode of Teen Wolf. But you know what I'm saying. We're all humans and despite all my expensive robotic appendages, I am human as well, and I am capable of letting real life emotions unfairly color my impressions of things. But after having experienced varying levels of disappointment in So You Think You Can Dance these past few weeks, this week's episode was not only fantastic, it sort of made me feel like just maybe I had been RIGHT about the past few episodes? For example, two of my biggest complaints from last week were the producers' decision to inform dancers of their Bottom-4 status immediately after dancing, and also the pre-taped solos. This week the solos were again pre-taped, but if you noticed, they at least taped them in front of a live audience, which enhanced not only the energy of the dancers' performances, it kept the show cohesive and airy. And while having a Top 6 meant that ostensibly everyone was in danger of going home, the fact that we weren't constantly reminded of this fact until the end made the night so much more fun. See what I'm saying? It's little choices like this that can really affect this show's undeniable party atmosphere. Nigel Lythgoe, please don't let this show devolve into the artificial-suspense drudgery of American Idol.
Friends, I enjoyed every single routine in this episode, even the disco routine. Even the disco routine. But let's talk about the highlights!
PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT
Jessica & All-Star Ade's Jazz routine, choreographed by Ray Leeper. I know, I know, but listen. This sort of thing perfectly encapsulates SYTYCD's genius. Ridiculous outfits, unpleasant music, BRILLIANT dancing. And the sheer fact that this Tokyo nightclub-themed piece was ostensibly a jazz routine just made it that much weirder. While the night's purest contemporary piece (Casey and Makenzie's Stacey Tookey routine) was exactly what I don't love about contemporary in that it was mostly just people in gauzy outfits crouching and hugging and telling us to feel emotional rather than making us so, this one exercised some straight-up audacity when it came to forcing us to feel joy. Also, in a season where Ricky seems to be a lock for the win, I'm suddenly really feeling Jessica as a dark horse challenger. But yeah, I loved this routine so much and will probably keep watching it forever.
CHOREOGRAPHY OF THE NIGHT
Zack & All-Star Fik-Shun's Hip-Hop routine, choreographed by Phillip Chbeeb. First of all, oh hey, Phillip! I love when this show brings back former contestants to choreograph, but I especially love that they brought Phillip back if this thoroughly genius routine was any indication. Modeled after an inkblot test where synchonicity and symmetry were key, this routine was dizzying and jam-packed with clever ideas. Truly excellent.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Am I a grump for wanting to give Zack an A for effort here and nothing more? Phillip's choreo was super, but I don't think either Zack OR Fik-Shun were all that memorable dancing it. Meanwhile, Valerie was killllllling it with Twitch in that wedding dress. That was my hip-hop pick of the week. — JR]
The Top 6 group routine, choreographed by Nick DeMoura. I'm listing this one up front as it's the first group routine of the season to truly blow me away (an admission I make with a heavy heart since group routines used to be my favorite thing about this show back when they opened results episodes). But this weird Tron: Legacy meets Mortal Kombat in a nightclub piece was exactly as sinister and weird as it needed to be. Also it turns out Nick DeMoura is talented when he's not just sitting on a stool co-signing Justin Bieber's non-jokes. Good to know!
Ricky's solo. Again, credit where credit's due: This was the first solo of the season that I felt necessary to single out for its excellence. Yes, there's a possibly unfair use of an M83 song, but Ricky somehow managed to become the human version of what that music sounds like. Just so aggressive and acrobatic and beautiful. At this point I'm pretty sure Ricky's going to win this thing and this solo may have sealed the deal.
Jacque & All-Star Will's Contemporary routine choreographed by Sean Cheesman. It's impossible not to like this one, if only for its lovely cover of "99 Red Balloons" and charming aesthetic, but dang, that exercise ball prop was REALLY put to good use. I can't believe how elegantly they used it to slide and roll across the stage. Also this was very likely Jacque's best performance of the season and a very good one to go out on. Congrats, girl.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Didn't love this one, Will was never a great partner for anyone, sorry about it. Swapping this one out for Casey and Mackenzie's Stacey Tookey number, sorry about it. And not just because it's Mackenzie, but okay mostly because it's Mackenzie. I don't think anything on this show has made me cry since Kupono and Kayla, but Mackenzie did in that way she shortened her limb extensions and tensed herself up in keeping with the last-day-on-Earth conceit. Shut up, it was brutally gorgeous. — JR]
Valerie & Ricky's Broadway routine choreographed by Spencer Liff. Yeah, this was pretty much just two minutes of joy right here. The swing prop was charming and not over-used (the rehearsal outtake Cat showed us just made it look that much more difficult to use) but mostly it was these two very likeable kids having a great time that was so infectious. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Okay, so we're just opposites this week. Sort of. This routine was pretty excellent, actually, what am I talking about? I just needed an entry point to talk about Ricky and Anya's cha-cha pop fabulousness. The best Ricky's looked out of his genre all season, and it's not like he's ever been bad. — JR]
And I don't usually love when the rehearsal footage is too staged and corny, but it's hard to argue with the merits of THIS:
Casey & Jacque. Shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, as making it to Top 6 is still a ringing endorsement of how talented a dancer was. Yes, despite his allegedly emotionless demeanor (but only if we're actively overlooking how emotional his dancing was) I loved Casey, but I see the voters' logic here. Ricky is the best and Zack's journey has made for very compelling television. As for the girls, Jacque's longevity has always been a bit of a miracle, and mostly to do with her effervescent personality, so she obviously has nothing to be ashamed about here. Congrats, guys.
JUDGING THE GUEST JUDGE
Christina Applegate had another great week, which is either because she's having more fun in life these days (maybe her children had been carried away by seagulls in the past?), or perhaps she gives the most entertaining feedback when the routines as are uniformly excellent as these ones were and she's not as complain-y. Yes, she had some surprisingly pointed things to say about peoples' face-work and whether or not it looked like they were trying to hold in snot-rockets during their routines, but overall she brought the unexpectedly charming spark we used to know and used to love her for. I can't believe this season has made me almost change my mind about Apples, but here we are. Who knew?
This week's best host is probably Cat Deeley, who, as I said, was given more space to play and react to the proceedings than last week's vacuum-sealed exercise. Her whispered pronunciation of "Shazam" was obviously a delight, as was the moment when she turned to Jessica in her day-glo outfit and said, "I want that back. Ibiza's coming up." There is a pretty good chance Cat Deeley didn't need to be spray-tanned within an inch of her life as she was in this episode, but sometimes that's all a part of her charms. Gotta love a British California girl. Stay golden, Cat Deeley.
... The surprising low-point of the episode may have been Jacque & Zack's Jean-Marc Generaux's foxtrot routine, which was as bland and perfunctory as these things get, but at least it resulted in Mary Murphy busting out her ballroom expertise to explain exactly why it didn't work. It never fails to give me chills when Mary drops the randy-drunken-aunt routine and gets REAL.
... Not going to lie, I got a little emotional seeing Rudy sitting in the audience. Still feels strange that he's out of the competition. (Sigh.)
... Back atcha bb.
... I appreciated the sincerity of Nigel's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video in which he explained that his heart condition prevents him from actually dumping ice water over his head and asked people to send in donations anyway. Do we think that Mary Murphy will accept his challenge?
... So, uh, Brixton, eh? Did a record svengali decide that One Direction's new scuzzy look left an opening for lads in nice suits?
... Ricky in high heels: "feels like home."
... The final dance party wasn't very dancey, it was more a congratulatory group hug for the Top 4. I'm glad Casey and Jacque looked so happy for their competitors, that was nice. Just a nice episode all around.