May 2009


The Wife:

It’s the final two audition sessions before Vegas week, and after two surprisingly unspecial hours of television, I’m glad we’re moving on from the dreck. Look, L.A. should have been better than it was. The Official Mary Murphy Scream count for this episode was a big fat zero, and there should have been at least one to come out of L.A., which is the other place you go to be a professional dancer if you don’t want to move to NYC. But rather than devoting time to L.A. dancers who actually won tickets to Vegas (which I know was at least 18 from the second day of auditions, but have no idea how many tickets were scored on day one), I have 2.5 pages of notes on strangely disillusioned people or people who were good enough social dancers, but certainly not competition level. Why?

But L.A. wasn’t nearly as bad as my soon-to-be-home, Seattle, which should have been a playground for the folks from the Pacific Northwest Ballet, but turned out to be a breeding ground for the bottom of the audition barrel, rendering a measly 12 tickets to Vegas total for two days’ work. And that, friends, is where you sent Mia Michaels? Arguably the best choreographer on your show? To watch a dance battle between an adorable Ukrainian and Sex, the bane of my fucking existence? Really?

The most people you will ever see on an LA street at any given point in time. (Unless you're outside Mann's Chinese.)

The most people you will ever see on an LA street at any given point in time. (Unless you're outside Mann's Chinese.)

I usually like auditions, but this episode was by far the worst in terms of discovering talent. I’m glad its over. And so ready for Vegas Week.

Since these auditions were largely awful, I’m not going to write about them in order, but rather group these people by their audition outcome.

The Nos

Brynelle and Xavier Blanton: This brother and sister team did a very strange, very, very strange, slightly incestuous performance that I guess I can say had the right heart to it, but none of the technique to back it up. My husband was genuinely amused by a failed lift during which Xavier basically strangled his sister. I mean, their whole dance is pretty painful to watch as what they assume is grace actually comes across as extreme chiropody.

Debra Lawson: She definitely does not have a dancer’s body, but rather than straight up tell her that, Nigel tells her she should find a dance style that suits her body, since she clearly loves to do it. (To my eyes, though, her “dancing” seems to consist of running around and posing, and is just as strange as Brynelle and Xavier’s incestuous romance.) She then discusses how she’s not sure if she wants to be an Orthodox Jew because it means she can’t dance on the Sabbath and can’t dance before men. Shankers tells her that the only time he’s ever felt truly close to God is when he’s dancing, which I then realize is the only reason they kept her in the audition special because Shankers is filled with golden advice like that. I kind of love Adam Shankman, even if Bedtime Stories was abysmal.

Suzanne Fernandez: She is from Oakland and performs a fairy medicine dance. I just think it’s important that she was on the show to demonstrate that Oakland is, in fact, filled with such dangerous people as this woman.

Calico Sequiera: I both love and hate this woman’s name, but I definitely hate the fact that she thinks West Coast Swing is something we never see on SYTYCD. Clearly, she’s never seen the show because every year I look forward to seeing Swing dancing on the show, and one of the best Swing routines ever, in fact, was for Sarah and Pasha from season 4, choreographed by season 2 winner and West Coast Swing champion Benji Schwimmer. She is right, though, that we don’t get a lot of Lindy Hopping and Jitterbugging. She auditions with a good social-level Lindy Hop, and all the judges tell her she isn’t good enough for competition, but they’d love to dance with her sometime. And here’s the best thing that happened all night: Calico invites Shankers to dance with her, and he does. It is adorable and fun and, to put some icing on that delightful Shankers Sundae, Nigel and Mary invite previous contestants, Joshua Allen, Katee Shean, Comfort Fedoke and Lauren Gottleib to critique him.

Stacy House: This girl dances so violently I thought I was having a seizure while she was voguing.

Kevin “Shakiro” Cormier: Why? Why did this hip-shaking man in white pants grace my television screen? I can’t even comment on the dancing because I was so distracted by the fact that it was wholly evident his pants didn’t fit.

Actually Good and Semi-Good People

Bianca Revels: This girl has a great name and she also gives us the a cappella tap goods. I think she’s got a lot of spunk, but she’s clearly not as good as any of the guys we’ve seen. To drive that point home, Mary calls her the best female dancer we’ve seen. She earns a ticket to Vegas, though, because she made it that far last year.

Asuka K. and Ricky Sun: Asuka made it to Vegas last year on the strength of her Latin ballroom, but her partner Ricky didn’t. This year, these two are on fucking fire. I can’t take my eyes of Asuka long enough to notice Ricky very much, but I do notice how strong his carriage is and how good his footwork is. Shakers shares my sentiments and compliments Ricky on the fact that he isn’t distracting, which is good in a backhanded sort of way. They both earn tickets straight to Vegas. (This is also the second most inventive dance I’ve ever seen done to Duffy’s “Mercy.”)

3 random people earn tickets to Vegas and we don’t even get to know their names because we wasted our time on people like Stacy House!

Nathan Trasoras: Oh. My. God. This kid is so stunning. He dances in a way that is so focused and unexpected that I am absolutely overwhelmed. Additionally, he has great technical ability because he has an amazing, amazing center to his pirouettes and spots like a motherfuckin’ pro. I am super-duper impressed with this kid, but, tragically, he turns out to be only 17 and is therefore ineligible for this season of the competition! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The good news, though, is that Nigel hands him a ticket straight to Vegas for the fall season of the show, at which time I presume he will be of age.

Sammy Ramirez: I am loving this young popper’s isolations, and he dances with such a wide smile on his face that you cannot help but love him. The judges send him through to choreography, to see what else he can do.

Amada Kirby: Her father has MS, and its clear she dances for him in the way she moves on stage. She goes straight to Vegas.

Phillip Chibib: Our second favorite popper from last season who unfortunately couldn’t compete in Vegas week due to illness returns and immediately earned a spot in Vegas! But this time, he wasn’t auditioning alone . . .

Arielle Coker: She met Phillip when her mother was recovering from car accident-related injuries and they decided to try and marry their styles together and dance together. Arielle’s mom taught Phillip to partner from a wheelchair, which is impressive. As for their performance, I do not like it nearly as much as the judges. I think the choreography is clunky and disjointed and Phillip’s style isn’t married to Arielle’s well at all. In fact, I don’t think it even shows off how good of a dancer either of them could be. But the judges say otherwise and give Arielle a ticket to Vegas, too.

