Season 14 comes in like a lion and out like a tasty baked ham -- best premiere yet?

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 20, 2012 at 06:53 AM EDT
ABC

“Who wouldn’t want to see this group dance twice?” Right you are, Tom Bergeron. And welcome back, DANCMSTRs one and all, for a 14th season of America’s twice-yearly fever dream! Like Jaleel White, “I feel like somebody just shot me up with something — like, for real” — because I’m still riding high on some seriously good vibes from Planet Mirrorballus. I also ate a tube of glitter earlier to gear up for the show, so I guess this out-of-body experience could be due to anything!

But no. It was a fabulous premiere with a comprehensive swell of energy that just wouldn’t quit. Well, maybe it ebbed a little when Brooke decided to translate Tristan from Irish to English, but it was still a pretty good flow! And I had no idea she had translating experience. Not only were there a bunch of great dances, but everyone looked so freaking thrilled to be there. “Without doubt, this is the best first show of any season,” said the original DANCMSTR himself, head judge Len Goodman. I think he was right! Hand to Val’s butt — “God is real!”

One of the things I love about this show (and brace yourselves because it has nothing to do with sartorial embellishment) is that it never really matters which names are on the cast — who they are and why they’re (maybe) celebrities can have virtually nothing to do with what they’ll do after they’ve been deposited onto a bizarre planet in a ballroom-dancing-centric alternate reality. This random group of people is basically reborn for our amusement — hatched from a giant Faberge egg in the middle of outer space — to dance for us. It’s so ridiculous! It’s so wonderful. “What a nice night!” cried a giddy Tom.

That’s why I never have strong opinions on how a season will go during the weeks before it begins. How would I know?! Sometimes they’re duds, sometimes they surprise us. Hopefully they can dance. And all 12 of these baby glitterbots did. Here they are.

Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhh-ber!

Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas: 26 out of possible 30 If Mark was fuming at Tristan the whole time for stealing those red spats out of his closet, Sir Ballas certainly did a nice job of playing it cool. He seems more relaxed this season, and he has a picture-perfect partner in Katherine. I can’t even handle how lovely her Welsh accent and syrupy voice make everything sound. Halfway through the judges’ comments following their foxtrot, I gave up on taking notes and just typed “She’s so f—-ing LOVELY.” The crying helped. Everyone loves tears on this show, as long as they’re not accompanied by pain. (Give it time.) Katherine surprised me big-time. I thought she looked nervous and unsure of this whole crazy situation while lounging in the celebriquarium, but boy did she turn it on.

It was after Katherine and Mark’s foxtrot that Tom decided “This is my favorite premiere, start to finish, we’ve ever done.” At that point I teared up. Get it together, Barrett! Urkel’s up next!

NEXT: Don’t call him Urkel, though Jaleel White and Kym Johnson: 26/30 The former Family Matters actor seems to want to distance himself as far away from that geeky persona as possible. But in the spirit of “show, don’t tell,” Jaleel didn’t really need to verbalize this concern, because it was clear from his foxtrot that just because he wore suspenders and oversize glasses at one point in his career does not mean he is Larry King today. Whew! I loved his and Kym’s intricate hand placements as she slightly twisted while in hold. Bruno even compared Jaleel to the late, great Gregory Hines.

Kym deserves oodles of credit here, too, for wearing a single white feather (constructed of toilet paper) over her entire upper body and yet still not eliciting derisive laughter upon the viewer’s realization that their foxtrot song was “The Way You Look Tonight.” Love Kym!

William Levy and Cheryl Burke: 24/30 I guess I’ll jump on the bandwagon and thank ABC along with Our Lord Mirrorballus for delivering this well-seasoned beef empanada to our empty feeding troughs. I don’t even remember ordering that! God, I love Cuban food. I had no idea we were dealing with such a spicy specimen until I witnessed the full effect of William Levy’s arms — HIS. ARMS! — in action on the cha cha cha. Google image searches and hazy shots of him jogging on the beach do not do the liiiiiiive version justice.

Despite a late start in training due to Beef Empanada’s still-flourishing acting career, he performed his cha cha “right on the edge, but kept control” according to Len. “THE HOTTEST PACKAGE OF THE SEASON!” Bruno proclaimed before informing Empanda that he was overdressed in that sleeveless shirt.

I’m not sure William Levy is quite on board with the rage of his hotness — that audience was going nuts! — but at least he’s not full of himself. (Still…he’s looked in a mirror, right? No time like the present to get on board with MIRRORS, my friend.) Beef. It’s what’s refreshing.

