Good TV is NOT an Oxymoron

August 9, 2008 at 7:45 pm 1 comment

Finally, my SYTYCD Finale Recap!

The SYTYCD Finale was damn good TV, and that says a lot coming from a person who considers “good TV” to be an oxymoron.

Like the great talent and entertainment shows of the 60s and 70s–Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson to name just two–SYTYCD is bringing new talent, and a whole new artform, to the TV-viewing audience. An audience that has been dumbed down to the point of catatonia by writers’ strikes; the short-term expediency of inexpensively-made reality TV; and the spineless ass-kissing of Hollywood TV execs who capitulate to advertisers and sponsors and lack the patience and vision to invest in a show as it builds momentum.

The SYTYCD Finale was remarkably entertaining: a spectacle for the eyes, the mind and the heart. And, it was highly respectful of its audience, offering up the best moments of the season as picked by judges so committed to the quality of dance-as-entertainment and to the nurturing of dance talent, that two of them actually got up to perform. Rather than this coming across as shameless self-aggrandizement or an opportunistic tactic to prove or revive their fading credibility (hear that, Randy Jackson? Or you, Paula Abdul?), it was instead a demonstration of their love for dance and their support of this under-rated and under-supported art form.

Some of the most successful elements of the Finale show, plus a continuation of my rant against AI, and my five favourite SYTYCD moments of the Season Four Finale, after the jump.

So You Think You Can Dance, despite its origins in the reality TV-show producing (read, mass-market pandering) brains of Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller, is cut out of a far different cloth than its sister show, American Idol. It has built, over four seasons, a diverse audience united by one thing: a desire to watch talented artists –competing with each other, yes, but mostly with themselves–perform an art to which they are dedicated heart, mind, body and soul.

American Idol now so dominates the music industry that savvy agents and music managers see it as a vehicle to shop around their latest “product.” For 19 Entertainment, it is simply a cost-effective focus group on a massive scale that pays for itself as long as it yields one chart-topping success story every couple of years Ă  la Clarkson, Underwood and Daughtry. But, AI has reached that nasty position of asymptote, where the only direction to go is down.

Its growth was, of course, unsustainable and led to a position where the sponsors, the producers and the judges became far more important to the show than the audience and the contestants. And in the former case, the producers (and the judges) are burnt out. So burnt out, that it was absolutely no surprise that Lythgoe announced this week he would be leaving AI for SYTYCD (and for another venture with Fuller, as yet to be named). Unless his departure actually spurs the show’s remaining producers to conduct a complete–and EFFECTIVE–overhaul of the format (unlikely), I expect we will see a similar announcement from Simon Cowell by the end of the next season of AI, at which point the show will fold despite its massive continued domination in its Tues/Wed timeslot.

As a newcomer to SYTYCD, I hope Season Four doesn’t prove to be its apex, as Season Five was of AI, but I suspect this might be the case. The buzz on the show this year was massive, with fans coming out of the most unlikeliest woodwork. In a nutshell, SYTYCD is hip; whereas watching American Idol is, for some of us, a dirty little secret.

Ratings have always been strong for SYTYCD, based largely on the springboard offered by American Idol. Yet, total audience and voting activity is not as high, attributable perhaps to the summer season or perhaps to a slighly different overall demographic. That SYTYCD even announced the votes it earned this year (60 million for the entire season, compared to AI’s vote-off orgy of 97.5 million for last season’s finale) is a sign of its increasing visibility among its audience. And also a foretelling of its eventual failure, if the AI pattern holds (and these shows are structurally enough alike that I have no doubt it will). Because using the votes of a sub-set of the viewing audience as the barometer of ultimate marketability is like putting a show like this into a meat grinder, and coming out with easily digestible, but completely unwatchable/unlistenable sludge at the other end.

The SYTYCD Finale–nor any of the previous shows this season–did not insult its viewers with the crass commercialism of product-placing sponsorship; judges whose comments are intentionally scripted to manipulate a voting frenzy among gullible teens instead of constructively critiquing an emerging artist; or hosting that is so stale and uninspired that Ryan Seacrest, who once was as genuinely protective and sensitive to the contestants as Cat Deeley is, almost looked joyful at coming up with new ways to deliver bad news.

I only hope SYTYCD stays “niche” enough to retain its ability to be a little edgy, a little avante garde. It needs to, so that it can attract choreographers of the calibre of a Desmond Richardson; continue to find an audience who appreciates the streetwise Lil C’s philosophizing and can at the same time engage in intelligent debate about the meaning behind a Mia Michaels’ routine without getting their knickers in a knot over hard-hitting hip hop lyrics or overt sexuality represented on the stage.

The gay-positive, sex-laden, alternative-music-using So You Think You Can Dance world is a very different place than the overly-sanitized, whitebread middle-America of American Idol. Let’s hope it can stay that way, although the trend toward incorporating AI music into SYTYCD routines is distressing indeed.