Alexie Agdeppa, Diana Caden and Chanel Smith all get 15 seconds of airtime and go to choreography, where Alexie and Diana earn tickets to Vegas, but ballerina Chanel is denied. Sammy gets a ticket to Vegas after the choreography round, too.

And then the Pacific Northwest happened . . . and it went something like this:

The Nos:

Christopher Keller: I’m not sure if his play on Argentine tango and jitterbug and gender roles actually came across because the dancing was so bad, but, uh, nice comedy routine?

Nick “Nasty” Salzman: I’ll tell you what, this amateur tattoo artist has some pretty sweet ink but a pretty stank attitude. He was a good old-school breaker, but his attitude toward the judges basically talked him out of the chance to do choreography. Bad times.

Dmitrious Bitrevski: Oh my God, what the hell was happening when this kid was trying to dance? He is so, so tall that he has no idea how to maneuver his body and it’s very, very sad to watch. The judges suggest he take up ballroom where his height and strength would be better attuned.

Leonid Knyshov: Okay, so this guy basically danced like he was at a rave, which is fine. He knew it wasn’t right for the show. But holy ass, was he not the most charming, witty motherfucking Ukrainian you’ve ever met? He was busting out jokes about being in IT and he kind of has a Viggo Mortensen-ish look going for him. I mean, bad dancing aside, I think he’s quite a catch. I totally want one of my Russian-speaking friends to marry him so we can be friends. However, Mia, in a fit of insanity, suggests that he battle with Sex, who stalked the show all the way to Seattle, for, I guess, bad dancing superiority? I was not pleased with the invitation to indulge Sex, nor was I pleased with watching this craptastic battle. But I’m glad Leonid won. Not glad that Nigel offered Sex a chance at choreography, seemingly to prove to Sex that he just wasn’t at the right level. And you know why? Because that exercise failed. Every fucking year I’m going to have to see that douchebag, and that doesn’t please me.

The Good and the Pretty Good:

Kelsea Taylor: This Asian Amy Winehouse was a breath of fresh air in the Pacific Northwest. She moves in an intriguing herky-jerky way that Nigel rightfully notes Sonya would love. (I think Sonya might also make love to her, which is not a speculation on anyone’s sexuality, just a testament to how much Sonya would love her.) They send her to choreo, I suppose just so someone will be there, after which she earns a ticket to Vegas. Mia Michaels said of her something that I think might be my new About Me on Facebook: “I think you are a beautiful, disastrous weirdo, and I hope to see more of you.” Yes. That totally describes me, too!

Kuponohi’ipoi Aweaw: I’m a semi-professional linguist and even I have a hard time with that native Hawaiian name, so, props to Miss Cat Deeley for trying so hard! Kupono helps solidify a theory I have that all Hawaiians dance like season four’s Mark, and it’s true. However, he isn’t quite strong enough for Mary’s taste, moving a little too femininely sometimes, and the judges decide to send him through to choreography to test his mettle. He earns a ticket to Vegas, probably because of his deliciously flexed feet.

So, that’s it, ya’ll. Seattle produced two viable contestants, and after 6 cities worth of auditions, Cat Deeley tells us that over 170 people made it to Vegas, where they will be whittled down to a consumable 20.

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The Wife:

Yet more auditions! Yet more amazing people! Yet more totally disillusioned people! This time, auditions were held in Miami and Memphis, with Tyce Diorio and Lil C joining the panel respectively. I will straight up tell you guys that I am not a Tyce Diorio fan. He and I have completely different ideas about what dancing on Broadway should be, and I liked the Broadway routines from last season that were created by In the Heights‘ Tony-winner Andy Blankenbeuhler far more than any Tyce piece. To me, while Tyce inherently understands movement, I think he fails a little bit to interpret Broadway pieces in a way that makes sense with the music, lyrics and the story of the show as a whole. In short, he can be very antiquated. And he can be very literal. And he likes Fosse way too much. Unless you’re Bob Fosse, you just can’t Bob Fosse every single thing. That said, I love when Tyce choreographs Jazz pieces and contemporary pieces. That piece with season two’s Ivan and Allison set to Annie Lennox’s “Why?” That was Tyce at his best. (And to give credit where credit is due, the group number he did to “Money” from Cabaret was his best fusion of story and Fosse ever, and I liked it quite a bit.) And apparently, I also love that Tyce is a catty bitch, because he was a total catty bitch during Miami auditions. Like so catty, I thought he had been fucking Mario Cantone in the off-season. It was delightful. But, amidst all the hissing, he did offer up one golden piece of advice that I think we should all take to the grave: “If you’re gonna do drag, drag it up on the stage and do it right.” Word.

Wheeeeeeeee!

Wheeeeeeeee!

On to auditioners!

Tony Reindeau: Miami started off with disillusionment. This guy dances in a style he calls Tony Style, and it’s horrible. He even overdoes it so much that he nearly passes out after his audition. Bad times. Clearly, a no.

Priscilla Marrero: First of all, I’m so impressed with Cat Deeley for trilling the r’s in Priscilla’s last name! Second of all, this girl is amazing. She punctuates the music with her body in such a cheeky, unique way that he actually makes Tyce gasp. I bet Wade Robeson would love to choreograph her, because I immediately thought of his work when I watched her dance. She goes straight to Vegas.

Jeanette Maurara and Romolo Villaverde: This couple auditioned last year, with Jeanette going to Vegas, but Romolo staying behind. This year, they come strong and hard with some of the most amazing tricks I’ve ever seen, including one where Romolo lifted Jeanette upside down and she extended her leg up in such a way that I’m amazed she didn’t drive her stiletto right up his nose. I was worried their footwork wouldn’t live up to their lifts and tricks, but it did. The Official Mary Murphy Scream Count stands at 1, and Jeanette and Romolo both go straight to Vegas this year.

Jennifer and Jessica Guadix: The first set of dancing twins of the evening seem like they might be normal, but turn out to be batshit insane. I have no idea what’s going on, why they aren’t dancing in unison, why they’re wearing those pants or what those pants are. Clearly, a no.