NEXT: Val’s butt reshapes Sherri Shepherd’s worldview — maybe it’s not so flat after all Roshon Fegan and Chelsie Hightower: 23/30 “I’ve been a freestyle dancer all my life,” Roshon informed Chelsie (yay!) while wearing a huge gold medal necklace that was certainly NOT issued by Planet Mirrorballus. (“What is this vile, valuable metal?” its senior appraiser would say. “Bring me some mirror!”) I just love watching Chelsie dance, and she’s met her match in a partner who can keep up with her sharp moves and quick, flourishing extensions. I had never heard of this Disney kid before, but I didn’t know anything about Kyle Massey either and look at him! Really, look at him. He’s right there next to Joey Fatone. And I think to myself, what a wonderful planet.

Carrie Ann called Roshon’s performance “the coolest thing I’ve ever seen on a cha cha in all 14 seasons” and compared him to Michael Jackson. Whoa! Slow down there. Maybe stand up, air out your hips a little. Let’s not act crazy.

Gladys Knight and Tristan MacManus: 23/30 Eat your heart out, Pips! Gladys has got some rhythm and some attitude. Oh, and she looks way younger than I thought she would. Get it, girl! That was a seriously giddy cha cha that gained momentum from start to finish, and I dug Gladys’ “I’m lovin’ life!” full-body jiggle and facial expression a few seconds after “Best of My Love” had ended. And Tristan, “the hot one from Dancing With the Stars” (LOL) (BUT TRUE), came up with the perfect final pose through which Gladys could be exalted in all her disco fever glory.

The crowd went nuts for this one! Carrie Ann nearly corrupted the entire audio system when she sprawled across the judges’ table trying to get closer to Gladys in an ecstatic seizure, and Bruno made what could be considered an underhanded comment to the rest of the cast (but let’s not) when he told Gladys, “You’ve got class, sass, and you are a star. A real one.” Ha!

Sherri Shepherd and Val Chmerkovskiy: 23/30 Hard to say which was a more pleasant surprise: Val’s messy hair (longer on top) or Maks’ messy hair (longer on the bottom). Val’s seemed like a one-off thing, whereas Maks seems committed to carving out a whole new territory of hair hotness. He’s the ultimate shirtless astronaut, boldly bounding across craters but careful to not veer into the dangerous “too long, too long!” No-Zone of season 1. Anyway, there’s a woman involved here, the unflappable Sherri Shepherd, and you should take notice of her because she’s very loud, she’s very happy to be here, and — breaking news — she’s confirmed the existence of God by squeezing her partner’s ass. I knew it! I had a feeling that’s where we’d find God, eventually.

I was absolutely grinning throughout Sherri and Val’s foxtrot — she has this “fun, fun, fun” (according to Len) infectious energy that makes it impossible to not root for her. If she keeps dropping boobs on the floor and lines like “I think I left a boob on the floor,” I’ll never want her to leave.

NEXT: ‘All I Need’ is a Russian redhead…Jack Wagner and Anna Tre-BUN-skaya: 23/30 I love how Anna just gets to the point right away in her intro: “I am a Russian redhead.” It truly does say it all. I hope Jack’s sudsy career history will keep him at the forefront of viewers’ minds, because I nearly forgot about this couple. (They danced second of 12 — deadly!) His extensions in the foxtrot were dreadful, but I suspect that given a few weeks, Jack Wagner could be a prime candidate for a “most improved player” story arc.

Jack and Anna looked great as a couple. Both of these yellow and teal colormonsters (this whole “picnic” scene was like a Crayola commercial, from maybe the ’70s?) seemed relieved at the end of the foxtrot when they could both languidly time their leg-crossing to the end of the music. But Jack also looked like he was having a blast, so I’m rooting for him. There are many better dancers, but he’ll be good at “acting out” the dance, you know?

Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd: 21/30 Even Donald’s 7-year-old son knows that Peta is hot. That’s pretty hot. Football players always do well on DWTS, but for me, the show’s really hit the jackpot with this particular NFL star because he’s such a genuine fan of the series. He’s seen it all! I LOVE that. He wants to catch that ball! “I’ve been watching these guys, Maks and Derek, so now’s the time to copycat,” he said. Awwwwww, he has his faves.

I could barely stop marveling at how much Peta was acting like a stripper during their cha cha, but once I watched it back it was clear that all of the wide receiver’s “training since season 1” has paid off. They can both really work it for the camera. And in a much different way, so can Donald’s two adorable, rather reserved kids. It’s only week 1, so they have plenty of time to get all Coco Arquette on us and geek out at random times.

