We gave it a B+
Back in the day, there used to be just one safe haven for buffoonery and exhibitionism: The Gong Show. Now, such programs litter the landscape. American Inventor? The Singing Bee? Last Comic Standing? America’s Got Talent? That old saying about lipstick and pigs springs to mind. Even American Idol sometimes just seems like tarted-up karaoke. Real talent — and, therefore, the only real talent show — is over at So You Think You Can Dance.
Now in its third season, Fox’s Dance takes the best of American Idol (angry British judge, loopy female judge, random third guy, audience phone-it-in participation), then mixes in its own flavor: Contestants compete in pairs, only going it alone when they’re in the bottom six. Like network cousin Idol, Dance has enough drama to fuel a tween’s blog. Are the majoring-in-chemistry Kameron and Lacey merely a showmance? Could luminous Sabra and B-boy cutie Dominic just realize they’re meant to be, already? Are Wade and Mia the best choreographers, like, ever?
What really distinguishes Dance from the other shows — including Idol — is contestant quality. Fortunately for us, dance is a criminally underappreciated art — being a good dancer is just harder than being an Idol-style pop singer. And with real talent a requirement, there’s no pressure on the judges to prop up contestants they suspect will be more marketable. In other words, ain’t no Sanjayas ’round these parts. Even the most controversial competitor, Cedric (brilliant soloist, can’t partner), isn’t a bad dancer — on the contrary, he’s quite talented. His issue is that he takes his singularity so literally he can only dance with himself.
Which brings us to the ever-so-clever trick Dance regularly pulls off: Both dancers and viewers are constantly learning things. What’s a good paso doble? How do performers interpret modern dance in a way that doesn’t confound the audience? Does krump have rules? (Let’s see Dancing With the Stars tackle that one.) Whenever the Simon of the group, Idol exec producer Nigel Lythgoe, muses about the influence of Michael Kidd and Bob Fosse in a beautifully choreographed piece, he’s giving a quick lesson in dance history. It’s like Bugs Bunny dropping opera, or mom slipping vegetables into the spaghetti sauce. It’s so sneaky, it works.
A good thing: We need rescuing from the dreck that passes for talent these days. Maybe it’s them Internets everybody talks about, some sort of Warholism about anybody being famous. But simply put, the I-can-do-that-tooness of talent searches is slaughtering a once-proud genre. So if Dance wins by default because we viewers are awed by a perfect plié we have no hope of executing, that’s fine by us. Otherwise, it’s all Gong. B+
(For next-day coverage of each episode, see EW.com’s So You Think You Can Dance TV Watch.)