Joseph Smith [of the non-Mormon variety]: He does a hip hop routine with a lot of humor and some funky, funky isolations. He reminds me a little bit of Twitch, but less impressive. He stays for choreography and, afterward, gets his ticket to Vegas.

Wislande Leting: Day two of Miami also started off with disillusionment. There was a whole lot of crazy going on with this girl. She wore a shirt that only covered the top half of her breasts, to which my husband immediately said, “Goddamnit! Put your boobs away!” That was topped off by a really bad red weave and some choreography that looked like it was straight from beginning ballet . . . except for the part where she very ungracefully opened her crotch to everyone. I’d say there was a lot this girl needed to put away, especially because, as Mary noted, she and Tyce were clearly not the people for whom that dance was intended. A no.

Erik “Silky” Moore: Tapping + Michael Jackson + Break Dance Moves = Pretty damn cool. I don’t think he’s as impressive a tapper as Peter Sabatino from NYC, but he does have a lot going for him. And I admire that he’s the kind of guy who knows it’s smart to get into dancing to get babes. He gets a ticket straight to Vegas.

Paris Torres: A former Miss Washington, Paris does a contemporary dance to the fucking coolest-sounding version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” I’ve ever heard. (Turns out it’s Yael Naim’s version, cementing the fact that I should buy her album.) She moves with a mix of syncopation and fluidity that reminds me very much of Dmitry and Ashlee’s Brian Freedman routine to Fall Out Boy’s “Dance Dance” in which he played a ringmaster and she was his doll brought to life. (You can watch it below). She is totally mesmerizing, and wins a ticket straight to Vegas.

We’re then treated to a montage of three folks who win tickets to Vegas: Henry Rivero, Megan Kinney and Alex Wong.

Geo Smith: Geo performs an African dance in a feathered mask, and here’s where I feel it’s appropriate for me to tell you that I know how to do the Funga. He was very powerful and freaking leapt offstage toward the judges table, prompting Nigel to make a naughty joke about Mary’s fear of French ticklers. They send him to choreography, after which he receives a ticket to Vegas.

Talia Rikards: While I’ve had my fill of widows/widowers thanks to Danny Gokey, I’m very sympathetic towards the fact that Talia lost her husband so suddenly in a motorcycle accident. I also can’t take my eyes off her abs, which is probably why I didn’t notice her routine wasn’t much more than rhythmic hip shaking/ab shimmying. Still, the judges see something in her and send her to choreography, after which she gets a ticket to Vegas, bringing the Miami total of Vegas-bound dancers to 32.

Mary and Nigel were joined by Lil C in Memphis, where the first dancer of the day taught me about a dance style I have never, ever heard of, which is one of the reasons I love this show. I’m learning!

Marico Flake: He’s a Memphis peace officer and he has opened my eyes to the world of Memphis Jukin’, an underground dance style that combines, I think, hip hop and the moves of Elvis Presley. He was entertaining enough to earn both praise from Lil C for doing some straight, true Memphis Jukin’, as well as a ticket to Vegas.

Dustin Dorough: Second cousin to the Backstreet Boys’ Howie Dorough, Dustin learned all of the dances from BSB videos. I am beyond thrilled that he knows the dance to “Everybody” and unabashedly performs it in the lobby before his audition. His audition, however, is way too goofy and weird to be good, but I think he actually has some potential deep down within him. He gets a no, but Lil C advises that he combine his love of martial arts with his dancing and learn a style called Tricking.

Chris Carrozza: I have no idea what I’m looking at, but if I were rolling at a rave at 4 in the morning, this dude would totally be my new ginger boyfriend. From an aesthetic perspective, he’s got to lose either the beard or the dreads. And from an attitude perspective, he needs to stop being so defensive through the veil of kindness. His whole interaction with Nigel about being critiqued was just plain bizarre. Obviously, a no. After his audition, Cat provided us with a montage of How to Give a Good Audition, which featured many other people being douchebags to the judges and/or falling on their asses.

Caitlin Kinney: Her sister Megan was one of the people in Tickets-to-Vegas montage in Miami, and she hopes to also have her sister’s luck. She dances a fantastic, technically adept and artistic contemporary routine to one of my favorite songs, “Winter Song” by Sarah Barielles and Ingrid Michaelson. Like season three winner Sabra, she’s only been dancing for 5 years, which is totally bananas, but she’s also had significant experience as a gymnast prior to that. Furthermore, she’s already had hip reconstruction, which is even more bananas to hear that she can move the way she does after a surgery like that. Rightfully, Caitlin earns a ticket to Vegas.

Anna Dunn: She’s first up on Memphis Day 2 and performs a way-too-intense-for-the-music contemporary routine to “Winter Song.” Her choreography was definitely too much for the music, but, man, did she hit it well. After hearing she lost her father a year ago, Lil C reminds her that the best place to put her pain is into her art. The judges send her to choreography, after which she earns a ticket to Vegas.

Travis Prokop: Travis is the son of a football coach, but prefers dancing to sports. He has great leg extensions, but his dancing itself is a little clumsy. Nigel and Mary tell him to strengthen up, especially because he’s so, so tall. They see a lot of potential in him, though, and send him through to choreography, where he improves enough over the course of a day to earn a ticket to Vegas.

Evan Kasprzak: I was so heartbroken when Evan, a modern-day Gene Kelly, didn’t make it into the Top 20 last year. And I’m so glad he’s back. He dances with such incredible technical ability, strength and athleticism that it’s hard not to fall in love with him. This year, showing up in a hat and suspenders and defying gravity with his leaps, he blew me away yet again. Seriously, ya’ll, I think I teared up a little bit, that’s how much I love him. Once again, he earns a ticket straight to Vegas, and straight to my heart. He has to make the Top 20 this year. He just has to.

Lauren and Lydia Guerra: This second set of dancing twins is much better than the first. Much, much better. But although Lauren and Lydia are dancing together, it’s clear that they both have different strengths. One girl is more technical, the other more performance-based. The judges want to see how those strengths manifest in the choreography round, where each sister proves she deserves her own ticket to Vegas.