And now, without further ado … my top five moments of SYTYCD Season Four Finale:

Wade Robson’s Homage To The Rabbits, performed by Cirque du Soleil dancers, was the dance equivalent of Grace Slick’s White Rabbit, filled to the brim with tripped-out bunnies getting their groove on. The costumes were beyond fantastic–maybe the best we have seen on the show this year. The prop–PERFECT in use and concept. So funny, so macabre sitting there at the front of the stage setting the context. The music was like a creepy fairy-tale, childlike and twinkling with a sinister undertone. If this is the kind of work that some of the SYTYCD dancers can look forward to performing, then they will be lucky indeed!

And BTW: I don’t know if it was a careless edit, but the audience looked profoundly befuddled afterwards, which made my enjoyment all the greater.

Mia’s pick was the Desmond Richardson/Dwight Rhoden-choreographed, Will/Katee-danced Pas de Deux. And of course, it was fantastic the first time, giving the show “a different heartbeat,” as Mia said. This time, it was stunning and thought-provoking and moving and … impeccable. Not JUST because they nailed the turn (although that helped, as did their desire to overcome that very small flaw), but because they were free from the competition and could simply perform it. Which they did, with absolute excellence.

Of course Will and Katee should have been Top 2, based on technique and this routine alone. And I’m not even bitter they weren’t, because it was so clear that many, many others thought so too, even though Joshua, Twitch and others were the “popular” vote.

Oh, the magic of Gev and Courtney. This rumba was like make-up sex: after Courtney went off and had an affair with Mark, she was back in the arms of her original lover who had learned some tricks of his own during their separation. Even more sultry, way less innocent, and benefiting from the vantage point of both some time apart AND the freer atmosphere that not needing to compete brings, this routine was sizzling.

Not all of the reprised Finale performances added so much that was new–in fact, some were less impressive than their earlier performances (Chelsie and Mark’s Bleeding Love, for example). But here, Gev and Courtney threw some new moves in and brought a new energy to it. Gev looked comfortable, manly and dapper in a tuxedo-style outfit and Courtney looked as sexy as ever in sparkly black fringe and sequins. But mostly, it was the rekindling of the Gev/Courtney passion that made it burn so bright, and made me feel like a naughty voyeur watching it. Love this couple (and can only imagine what they would have done the second time around with their Anouk “Lost” routine)!

Like I’ve said ad nauseum, I’ve only started watching this season but I’ve certainly heard all about the shirtless studliness of Dmitry! And here he was with Mary, who did a fine job showing us that her Latin cha-cha can still shimmy and shake with the best of them. Sure, I’d grown used to seeing Chelsie’s ballroom legs set the bar, but Mary proved she could meet that standard herself and even more than her performance, that’s what I most admire. It takes tremendous guts and self-assurance to come down off your perch, where you’ve been a self-proclaimed ballroom expert, and put your money where your mouth is. Where she may have lacked the mastery of execution she would have had when at the top of her game, she made up for it in expressiveness and self-confidence. Way to go, Mary–I think I’ll forgive you your insane shrieking and ‘hot tamale train’ schtick. Nicely done.

Adam Shankman could barely get over the awesome fabulousness of Katee and Will’s pas de deux to spit out his favourite performance: Mark and Courtney’s French bordello fight scene, choreographed by Sonya Tayeh and danced to The Garden. And then, he introduced it with “it was like the last eight years of my dating life,” which added just a WHOLE ‘nother dimension to it. Because yes, I’m now picturing Adam wearing a green silk corset, with one ripped fishnet stocking and a garter belt. And, dammit if it doesn’t suit him to a “t”.

Seeing this number again, even though we saw it just the week before, it seemed even more dirty, campy and filled with wild abandon. I. LOVED. IT. Seriously, I am going to find Mark Kanemura in the very first post-SYTYCD production he’s in, and fly down to NYC (because that’s where he’ll be) to see him perform. Each of these routines, but this one in particular, rubbed my nose in the fact that I’ve not been lucky enough to get tickets for the tour. Oh to see this live! Although, you’d have to be up-close to truly appreciate it, because of Mark and his expressiveness. The camera angle didn’t do justice to his over-the-back leer, but it did to his final finger-tapping pose of willing submission to Mistress Courtney, SYTYCD dominatrix.

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Why So Sad, Josh? Ramble Through The Looking Glass

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Lesley Larose  |  September 12, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Absolutely loved this post!!!!! I have watched SYTYCD since the beginning. I can not believe how many people I know haven’t even heard of it. They always ask me “Did you mean “Dancing with the Stars???”. No, no and no. I agree with you wholeheartedly on what makes this show so great. You have said everything that I would say if I could write as you do. Thank you for letting me relive many of my favourite bits of this season.

    Reply

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