In a past review, I wondered how so many people could enjoy “Dancing with the Stars.” I didn’t get the appeal or what could possibly make viewers, like my parents, love it so much that they would ask if they could call me back if I phoned them while it was on. Since I still don’t pay attention to the night and time that it’s broadcast, I’m pretty sure I’ve crossed the no call zone plenty of times. Now they just screen my number.
My parents aren’t alone in their devotion. If the angry emails I received after my “I don’t get this show” column are anything to go by, there are many of you who are Team DWTS. Still, I wasn’t convinced. The silly paddle scoring, Bruno’s over the top judging style, stiff former athletes making ballroom dancing look like a bad version of the ‘robot.’ Please. Make. It. Stop. Then I saw the ratings numbers for the season 17 premiere and had a rethink. Can more than 16 million people be wrong? More importantly, could I?
With so many new and returning series to occupy my reviewing time, I try not to revisit a show very often. Then I saw the list of this season’s stars and I thought Snookie? Really? But if anyone deserves credit for a savvy image makeover, it’s her. Learning the cha cha along with Snookie this season are the usual mix of athletes, people from the Disney Channel I don’t know, other reality show stars and actors who haven’t been on screen as much as they used to be, along with dance professionals who in some cases have become bigger celebrities than their partners.
Despite my need to fast-forward through Carrie Ann, Len and Bruno’s comments (there’s only so much Bruno I can take) and my hope that Brooke Burke-Charvet would turn into Cat Deeley from “So You Think You Can Dance,” or at least try to imitate her carefree hosting style, I managed to get through an entire episode. And I kind of liked it—not because the costumes are glittery (although that’s fun) or that so many of the male professional dancers can’t find shirts with buttons (again, not a bad thing) or for the star spotting in the audience (J Lo was there!). I realized that I liked the storyline. It’s cliché but it’s also uplifting which is exactly what I need after watching the final episodes of “Breaking Bad.” Every star’s reason for being on “DWTS” is a version of “conquering your fears” and “living life to the fullest,” making the show feel like a motivational infomercial with dance numbers. Listening to their premier episode interviews, I learned that Leah Remini wants to prove something to herself. Amber Riley wants to prove something to large size women. Jack Osbourne wants to prove something to those with and without Multiple Sclerosis. Elizabeth Berkley wants to prove that she can (finally!) move past “Show Girls” while Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi wants to prove that she’s not the hot mess she was on “Jersey Shore.” Valerie Harper wants to prove that life doesn’t stop even in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis.
It’s a convincing narrative and in Harper’s case, an undeniably inspiring one. The dance routines weren’t bad either. Some were even pretty good. Of course, the stars with backgrounds in dance have a built-in advantage and while that might guarantee a high number on the paddles at the judges’ table, it’s not a lock on the audience vote. There was something about Bill Nye, the Science Guy’s clumsy performance that made me like him even more than his “I am but a humble geek” persona. Maybe the spirit of dance is about healing, as Harper said, or maybe it’s just about getting out there. Either way, I may just watch the finale.
“Dancing with the Stars” is on Mondays at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.