Ryan Kasprzak: Evan’s older brother who taught him everything he knows also decides to audition this year with an a cappella tap routine and a whoopie cushion. As much as Evan blows me away, Ryan totally entertains me. He’s a great tapper, has a wonderful Vaudevillian sensibility about his performance and dresses like a newsie. I mean, punctuating that routine with the whoopie cushion was a stroke of genius. If neither of the Kasprzak Brothers end up making the Top 20, I want them to immediately revive Vaudeville and go on the road with their own show. (In fact, Kasprzaks, call me in a year and I’ll join you as a burlesque act. It’ll be amazing. Seriously.) Like his brother, Ryan earns a ticket to Vegas.

No idea what the count was for tickets to Vegas from Memphis, but I know there were 6 awarded the first day, so I guess we can safely assume at least 12 were awarded. Two more auditions to go before Vegas fun begins and we start building our Top 20!

The Husband:

As with any television blog writing about SYTYCD, I feel I have to address the uproar over Nigel’s comments last week regarding Misha and Mitchel, comments that could be taken as homophobic. While Nigel’s attempt at humor didn’t go over very well, I’m pretty damned sure the comments were only intended to be constructive. While it’s questionable that he should have brought up what “America might think” as well as his Brokeback Mountain comment on his Twitter, he’s right that this show has a certain format, and that format, so far, hasn’t had two men doing close ballroom, and that they hadn’t proven themselves adept at anything other than a mild play on gender roles. He’s damn right about that last part, because they failed enough in choreography to even get by to Vegas, which only tells me that their act was more of a gimmick than a display of technical abilities. And hey, don’t blame the choice of music, either. It was, technically, rainin’ men.

It’s difficult to be homophobic in the world of dance and theatre, and there’s no way that Nigel would have lasted this long in the industry if he had any semblance of that. He just has a certain (somewhat valid) understanding of certain traditional measures in the dance world itself. Because first you have to prove yourself as a dancer and that you understand the tricks of the trade, and only then can you become something unique and greater.

Homophobic? Please. I’m as P.C. and sympathetic to the cause of LGBT as they come, but I’m also not a reactionary idiot.

And really, would a homophobic man choreograph the following?

Or this?

Or this?

I don’t think so.

(Okay, you got me. I just wrote this section of the post as an excuse to post clips from 1980’s The Apple. You can’t blame me. NO, YOU CAN’T!)

The Wife:

Can someone please explain to me how Branden keeps skirting by in this competition? Because I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how he skirted by last week when he delivered a picture in which a dead fish modeled better than he did, and I definitely don’t understand how he got a pass to the final three this week when he blatantly chose to ignore the advice and instruction of the photographer, rendering hundreds of dollars worth of pyrotechnics and hours of setup completely useless because he decided to scream in his en fuego shoot. This is not the first time he’s basically wasted everyone’s time and money on a shoot, and yet he remains. What’s wrong with that picture?

It's like his face says he can smell how badly he stanked up this pic-a-ture.

It's like his face says he can smell how badly he stanked up this pic-a-ture.

When Sandhurst decided to scream in Clay Patrick McBride’s pyrotechnic shoot, I was worried for him, too, but he gave so much more than Branden did that he transcended the “scream face” McBride was worried about and delivered a strong, yet madcap photograph. Jonathan and Mountaha played it safe and both delivered better shots than Branden, with Jonathan looking exactly like David Bowie in his, but I guess Mountaha doing only one pose over the course of the exposure was somehow not good enough for Perou, who chastised her for not knowing they were going to get more than one shot . . . when McBride had framed the purpose of the shoot to them as saying, “You get a single take to get this shot right.” Now, considering he didn’t tell them he was shooting a single take with multiple rapid exposure, what the hell was she supposed to think other than, “You literally have a singular shot to get this right. One take. One shot. That’s it.” And for that she went home. Why?

WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY? Branden’s shot was BAD and a WASTE OF MONEY AND TIME AND EFFORT. In fact, if this were a campaign it would have been UNUSABLE. Bravo producers, I realize it’s funny to have a village idiot because village idiots make good TV, but I’ve always been impressed with the fact that Bravo’s shows place talent over all else, and I find it extremely hard to believe that Branden is actually a more viable choice to win this show than Mountaha. Thus, you must have kept him in because he’s more ‘interesting” . . . or because Mountaha was actually a threat to either Jonathan or Sandhurst winning, and we couldn’t have a female win this show two years in a row. I’m not saying that the competition is rigged in any way, because I believe at this point either Jonathan or Sandhurst could win. They’re both strong enough to do so. But so was Mountaha. So I ask you, why would you put up a guy who has effectively wasted two photoshoots against Jonathan and Sandhurst unless you were trying to guarantee that one of those two men won? It’s Bee Ess, I tell you. Bee. Ess.

Other than that fateful shoot, though, which Sandhurst won, the models were sent to do some “informal” (i.e. “in store”) modeling at Bloomingdale’s in which they walked around hocking the clothes off their backs. Branden, further proving he is not cut out for the world of fashion, had to be corrected several times by his potential clients about how to pronounce the names of the labels he was wearing. Le sigh. Jonathan was obviously a natural at this because he’s Jonathan and he’s a god amongst men. (Can we also note for a second how adorable he looked in that Marc Jacobs sweater?) Sandhurst came out of his shell a little bit and worked the room well and Mountaha, well, she looked stunning in electric blue Michael Kors – so much so that now I want that dress. For their efforts, the models were each given a $2K shopping spree at Bloomie’s, except for Sandhurst, who had double the money as a reward for winning the photoshoot. Ever the sweetheart, he used the bulk of his money to buy gifts for his family with the help of two Bloomingdale’s personal shoppers. Jonathan bought presents for himself and his wife, Mountaha bought a pair of Dior shoes and Branden, in the only moment that has ever made me proud of him, purchased the suit he modeled that day, which is probably the wisest investment he’ll ever make.

Sandhurst: literally and figuratively on fire this week.

Sandhurst: literally and figuratively on fire this week.


This week’s Catwalk Challenge asked the models to walk in Catherine Malandrino’s designs, and Jonathan received the most praise Perou has ever given when he compared the model to Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Perhaps it was this runway that sealed Mountaha’s fate, as Catherine Malandrino found her decision to don a long brown wig (that kind of made her look like Marion Cotillard) both insulting and distracting from the clothes. For the record, I never, ever understand what Catherine Malandrino is saying. Not because of her accent, but because she never, ever makes any sense. I don’t know. It was either Perou or Catherine Malandrino that did Mountaha in, but I think we all know it should have been Branden who left us this week. And I think Mountaha knew it, too, considering the crying jag she went on after being eliminated. I guess, at the very least, she did get a pair of Dior shoes out of this whole thing. And I have no doubt that she’ll be working for a long time after this, even without a win and $100,000.

