The season 17 premiere sees a Sexy Bus Stop, tears for Valerie Harper, and one pissed-off Science Guy

By Annie Barrett
September 17, 2013 at 06:00 AM EDT
ABC
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Welcome to season 17, DANCMSTRs! Planet Mirrorballus is now only open for liiiiiiiiiive action one night a week. The band has disappeared, the judges switched sides (we’re going full-on British/Australian now), Brooke Burke Charvet is about to legally change her name to Waldo, and instead of the Celebriquarium, there’s a “Sexy Bus Stop”… with no bus in sight. Come on, now. If you’re gonna delete our gilded iPhone lounge fishbowl, at least provide a bus! I know you’ve got some hot wheels in that prop room. And you know which license plate to use. Magic bus. Make it happen.

(I don’t really want a bus. But I do miss the kicky theme song and Princess Sparkles.)

Despite all the tweaks to the original recipe, the dancing was pretty darn good for a Week 1! The opening number choreographed by Mandy Moore (not that one) and camera-blocked by Sparkalien geniuses was to die for. And as Valerie Harper reminded us, it’s just good to be alive. Ahhhh! Doesn’t it feel good to cry again, as a big group, alone in front of the TV? #sparklebarf

Here we go!

Amber Riley & Derek Hough: 27/30 Okay, judges. Let’s all settle down. Sure, she was good. She’s a lifelong fan of ballroom and Latin dancing and, like, when does that happen? But three 9s? On the first week? Leave the girl some room to breathe! If you don’t, she’s just gonna end up like Derek’s jacket.

Eh, maybe they were judging Amber on the amount of network TV stars she managed to bring in. Hello, cast of Glee. I’m glad to see that Chris Colfer is dating his also-adorable body double. (I’d only read about him on Twitter. That’s a sad sentence.) And I’m definitely glad Amber’s emerged right away as a big girl who can move. I can get behind her passion, head scarves, and brazen Coveted Mirrorball Trophy costume. But I can’t get behind those 9s. Not yet.

Elizabeth Berkley & Val Chmerkovskiy: 24/30 Our Valentin of Perpetual Shirtlessness learned English from Saved by the Bell?! Right at that moment, I thought I couldn’t love him any more. But then he went ahead and said what so many ’90s adolescents were thinking at the time: He was much more into Kelly Kapowski than Jessie Spano. She had a Slavic name! It’s not Mr. Chmerkovskiy’s fault he connected with Ms. Kapowski based on heritage. So amazing.

Elizabeth is very serious about this, and I almost felt uncomfortable when she described the post-Showgirls era as “a difficult time.” New mama’s got some excess baggage re: dance. Will she be able to sex it up without breaking down? I hope so. Their contemporary piece set to “Imagine” wasn’t very ballroom-y, but it could serve as a smooth transition from citizenry to just-shy-of-the-stripper-pole. (I’ve always assumed that the axis of Planet Mirrorballus is actually a sparkly stripper pole which is both invisible and wherever you want it to be at that time.)

NEXT: Finally, proof that the kid from High School Musical is not named Chicken Cordon Bleu Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff: 24/30 Much like Elizabeth and Val’s routine, Corbin and Karina’s contemporary was full of sharp transitions and major lifts — but this one was on overdrive. Karina has finally met her match in someone crazier and more into risk-taking than she is. It was so weird to see her in those “heeled bare feet,” by the way. Unsettling, really, if I’m being honest. I just imagine her as arriving in heels for all required tasks, like any decent ballroom Barbie. (I should be more concerned about her shaking hands!)

I’m not sure why Corbin, who seems to have a handle on both the attitude and the footwork, is nervous about next week’s jive. If he’s really up for anything, I bet he’ll be great at that.

Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke 23/30 Man, these dances were short tonight! And if the camera crew keeps trying to relocate Waldo in her various hiding spots (the makeup chair, the sad, barren “rehearsal space,” “outside”?!) I suspect they won’t be getting any longer. Anyway, I wanted to see more of Jack and Cheryl’s foxtrot, which featured a rather regal Jack with good posture, Cheryl’s belly button as a blatantly showcased gem, and a loving closeup of J. Lo at the end. Plus, Ozzy and Sharon were both crying in the front row. Well, Sharon definitely was. Ozzy was hunched over in his signature state of amused agony. Damn these Osbournes, really. I always end up enjoying them.

Jack’s here, following in his sister Kelly’s footsteps (she placed third on season 9) to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis. He’s gone blind in one eye before and his legs went numb for three months. So basically there is no guarantee that any of these contestants will show up the next day. Injury (always a threat) and pre-established illness loom at every corner. Season 17 is just going for it.

Snooki & Sasha Farber: 23/30 These people are tiny! Tom Bergeron, at a staggering 5’9″, has never felt taller. I wonder if he’ll deliberately sidle up to them in group shots to make the feeling last. I’ve got my eye on you, Bergeron! (Unfortunately so does the camera at all times so he’s not allowed to do that.)

I was prepared to rip on Snooki because she’s been so obnoxious in the past. But we all know the best place to re-birth yourself in the public sphere once you’ve hit rock bottom is on the most bedazzled rock in history in an alternate universe called the Glitter Galaxy. Snooki might still be a piece of trash, but now that she’s on DWTS, she’s like one of my pieces of trash, you know? And I love my garbage. I will guard it fiercely, sometimes for days.

