Season 18 gets a 'Star Wars'-themed upgrade courtesy of Billy Dee Williams (but, more importantly, Emma's Princess Leia costume)

By Annie Barrett
Updated March 18, 2014 at 05:42 AM EDT
ABC

Dancing With the Stars

S18 E1
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What?! No Tristan MacManus this season? It’s like Dancing With the Stars doesn’t know what St. Patrick’s Day even is.

The lack of our tall, dark, and handsome leprechaun (plus Gleb. poor Gleb, always the bridesmaid, even in this sentence) isn’t the only thing different about season 18. Brooke is gone. Harold Wheeler? Out. Princess Sparkle, Enthusiastic Chimes Lady, Impeccably Manicured Trumpeter? Glitterpoof, sad chime, boom. Nowhere in sight. Erin Andrews has swept in to give Planet Mirrorballus the sports-arena treatment it apparently deserves, and Ray Chew is manning the band.

MAKS IS BACK. RETURN OF THE MAKS.

And get this: the judges are back on the left side of the Rectagon — Len Goodman’s preferred driving lane, naturally. The Celebriquarium has returned! Yay, more blatant iPhone use. Gotta Instagram that sh*t. The judges’ paddles are silver/gold, all sparkly — instead of gold/red, only sparkly in the center. And the changes only get more impactful from here: There’s a HUGE “Dancing With the Stars” logo on one rehearsal studio wall, and glamorous “DWTS” vanity bulbs (suggestion for alternate title of this show: Vanity Bulbs) in another. It’s a lot to take in! Let us bask in its shimmery glow.

Good! Now let’s talk about the Full House/Wonder Years late-’90s-era Nick at Nite EXTRAVAGANZA brought on by Danica McKellar and Candace Cameron Bure (it doesn’t rhyme with “pure” — though she’d love that) as contestants this season. I’d freak out if Winnie Cooper and D.J. Tanner were even in the same room. And you’re telling me it’s a ballroom?! I’ve died. I’m writing this recap from disco ball heaven. The internet is actually great up here. At first all the guys looked like Charlie White, but once I pressed the “Chmerkovision” button on my controller, they beefed up and took their shirts off. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I should probably return to the planet on which the show takes place!

Anyway, this is basically how the season looks to me:

(Appropriately, I am even taller than Erin Andrews and constantly make that weird face.)

Hidden Gem: Kevin Arnold’s mom (Alley Mills) in the background, lovin’ it!

But, you know, my point of view is not necessarily shared by all….

Esteemed Colleage Email Interlude:

Whatever, nerd. Go watch a star war or something.

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

Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: 27/30 Sharna made two bold decisions here: 1) Execute the entire dance on the elevated circular platform, and 2) Wear a costume completely devoid of sparkle. Only the Bad Girl of the Ballroom (not what she calls herself, only a Maks would do something like that) could get away with pulling off both of these feats on Week 1. Her perfectly draped matte costume matched her burgundy hair! And luckily she’s got an Olympic gold medalist ice dancer for a partner.

Len laid out the simple truth after their contemporary piece: “Honestly, this is like ice dancing, without the ice.” You don’t say, DANCMSTR! Meanwhile, Carrie Ann is redefining the yin and the yang over there. “You’re very yin and you’re very yang. Normally the man is very yang. But, beautiful.” I have no idea what just happened, but I think the overall point here is that Sharna is awesome.

Nice shot of Alex Freaking Wong (a So You Think You Can Dance alum) behind Charlie’s girlfriend. Tanith Belbin, Gracie Gold, Kristi Yamaguchi, Alex Wong… it’s like my own personalized Graceful Olympics!

NEXT PAGE: It turns out Candace Cameron is such a Deej Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: 25/30 Anyone other than TV’s D.J. Tanner, and I might’ve checked out after Candace aggressively made sure Mark knew, “I’m not gonna be your sexy girl.” Ugh, what kind of show does she think she’s on? Vanity Bulbs will not tolerate such irreverence for Our Lord and Savior, the Tissue Paper Two-Piece. Oh, well. Mark can work on that. (He won’t have to for long, considering The Switch!) These two still lit up the stage even without the sex factor during their contemporary dance set to Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” — I liked the cool ending as they glanced back at each other under a dim blue haze. That’s so Mark. Candace, who has excellent rhythm, is very competitive and insists, “Excuses are for losers!” It’s crazy that I’m only becoming aware of this now — but Candace Cameron turned out to be such a Deej!