The Wife:

My husband has many film school friends that make their living working behind the scenes in Hollywood. Likewise, my sister-in-law has a number of college friends who are actors. So whenever we get word that a friend in the business is going to be on a show or is working on a show, we make a point to watch it to be supportive. That is why we watched Hitched or Ditched last night on the CW, and unlike my dedication to watch every single episode of Discovery Health’s Mystery ER last year, I can’t be supportive enough to keep watching Hitched or Ditched.

The premise of the show, for those who can’t figure it out from the title, is that couples who have been dating for a long time but haven’t gotten engaged are given a week and infinite resources to plan their dream wedding and when they show up to the altar, dressed to the nines before their friends, family and viewers at home, they must decide if they will stay together or break up right then and there. I was wary when I heard the concept of the show, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m going to attempt to explain why I find this so problematic and, ultimately, horrible.

First of all, while I am married and do encourage my long-dating friends to get married, I do so for a variety of pragmatic reasons. Being married is a social institution, and that’s all it is. It says that you’re going to share a life with that person for as long as you can. And if we remember marriage is a social institution, that does mean that the contract can be negated, just like any contract, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you love that person any less. It makes your life a whole lot easier in terms of tax breaks, insurance policies and a variety of other socially/governmentally mediated activities/events. A wedding, with the ritual and the rings and the vows and the white dress, that’s the thing that shows you profess your love, a party for all of your friends to celebrate the commitment you intend to make to your partner.

To me, they’re separate entities, but we often confuse one with the other, and that’s a major problem with this show. Planning a wedding – your commitment ceremony or love celebration party, if you will – is not at all the time to decide whether or not you and your partner should enter into a marriage. In fact, if you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a significant amount of time and you two haven’t mutually decided to enter into a marriage, there are reasons why – reasons that do not need to be discussed on national television as you go along with the charade of your relationship, sampling cakes together. The show confuses the two entities, and thus confuses the participants by conflating a wedding ceremony with an actual marriage.

Secondly, even though I personally encourage my long-dating friends to marry, there’s something seriously wrong with a show that drives forward the notion that marriage is the only proper outcome to a long-term relationship. Some people are perfectly happy living without that social contract, and that’s fine for them.

This is really not the time or the place to decide to marry someone.

This is really not the time or the place to decide to marry someone.

I would much rather that the money being spent to tempt these couples with free dream weddings be spent on wedding ceremonies for people who actually do know that they want to get married, but can’t afford to celebrate that decision in the way they’d truly like to. Because that’s a nice thing to do for people, rather than spend a week cruelly asking couples to conform to some notion of social rightness by asking them to get married or break up.

There’s more I could say about this show that probably needs to be said, like maybe something about how utterly ridiculous it is that we hold heterosexual couples to this standard of “get married or break up” yet 45 states, including my own, won’t let homosexual couples engage in equal social contracts, but ideological issues aside, there’s nothing joyful to be found in Hitched or Ditched. It’s not entertaining to watch people with relationship issues fall apart on national television, because this show takes itself seriously unlike the trainwreck sensationalism of daytime talkshows. And there’s nothing to be learned from this experiment, unlike, say, enjoyable trash like Wife Swap. It’s really just sad, cruel and sends a highly problematic message. And I can’t spend any more time on it than this.

(Now that I’m posting this, I should note that I had no idea until now what the title of this episode was as I hadn’t planned on writing about it and I’m so horribly offended. Really, show? Have you have no faith in any of your participants, do you?)

The Wife:

I have to commend the folks at Reaper for giving us a series finale with some of the most solid plotting the show’s ever produced. The A-plot about Sam’s contest with The Devil deserved and received the most attention, and the C-plot about Sock’s toad-induced drug-trip provided a well-played resolution to the B-plot about Nina’s exorcism. (To sum that up: Ben’s grandma pretends like she wants to make amends, but really she wants to exorcise Nina, which, after Ben walks out on his family, she agrees to, even though it might actually send her back to Hell – a fact Sock discovers in a note she left for Ben to find in case the exorcism worked.) Sure, the intervention of those two plots was perhaps a little too convenient and not unexpected in any way, but it made sense. And Tyler Labine’s comic timing as he yammered on with a swollen tongue was pretty excellent. I’ll be watching Sons of Tucson just for him.

Right now, in college towns across America, people are betting their souls on games of quarters.

Right now, in college towns across America, people are betting their souls on games of quarters.

As for the A-plot, Sam gets Angel Steve to help him translate the demon text, but and Steve tells him that he needs to reflect The Devil, and so buys him a replica of The Devil’s suit to wear during the challenge. And as for that challenge, Sam decides on quarters, pretty much the only thing he’s really good at, which is why he’s always the designated driver when he and the boys go out drinking. But when Sam summons The Devil, it turns out that he’s just as good at quarters as Sam is and the contest ends in a draw. No harm, no foul and, most importantly, no rematch, unless Sam can find something to sweeten the deal. Andi seeks out Gladys, whom I’ve missed dearly, and asks her to give Sam some advice on beating The Devil. She points out that Steve mistranslated the passage. Rather than reflecting The Devil’s image, Sam should have brought a mirror with him, as The Devil’s vanity is his biggest weakness. Even with this knowledge, though, Sam has nothing to put up against The Devil for a rematch . . . until Andi offers to give up her soul so that Sam can have a second chance at getting out of his contract.

At their second contest, Sam unveils a mirrored table, and The Devil is so distracted by his pretty face that he is only able to sink one shot. Showing shots of The Devil’s reflection in the mirrored table were probably the most artistic Reaper‘s gotten in its two-year run. They were very Twin Peaks-y. In anger, The Devil breaks the shotglass, so Sam heads in to obtain another one from the housewares section of The Work Bench. Once there, though, Steve greets him and breaks his right hand, acting on orders from up above. Sam tries to shoot left-handed, but is unable to sink a single shot, and Andi loses her soul.