This cha cha could have been sharper and Snooki sure is a wobbly one. But I really like how — unlike much of this cast — she’s not already a great dancer. The girl falls constantly! And she takes pride in it. She and mighty mite Sasha could have a really memorable partnership with a lot of improvement. From trash to flash and then more trash — isn’t that what this show is all about?

NEXT: If Bruno Tonioli apologizes for being creepy, you must be a special kind of hot Brant Daugherty & Peta Murgatroyd: 22/30 The panic attack that washed over me as Peta’s giant ponytail threatened to overtake not only her body but her partner and their entire cha cha was a great re-introduction to the series for me. FAKE HAIR. IN HER FACE AND IN YOURS. Dancing With the Stars is back! That’s when I knew it. I do hope this couple will tone down the blatant showmance efforts — but as dancers, they’ve got major potential. I doubt whether anyone will remember this first dance, though. It’s worth a rewatch. Brant’s capable, cute, and just the right amount of confident. And his hotness made Bruno apologize for the first time ever about his own creepiness?! This dude has got to stick around.

Christina Milian & Mark Ballas: 22/30 Hmmm. I’d call their contemporary number a mediocre So You Think You Can Dance routine, which is to say I don’t think Christina would seem terribly out of place on that show. Physically, she strikes me as a larger-scale Snooki who can already dance, so that’s not too exciting. Mark made excellent use of the smoke machine and fulfilled his fantasy of personifying raw pretzel dough with another person in that final, wrapped-up-in-each-other pose. It’s a big win for Mark this week. I’m not sure anyone will care bout the pair of ’em.

Valerie Harper & Tristan MacManus: 21/30 I didn’t see a dry eye in the room following this totally classy foxtrot, after which our majestic tenderhearted Irishman opened up his arms and walked away in reverence of his brave partner. Valerie had been delivered a “death sentence” via brain tumor this January, but is still around, dancing her goofy heart out. That alone makes her worthy of a standing O (not to mention watery eye-darts in the front row from Leah Remini and Bill Engvall of all people. What a weird show!) but honestly, Valerie was pretty light on her feet for a 73-year-old. Sob story aside, I’m a big fan of the overall vibe of this partnership.

And she’s a loose cannon to boot! Hidden gem: Tony’s reaction in the background after Valerie jokingly called Tristan a “little slave-driver.”

She didn’t mean it like that! A national treasure can say whatever she wants!

Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani: 21/30 “Here’s the thing. I talk a lot of crap, but I don’t know if I can dance,” Leah said up front. And before Tony could even reply: “No! No! I need to lose weight.” Ugh, no, not another one! Luckily there seems to be more than enough Other Drama going on that this will not be an entire season about Leah Remini’s stunning weight loss. Their foxtrot was nothing special aside from Tony’s textured pleather jacket (a festering marvel!) and the utter oddity of having the DWTS house band bisected by the two technicolor staircases. Leah was NOT amused when Bruno said he wanted her to “twerk” next week like Miley. Nor was I.

“Can I go?” demanded Leah right after the judges awkwardly delivered their scores just a few feet from the dancers. She couldn’t wait to sit down. Go right ahead! Try the bus stop.

NEXT: Bill Nye, the ‘Sexual Tension’ Guy Bill Engvall & Emma Slater: 18/30 On the opposite end of the attitude spectrum, here’s comedian Bill Engvall having a blast. “I would love to be the rednecks’ dancing king. That would be awesome,” he told Emma, whom we may or may not recognize from her work on the Troupe (decoys! all of them!) for three years. I was surprisingly drawn in to their foxtrot — it had a sweeping, big band feel much like Kym Johnson used to choreograph, and I like how Bill so dramatically leans into his moves. He’s not polished, but he’s got a decent sense of rhythm and a major O face to accompany the final moments of his routines — and really, what more can you ask for on Week 1?

Keyshawn Johnson & Sharna Burgess: 17/30 I guess the judges weren’t into this cha cha — “It was like having the Empire State Building trying to be a Rockette,” said Bruno (what?!) — but I thought Keyshawn showed at least some promising hip action. Just the willingness to have active hips is a triumph, really, on week 1. I know 9s are flying around way above this guy’s head, but let’s be realistic. He’s a popular football player with a sense of humor. I don’t believe for a second he won’t be in the finals.

Now that Sharna’s worn those liquid gold pants, I will never be able to look at her again without thinking “truffle ass.” And that’s more than okay with me.

Bill Nye & Tyne Stecklein: 14/30 Aggggggh. Bill Nye! I really think he might have shot himself in the foot with all the press he did about his years of experience as a social (swing) dancer — and the somewhat aggressive approach he seems to take in what should be his partner’s choreography. Their cha cha, set to a recording of “Weird Science” (sorry, band!) was so awkward. I wanted to find him endearing, but I couldn’t help gritting my teeth! The editing in their rehearsal package didn’t help, either: I don’t think anyone wanted to hear the Science Guy plead for “sexual tension” in their partnership. What a beaker-killer.

His scores did seem atrociously low, considering the grade inflation awarded to the rest of the class. Is Bill Nye being dinged because he’s the professor? Why is Brooke interviewing random, meticulously hair-and-makeupped fans now? WHERE IS BROOKE?

Discuss!

XOXO,

Fringe Fairy

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

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