It remains to be seen whether I will keep wanting Tom Bergeron to say “Donald Draper” or whether I will accept it and move on because this guy’s pretty smoking, too.

First boos of the season for Donald and Peta’s “low” scores!

Maria Menounos and Derek Hough: 21/30 I’ve recently been rocking out to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” — which is sort of a perfect five-word encapsulation of what Dancing With the Stars is all about. My own head-bopping reaction, though, was incongruous with the energy of Maria’s dance — the first of the episode, poor thing. She did look “Bambi-like…on ice” out there, as Derek had mentioned, in that timid cha cha — almost like she was the cannon-fodder supermodel of the season. But she’s with Derek, so obviously, expect her to stick around.

Bruno Tonioli, of course, was raring to go and would probably have stood up to gyrate no matter which former earthling had hatched from the Faberge egg first. It’d been awhile for those old hips! “You have to open up the sexpot!” he cried, and I first thought he said “sex spot.” Either way. I have indeed missed Bruno.

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

As always, I appreciate that “Hide” is an option. Good call, Doc J!

NEXT: Gavin DeGraw’s hats are gonna need to get a LOT crazier; Half Pint wears some crazy pantsGavin DeGraw and Karina Smirnoff: 20/30 My sister and I were texting after the show and realized neither of us had ever investigated as to what this amorphous celebrity creature “Gavin DeGraw” actually looked like. Her take: “Reminds me of a Heathers-era Christian Slater…Maybe it’s the fresh face and the comic book size smile.” Huh. That is a tall order. Did Christian Slater even wear a hat in that movie? I strongly feel that Gavin DeGraw might have joined Dancing With the Stars purely to broaden and bedazzle his hat collection. Which is FINE with me. Any reason to suit up is a good one, and while Gavin wasn’t my favorite dancer, he was my favorite “keeping up the sexual banter with the judges”-er. And it’s always a plus when a female pro wears a birdcage comprised of free-flowing sparkly tubes as a bodice. We wouldn’t want those tubes to stiffen up at the wrong places!

Gavin’s “I’m in the middle of a pretty sandwich right now” was a VERY smart way to entice female voters and heavy eaters alike. Well done.

Melissa Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 20/30 “You have an ass. Congratulations!” I’m just going to start saying that to everybody. We could all use a boost sometimes, and it could even be a good way to keep drunken pals in check. Speaking of congratulations being in order, is this the deepest tan of Maks’ life? Discuss. I was rather impressed with Melissa’s fearlessness in the cha cha — as all three judges pointed out, this was a very difficult routine for week 1, or any week probably. She was just going all out on some brazen dips to the floor.

Those felonious fringed pants were something else, though. I’m still grappling with my feelings about them, because while I love the traditional “wooly Muppet” fringed pants we’ve seen on Brooke, Julianne, etc., these witch pants of Melissa’s confounded me because I couldn’t tell if the fringe was sprouting from the leg in random splotches or from the skirt. (The fringe was coming from inside the leg!) Thanks to EW.com reader Liz for anticipating and summing up my horror: “Methinks that even the Fringe Fairy herself will declare that Melissa’s costume had a little too much (maybe too long?) fringe. She should be arrested and charged with ‘misappropriation of fringe,’ a very serious crime on the Planet we call Mirrorballus.”

Now that’s what I call a comment!

Martina Navratilova and Tony Dovolani: 20/30 First of all, I love that my iPhone automatically fills in most of her last name. Great for parties. A lovely aerial view during their foxtrot suggested that the ballroom floor was littered with either giant pieces of dandruff or extra-large puffs of popcorn. I don’t think Martina will be sticking around for her dancing, but I appreciated her attitude toward the “full-body transformation” element of the show. “If I don’t look good now, it’s over,” said the tennis star, who hadn’t worn a dress in 20 years. “It’s an act and I’m loving it.” I think she looked amazing and was glad she got to wear some lower heels. No need to send someone straight to the Hot Ass Hospital on week 1.

What a night!

As always, I’m proud to be a…..

Sand castles are for commoners.

Hidden gem roundups will begin next week.

Welcome back!

XOXO,

Fringe Fairy

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

‘DWTS’: Parts of the ballroom I’ve missed the most!

‘Dancing With the Stars’ news on Inside TV

Your Hidden Gems of the Season 13 Finals

Set visit: Inside Tristan MacManus’ trailer!

All of Annie’s ‘DWTS’ episode recaps

Ask Annie anything about ‘Dancing With the Stars’ (or whatever) in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture. This is *not* liiiiiiive! and she is not really sitting there right now. She updates a few times per week.

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