Strangely, though, Andi is happy about being damned. When Steve tries to explain to them that he broke Sam’s hand on orders from God, he justifies the fact that this was meant to happen because Sam and Andi are now happy together that they’re both damned. And that’s where the show totally stopped making sense to me. Look, I don’t care that the show ended ambiguously, with Sam and Andi standing in the parking lot as Steve ascends and lights up the sky with angelic goodness, but I do care that, suddenly, for no reason, the show’s entire quest has been negated by Sam and Andi’s happiness in their eternal damnation. The whole “divine plan” aspect of it is so deus ex machina, a too-convenient way to pretend that everything is going to be okay. I wish the show had been okay with ending itself in the bleakness of damnation, just as Angel ended with the idea that the battle against evil rages on, our heroes brandishing their swords to fight in the streets of Los Angeles, but Reaper decided to turn back to the idea that God has a plan, which, really, is just kind of bad writing.

Too bad, Reaper. You deserved a better ending than you got.

Good things:

  • The whole Mary Pat character was so weird that she ended up being rather delightful, until her abrupt departure from the storyline when Steve, her “fairies,” entered.
  • Steve. I’ll take more Michael Ian Black anytime.
  • “Sam, I need my Jimbo fix. I want you to dance like a monkey.” – The Devil
  • “Aw, man. Don’t be like that. Do you know how much of a downer Hell is? I’ve got to be wrecked to face that again.” – Frog-licking soul
  • Frog-licking soul’s frog tongue was pretty neat.
  • I’m glad King Charlie made some froggie friends.
  • I’m glad Sam is the kind of guy who won’t have sex with a drunk girl even if she says she wants to. He’s a good dude.
  • “Still doesn’t explain the suit. You look like Justin Timberlake took a dump.” – Gladys
  • Sock’s frog-induced drug trip where he mowed down visions of Lupe Ontiveros was very Lost Highway, making this Reaper‘s most David Lynch-y episode yet.
  • “I tasted music, and it tasted like garbage.” – Sock, perhaps why Mitch Hedberg suggests that hearing really is the only way to take it in.

The Husband:

I usually try to be pragmatic and treat series finales as if they were actual series finales, no matter what the fan uprising against its cancellation thinks. It just seems like the feasible thing to do, so as not to get anybody’s hopes up, which in turns renders people incapable of enjoying and discussing a series finale as is.

But with Reaper, I really don’t know how to proceed. The news looks better day-by-day that it could find some home in syndication, and since the budget is already so goddamned low, it’d be foolish for it not to be picked up.

But, more than anything, it would justify the choppy and abrupt ending, which I was fine with last night, but after having slept on it and thought about it, like less and less. The twist is fine. In fact, it’s more than fine. But there’s a scene missing, one where the characters wrap up the season in some fashion, more than that simply okay one preceding Steve’s final appearance where all the character’s discussed their weeks. The showrunners and writers always knew that this was the final episode of their second season, so why not work a little harder to make it feel like a better ending? Last season’s finale did a better job, what with an explosive finale, Steve’s revelation as an angel and Mr. Oliver’s death-and-rebirth. I’ve complained before about the problem with ending on-the-bubble shows with cliffhangers (i.e. DON’T DO IT!), and while this does have an ending, they could have worked it out much better.

As for this season, very little of it lives up to s1 post-strike, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss it. s2 worked just fine, don’t get me wrong, but it lacked a great deal of forward momentum, and if Jenny Wade hadn’t shown up, it might have all-but-completely lost its big beating heart.

So yes, pray to whatever god or deity or television producer that you worship and get this picked up in some form or another next season. Because they can do better than that. And yes, Bret Harrison needs a damn star vehicle.

The Wife:

And so another season of Criminal Minds draws to a close with a bomb . . . only this time, it was a C-bomb! What what! C. Thomas Howell up in your faces, bitches! But I’ll get to Tommy later when I discuss the two-part season finale. But first, I must discuss three other episodes:

4.22 “The Big Wheel”

Criminal Minds often does some of its best character work when it allows us to identify first with the episode’s villain, even sometimes to sympathize and root for him. Certainly, I-don’t-know-why-he-isn’t-a-fucking-star-yet Anton Yelchin got a great character episode in season three’s “Sex, Birth and Death” (see also the Official Documentary of Matthew Gray Gubler on The Gube’s website, in which Yelchin does a great job of sucking up to The Gube and pretending like he’s an acting god; it’s good stuff), and here CBS favorite and Moonlight star Alex O’Loughlin got a great role in an otherwise totally obvious and uninteresting episode. O’Loughlin played a loner cameraman/photographer/videographer with OCD who, after witnessing his father murder his mother and watching a tape of the act repeatedly, murders women resembling his mother each year on the anniversary of his death. Only one year, he murdered a woman who had a blind son and, besieged by guilt for robbing a boy like himself of a mother, he later befriended the boy and planned to atone for what he had done. O’Loughlin’s Vincent found his victim’s son after he was placed in a foster home through a kind of Big Brothers-Big Sisters program and promised the boy he would one day take him on a Ferris wheel, alluded to throughout the episode by the repetition of two concentric circles (either drawn on the boy’s palm or circled around the date of the boy’s birthday). I don’t really know what a blind kid gets out of a Ferris wheel (wind? the feeling of being high up?), but Vincent managed to spirit him out of his home to fulfill his promise of taking the boy to the Ferris wheel, only to poison himself at the top of the ride and slip away into death while the boy simpered at his side and held his lifeless hand.

Even when I think about Feed, he's still cute.

Even when I think about Feed, he's still cute.

I’ll admit that I’m one of many, many humans on this planet powerless to the unstoppable sexiness of Alex O’Loughlin, and he is definitely hot in thick black glasses (with or without a camera mounted to them). And even hotter in long johns!

4.23 “Roadkill”

I didn’t like Deathproof and I didn’t like this episode.

Although, fundamentally, the motivations for murder with one’s vehicle were proven different in this episode (misdirected guilt vs. vehicular rape), I still find something about vehicular manslaughter to be unsettling. Could it be the fact that it would have been really, really easy for any of the victims in this episode to simply run off the road? Or, in the case of the parking garage, not to run up the parking structure, but, perhaps, back into the building from whence you came, weaving between barriers of vehicles the whole way? I guess in the very least I can say that I’m pleased Reid validated my dislike of Tarantino’s Deathproof by actually talking about vehicular rape.