Totally awkward and somewhat intriguing but just overall no: Back in 1988, Jeremy Miller a.k.a. Ben Seaver on Growing Pains DUMPED Candace Cameron in order to date Danica McKellar! Like, of course he did; who wouldn’t? And that is how the Deej must feel every single day in this cruel world in which Winnie Cooper exists, now just a few box steps away. My internal TV just exploded. I blame the earthquake, and Erin Andrews.

Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 24/30 “How are your spins?” Sex on a Stick demanded to know from his new partner before acknowledging it was the dumbest question he could ever ask. The weird thing with Meryl is that she seems like a child whenever she speaks alone or with ice dancing golden boy Charlie. But throw her on a bench with Maks, and suddenly….

Meryl: “I’ll give you all I got.”

Maks: “I got a lot to give.”

Meryl: “I can tell.”

Maks: “Be careful what you ask for.”

Instant adult! Thanks, Maks. Our favorite ass “interrupted” Meryl and Charlie’s “gold medal ceremony” at the start of their explosive cha cha cha — get on outta there, you fluffy-haired kiddo, they could do this all night!

“You’re nice on ice, but you’re good on wood,” Len heartily approved of Meryl’s prowess. They pretty much looked like a professional couple, same as Charlie and Sharna.

Danica McKellar and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 24/30 “My first impression of Val is that he’s way cooler than I am,” admitted Danica. But the fact that she even gets that, plus she gets other stuff, like complicated mathematics and wry humor — appeals mightily to Val. This is an EXCELLENT partnership! Can they just be exempt from the big Switch? Please? I might like him even better with her than I liked him with Kelly. I loved his little “I agree” eyebrow raise after Carrie Ann acknowledged their “great energy” together during the foxtrot. Carrie Ann worried, though, about Danica’s over-expressive mouth. Eh, give her a week to shake out the guppy-face tendencies. She’s just that excited to be here. And perhaps she was warming up for her big, unprecedented-on-Week-1 kiss for Bruno.

It’s hard to believe the author of math books for girls doesn’t know what “geeking out” means. Tom Bergeron Quip of the Night: “When Val starts translating people, it’s probably a sign of the apocalypse.”

I did think it was slightly annoying that Danica announced her intended character arc — “I’ve seen other people go on a journey on this show where they find their womanliness” — because ugh, can we please not SPOIL a liiiiiiiiiive reality show? But I’ll deal with it! Love her.

NEXT PAGE: The first fringed pants of the season and Drew Carey (mutually exclusive, don’t worry) Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: 24/30 They pretty much stepped off the plane from Sochi, where Amy just won a bronze medal snowboarding in the Paralympics, and strutted right into the cha cha cha — presumably with different clothes on, but I do enjoy imagining people wearing fringed pants while flying the friendly skies. Bacterial meningitis stripped Amy of her lower legs and kidneys at age 19 (she’s 34 now), but the double amputee is still figuring out the limits of what she can do. Another reality TV spoiler alert: There are no limits and anyone can do anything, especially in the firm hold of the Derek Hough Care Package.

Honestly, the fringed pants were a way bigger distraction than Amy’s footwork and tiny shoes (by design, to be sure), and throughout their cha cha cha the pair served up a natural chemistry you’d suspect had more time to brew than a few days and four hours sleep. I also loved Amy’s black-and-gold woven headband — one of the most muted accessories to ever make the cut in the bedazzled wardrobe department, to be sure.

“You are a beacon of light in this world,” Carrie Ann blubbered as Charlie White’s eyes watered for her.

“Now I feel worthless,” said Erin Andrews.

Cody Simpson and Witney Carson: 22/30 Yikes. Way too much “Tell me about your girlfriend…” producer-induced chit chat, especially considering we found out Witney and Guess model/Real Housewife of Beverly Hills Yolanda’s daughter Gigi Hadid are actually good friends. Why even go there? It baffles me that they think Dancing With the Stars viewers want to see the on-screen partnerships mess with the behind-the-scenes relationships. That’s just nuts, and frankly a little insulting!

“How was it dancing in front of your girlfriend with these distracting hips?” wondered Erin. Ew! No. Why. But anyway. Nice cha cha cha from Cody and Witney! This veritable laser show of youthful energy (and I do count Cody’s sprayed-into-oblivion hair as a laser) made Bruno and Carrie Ann feel super old, but Bruno warned Cody to watch his dodgy foot placement. Carrie Ann loved his upper body and noticed Cody had really big feet. Sounds about right.

Here’s a special “should-have-stayed-hidden gem” from Kellen:

Terrifyingly enthusiastic child!

Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke: 21/30 “Every season there’s always one contestant that makes everybody smile,” raved Carrie Ann after their Monopoly-themed foxtrot. “I think we just found our crowd-pleaser,” she continued as two glittery clouds of steam emitted from a fuming NeNe Leakes’ ears. “That was very watchable,” offered Len — one of his highest compliments.

As always, Cheryl choreographed a clever opening routine with hat-tossing (collect $200 if you caught the hat) and just the lightest smattering of prop work: in this case, green pockets! Drew Carey’s got just the idea of money in his pockets. The best things in life, like weight loss, are free.

NeNe Leakes and Tony Dovolani: 21/30 If this cha cha cha had occurred later in the show, I’m sure I’d remember it better — but upon a second viewing post-show, it did hold up! Tony is as lovable as always and if NeNe keeps cranking out frank commentary such as “Like, look, ice skaters? Hay-ul naww,” they should have no trouble sticking around.

Personality, not dance, comes naturally to NeNe, who, as reader Donna pointed out, seems to have taken over the gilded reins as the new Princess Sparkle with that bejeweled headband. (Never! No one could ever replace Carmen Cass. I didn’t mean it!) Also, it deserves to be pointed out: After this routine, Hoodie Tony’s sweaty face was gleaming even more than his perfect white teeth. An impossible feat! It’s what Dancing With the Stars is all about.

NEXT PAGE: ‘Soooo, who would Peta sleep with? That guy? Book him.’ James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: 21/30 Oh my God. That was NOT COOL, punking Peta like that with an obviously orchestrated date planned weeks before she met her (sex) partner a second and extremely embarrassing time. This just reeks of trying too hard, guys. “You could have texted me…..” she trailed off. Low blow. “Did something happen between you guys?????” someone pressed, off-camera. Nope. Done with that. Eh, it was a pretty good foxtrot. It seems to be a big deal and possible blasphemy that a member of Big Time Rush would dance to a One Direction song. To which I followup: Who? Who are any of those people. Don’t tell me.

“What’s going on between you two?” demanded Erin Andrews. “Not to get all Dancing With the Stars Weekly.” Oh, ha ha. Like a magazine. But it is a weekly show. So yes, you are getting like that.

Sean Avery and Karina Smirnoff: 20/30 Either this guy’s getting the jerk edit or he is a jerk. But he’s a jerk who loves the movie Footloose, so the dramatic leaps and bounds with which he executed this contemporary romp kept him in my relatively good favor. But you can’t channel Kevin Bacon running through the empty “what is it, a grain mill?” forever, buddy! The Argentine tango has no use for Ren McCormack wannabes. Ren McCormack himself, now that’d be a different surly. I meant to type story, but it came out as a great description of the hockey star so I’m leaving it. Sean Avery is also perhaps a….

VAMPIRE!

Diana Nyad and Henry Byalikov: 18/30 I want this long-distance swimmer with a strong aversion to high heels and a killer positive attitude to change my life for the better, so rather selfishly I’m hoping she and New Pro Henry (upgraded from the Troupe!) stick around a few weeks. I always love a Dancing With the Stars super-fan fulfilling her bucket list wishes on live TV. Always. Their foxtrot was nothing to write home about, but Diana’s wit and willingness to yank Maks’ chain up in the skybox have me rooting for her big-time.

“It’s not how you start, but how you finish!” she reminded us. Help me, Diana. Help me think differently re: my everyday failures!

Finally, R2-D2 gets the female attention it (he?) has always deserved.

Billy Dee Williams and Emma Slater: 15/30 God bless everyone involved with this massive Star Wars/Dancing With the Stars crossover so that this 77-year-old legend’s time spent on this show could be considered worthwhile. Lando Carlissian barely moved during this Stormtrooper-assisted cha cha cha (let that roll around in your brain awhile) — but come on, be fair, give the guy a break: He can barely move in general. Two hip replacements and arthritis in the back do not a Latin ballroom specialist make.

“You’re definitely the most ‘relaxed’ dancer I’ve ever seen…” Carrie Ann tried to put a pleasant spin on it to combat the raucous boos. “Yay!” Emma quietly piped in. I love Emma.

Commenter ‘RifaG’ could definitely be onto something with her suspicion that Mark and Derek were the ones wearing the Ewok costumes. And speaking of costumes, it turns out the only thing you could do to make Princess Leia’s bikini even sexier is to drape thousands of tiny tiered beads across the butt.

Who will go home first? Gotta be Billy Dee, right?

Your thoughts on the premiere, DANCMSTRs? Erin? The new band? Our old friend Smokey?

Discuss!

XOXO,

Fringe Fairy

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