In a semi-related note, I’d like to mention that my husband has been watching All-American Girl a.k.a. the sitcom starring Margaret Cho that is so totally not based on her stand-up at all, and he showed me the “Pulp Sitcom” episode last night, featuring her then-boyfriend Quentin Tarantino as a videotape bootlegger. I am glad he gave up acting. Because he really sucks at it. The only thing he’s good at is showing up for a brief cameo in Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror to have his junk blown off, which is kind of an apology for positing that a rape-act should be retribution for a rape-act, if we read the vehicular rape theory into Deathproof. And kind of not.

4.24 “Amplification”

Rarely does CM do something I find frightening, but anthrax is pretty scary, yo. Especially whacked-out mutant strains of anthrax unleashed onto unsuspecting groups of people! Especially when my darling Spencer Reid accidentally exposes himself to some of that super-mutant anthrax and nearly fucking dies! Not okay! (I mean, as a viewer, I was pretty sure Reid would live as he is so crucial to the show and all, but, still – how heartless would I be if I didn’t tear up when he called Garcia to record a message to his schizophrenic mother to tell her, as he sputtered and coughed from the anthrax in his lungs, that he was proud to be her son?) In addition to the horror of this episode’s threat, I have to say that it was one of CM‘s better thematic episodes, as well. With Reid’s sacrifice, we’re asked to ponder a central conceit bandied about during this episode, “Is it better to sacrifice the few to save the lives of many?”

J.J. and Emily struggle with their own interpretations of the question. When Hotch forbids the team from calling their families to warn them about potential outbreaks, J.J. wonders what harm it could do to call home and tell her nanny not to take her infant son for his daily park stroll. Hotch tells her it would be unfair of them to use privileged information to save their families when they couldn’t give the same information to the public they serve. Similarly, when Prentiss and Rossi investigate the home of the unsub, a curious neighbor comes up to them and inquires if she should get her children indoors, after seeing some commotion at the house. Prentiss seems like she’s about to tell the woman about the anthrax, but instead informs her that the house is infested with toxic mold. They shouldn’t come near the house, but her children should be safe to play outdoors. It would be wonderful for both J.J. and Emily to share their information and save a life, but both would be at the greater cost of potentially letting that information spread uncontrolled, causing panic and endangering more than it would save.

Hotch comes up against his own interpretation of the phrase when he goes against an army general for control of the anthrax investigation. They debate principles of information dissemination, with the general taking the opposite line of the BAU (and also totally not getting profiling, like, at all), asserting that its not appropriate to sacrifice the lives of the few to save the lives of many . . . thus completely destroying the hopes of anyone who practices utilitarianism of working in government . . . even though that’s basically the point of government . . . but . . . whatever. Eventually, General Witworth comes around to working with the FBI, especially when Garcia is able to track down Nicols’ assistant, a grad student doing a case study on anthrax with whom Nicols, a former government researcher, was more than happy to share his work. It’s this man, Chad Brown, rejected for working at government labs numerous times, who planned to initiate a large-scale anthrax attack that would cripple military presence in D.C. With help from Garcia, Reid discovered most of this while trapped inside Nichols’ home laboratory, nearly dying from anthrax, but not before discovering the cure for the mutant strain lodged in a safe, unsuspecting place: Nichols’ inhaler. So when Hotch and Morgan intercept Brown as he’s about to attack the D.C. subway system, Witworth steps in and pretends he wants Brown to recreate the strain of anthrax for government use, giving him the recognition he desired and getting him to hand over his bag full of lightbulb anthrax bombs while Morgan handcuffs him.

And thanks to Reid finding the cure, he and three other victims of the park attack survive. And thanks to the rest of the BAU, D.C. goes on, unaware of the threat to the lives of its citizens. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Good stuff, Criminal Minds. Good stuff.

4.25 “To Hell and Back”

As its own fucked-up, two-hour horror movie, this would be pretty great. I totally love the idea of a quadriplegic Garret Dillahunt forcibly controlling his mentally challenged younger, pig-farming brother with guilt and convincing him to kill transients and extract their spinal fluid in the twisted hope that, one day, mentally-challenged pig-farmer brother will be able to follow research and restore Dillahunt’s motor functions. I totally love that. I totally loved that there were never any bodies after Lucas and Mason’s experiments because, just like when Dillahunt was on Deadwood (both times, in fact), they were fed to the pigs. I loved that Lucas collected the shoes of his victims, and I loved that his most recent abductee, a crack whore named Kelly, was so good at convincing him to follow her lead instead of his brother’s that I really think she could have a career as a suicide counselor or a hostage negotiator once she gets out of rehab and into community college.

And I have to admit, the unnecessary shootout at the end, in which the SWAT team rains bullets on Lucas because he wants to make sure his new friend is okay, while the man who brought this case to the BAU, Sgt. Hightower, enters into the farmhouse to straight-up assassinate the defenseless Garret Dillahunt? That was pretty brutal. The BAU never wants to end a mission in bloodshed, and sometimes, there are not neat quotes to sum up a day’s events – especially when that day’s events truly end with George Foyett sneaking up on Hotch in his apartment, and the episode ends with the sound of a gunshot and blackness.

I kind of don’t care about Hotch, and I do deeply love how fucked up George Foyett is – especially because it’s clear to me that C. Thomas Howell will be around for a mutli-episode arc at the beginning of next season. By attacking Hotch, Foyett has gone outside of his normal methodology, which means something here is seriously wrong, and I can’t wait to find out what it is. The threat of a C-bomb is way better than the threat of an actual bomb, and that coda, complete with Hotch’s excellently creepy voiceover about the summation of events through quotations tells me we’re in for a wonderful season opener next year, in which I think we might actually lose someone important to the show . . . unlike this season’s opener, in which the person who died was someone no one cared about.

The Wife:

The final four episodes of this season of House almost made up for Kutner’s random-ass suicide in their inventiveness. Almost. I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Amber as House’s ghostly hallucination and his three-episode quest to discern exactly what’s wrong with him, either way knowing that if he’s crazy, he can’t practice medicine, and if he’s experiencing side effects from his Vicodin addiction, he can’t practice medicine because once he’s clean he’ll be in too much pain. Anne Dudek was delightful has his subconscious manifestation throughout this arc, especially the moment in which she reappears after House thinks he has staved her off by OD’ing on insulin, singing old jazz standards over the microphone at his bar, echoing her first appearance beside his piano. But nothing, really, was more chilling than the final episode, when House realizes he’d hallucinated the entire night he spend kicking Vicodin with Cuddy, ending in the two of them sleeping together. Reliving all of the moments we saw of him flipping coins or examining a tube of lipstick are replayed with Vicodin bottles replacing those objects, suggesting a very powerful drug addiction that has completely taken over House’s life, was pretty brilliant. Frankly, I’d prefer more arcs like this, rather than so many one-off episodes. But what else are you going to do with a 24-episode season? So while everyone else attends Cameron and Chase’s wedding (they spent these past few episodes almost not getting married because a. Cameron kind of got cold feet b. House nearly killed Chase with a stripper covered in strawberry body butter . . . that apparently was made with actual strawberry extract and c. Chase was being a dick to Cameron about keeping her dead husband’s sperm on ice because he took it to mean that she thought they weren’t going to work out, rather than, you know, being the last thing she has to hold on to of her fucking husband), House checks himself in to a mental institution . . . which he will inevitably check himself out of at the beginning of next season because you can do that kind of thing with you are voluntarily committed.

I should have known this was too good to be true . . .

I should have known this was too good to be true . . .

As far as the patients were concerned, I’m often irritated by how precious the conceits are in which every patient is a metaphor for someone on the team, etc. So I totally get why the guy with split brain whose hand was not his hand was necessary for the metaphor of the finale, it was also perhaps added just a tad too much levity, despite how much Thirteen et all tried to tell me it was creepy. The only patient that really got to me out of this bunch was the ballerina who lost her skin. A lot of my research deals with holes in the surface of the body, mitigations of that surface or the abjecta beneath the surface, but I found her skinlessness to actually be quite frightening. Perhaps its because I’ve had skin cancer that I find the idea of losing that much skin so terrifying (which, for the record, makes no sense, because the removal of skin cancers just leaves some awesome scars), but its more likely the fact that, without the mitigation of the surface, the inside is all that much more frightening. We forget that our skin is the largest organ on our bodies, and so it is vital that we take care of it. Losing a little bit when you scrape your elbow or knee is fine, and hardly horrifying, but losing so much that we are exposed so wholly to the world is truly unsettling. And deadly. I shuddered for that poor girl. She’s just damn lucky that Princeton-Plainsboro has so many fresh cadavers from which to harvest grafts. I know the episode wanted us to sympathize more with the possibility that she, a dancer, would have to have her gangrenous hands and feet removed in order to live (Taub managed to revive the tissue, somehow), but the loss of her flesh was something I couldn’t get out of my head. And I doubt I will.

So, damn you, House, you actually got me. Good for you.

Considering how poorly I did at keeping up with House this year, I don’t think I’ll write about it next year. I’ll still be watching, though, storing up dozens of episodes on my DVR to marathon whenever I get a break from my book learnin’.

The Husband:

And so the month of season finales involving hallucinations continue, and between this, Bones, and Grey’s Anatomy, I wonder what else have I not come across? I know how the US version of Life on Mars ends (but since neither my wife nor I have finished watching the second half of the season, I’ll refrain from saying what it is), but what about the shows I’m behind on?

Smallville, of course, always has at least a couple hallucination episodes a season – and more now that they’ve been struggling to find stories in Metropolis, a task that doesn’t actually sound very hard – but will Prison Break get all wonky during its final five-episode run that’s sitting on my DVR? (Michael does have major brain shenanigans last time I checked, so this has potential.)

Does Lie to Me, which we’ve DVRed but haven’t touched yet, turn everything on its head by revealing that Tim Roth is just a figment of our imagination? (Considering he’s been both a futuristic ape and Abomination in The Incredible Hulk, this could be a possibility.)

Is Reaper going to turn out to be an extremely vivid dream concocted by Sock during a very long nap at the Work Bench? Will that explain Andi losing her personality this season?

Is that missing episode of Sit Down, Shut Up an apology to the idiots who didn’t find it funny and complained about the intentionally awkward animation-on-top-of-real-backgrounds?

Motherfucker! Ugly Betty ended in a hallucination, too! What happened here? Is this a veiled backlash against Obama? Did all the showrunners stop taking their medication?

The only time I can remember even the slightest bit of consistency across certain shows during season finales was May, 1996 (I had to check Wikipedia for the year, but remember everything else about the following without any aid.) For some reason, three major shows in my life decided to kind of lose their minds and go way too dark for my young teenage brain. With Seinfeld, it was Susan, George’s fiancée, dying as a result of toxic envelope glue, and when the main cast stopped by the hospital, they pretty much felt nothing and went to go get some coffee. On Roseanne, Dan breaks his diet and he and Roseanne get into one of the foulest shouting matches I’ve ever seen on a family sitcom, devolving into back-and-forth screams of “Fatty! Fatty! Fatty!” (Let’s not even mention the final season, which was all a dream.) And, finally, Mad About You challenged Paul and Jamie’s marriage when she kissed the man she was campaigning for and Paul lusted after another woman but didn’t do anything, leading to a quiet, disturbing fight.

It just seemed like, for no discernable reason, sitcoms ended that year wanting us to feel like absolute shit. So I ask, does anybody have an explanation for this madness in dear old 2009?

Don’t get me wrong, I thought everything with Dudek was some of the most compelling minutes House has ever had, and even without her, the final mindfuck, while hard to avoid in the press after the fact, was still eerily effective, thanks in no small part to Hugh Laurie’s continued brilliance on this show. Does he still not have an Emmy? (Now that Boston Legal is gone, Spader’s absence in the category will help considerably. That is, if Jon Hamm’s John Ham doesn’t take it, which would not be a bad thing per se.)

On another note, do any of you out there seriously care about Chase and Cameron? At all? Boooooooring. How about hiring another intern. I’m fine with that. Anything to get away from the dour blondes.

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