Strictly’s annual Halloween special is one of the high points of my TV watching year. The costumes are banging, the song choices intermittently hilarious, and the judges’ scoring cards are pumpkin shaped.
Add to that the fact that my mam and her rants have joined us for another week, along with special guest stars in the forms of my twin step-kids, James and Isabel, and it was quite the Saturday night in.
The kids, incidentally, had never seen the show before and reacted to it, and Bruce Forsyth, quite strongly...
The Hosting:As sure as tick follows tock, Bruce Forsyth can be relied upon to spend Saturday evenings on-screen jigging around like a (festive) bag of bones, and telling jokes so poor that at one point James, aged eleven and two weeks, threatened to start drinking to “ease the pain” of having to watch him.
The man tried - and failed - to do the Gangnam Style pony trot dance move, for fuck’s sake. I thought he might actually shatter a leg.
At one point, Isabel, who was enjoying the show apart from Brucie, started a campaign to fast-forward through his parts. Alas, in order to give them both a sense of how bad life in The Generation Game era was, we said no.*
Tess was there too, gurning her way through a show that I increasingly suspect she doesn’t enjoy at all.
On Saturday, she wore a full-length khaki dress that appeared to have been fashioned from an army surplus tent, and yet another completely unnecessary waist-cinching belt. Sunday’s black body con number was better, even with that odd mesh panel at the front.
It’s got to be said though that it was nothing in comparison to the lingerie ensemble Claudia borrowed from Vampira for the Results Show.
Still, the gruesome twosome (it’s Halloween so festive language about Bruce and Tess is allowed) did give me my favourite moment of the series so far. When Brucie grabbed Tess’s arms in a parody of fear at the start of the show, she looked so genuinely horrified I thought she might go into shock. Brilliant.
The Judging:No points to the wardrobe department for dressing a-slightly-nicer-than-normal Craig Revel-Horwood up as a vampire for the thoroughly enjoyable Thriller routine that opened this week’s show.
We already know his blood runs cold BUT did everyone notice Darcey’s tiara made of skulls and matching earrings? Outstanding. Only the Bussell can be relied upon to render pound shop jewellery that elegant.
I’m also quite into how, as well as always giving constructive criticism, la Bussell is not a high marker. She usually gives the same score, or one mark higher than Craig Revel-Horwood. This makes me trust her judgement more than it would if she gave deliberately high marks in order to make herself more likeable.
Also, her crush on Louis Smith, and the moments they catch of her on camera when she doesn’t think anyone is watching her watch him are hilarious.
The Dancing:First up were Dani Harmer and Vincent Simone, who performed a Cha Cha to the theme tune to Scooby Doo. It was a great song choice and a well-executed routine but I am forced to ask, what the fuck wardrobe were thinking putting little Dani, who played Velma in the routine, in that bloody outfit?
No-one should have to go on television in an orange swimming costume with four inches of glitter fringing for a skirt. And as for those socks…
Looking considerably better was TV presenter, Richard Arnold, who donned swarthy make-up and a considerable amount of stubble for an apocalyptic Paso Doble that saw him keep character well, if not give the best technical performance.
I remember saying in my first Strictly recap that I usually end up changing my mind about who I like after a few weeks, and lo, it’s happened. I’ve quite warmed to Richard. He really seems to be working hard in the face of some harsh criticism.
Also working hard this week was Lisa Riley who, sadly, just didn’t seem to get the hang of the Charleston. It’s possible that her nerves got the better of her – it’s a tough number for new dancers because they have to perform an individual section as well as with their partner.
I didn’t really buy her partner Robin’s choreography this week either, when in previous weeks it’s been very good indeed.
Also having a bad week were Sid Owen and his partner Ola Jordan. Their Cha Cha to the theme from Ghostbusters was undoubtedly hindered by Ola’s absence from rehearsals much of last week.
“Are we meant to be able to see her ass?” asked James. That happened a lot too.
Westlife singer Nicky Byrne's performance, with a tango to eighties pop classic Weird Science, was much improved. His partner Karen is, I’d argue, not the best choreographer in the show but might be the best teacher, such are the leaps and bounds the Dubliner is making in terms of his performance.
It was definitely his best dance of the series so far.
Boring the arse off me, though not everyone else in my house, were Fern Britton and Artem, who dressed up as the wicked queen and the Huntsman from Snow White (I think). Everyone else thought their performance of the American Smooth to Killer Queen by, um, Queen was really good.
More interesting to me was the love-in between Fern and Tess had when they got to the top of the stairs. “You are quite simply the loveliest woman I know. You are,” simpered the Daly. If this really is true, I have a whole new sympathy for Tess.
There was a surprise from Denise van Outen, who appeared to come in fancy dress as a stripper from the eighties complete with massive hair, and performed a really quite average (for her) Cha Cha to Superfreak by Rick James.
I know Denise has complained about her nerves throughout the series but this week really was the first time I’ve noticed it on the dance floor. “Poor leg action,” as Len put it.
Less surprising and more downright shocking was Michael Vaughn's performance - he finally found his feet while dressed as Aunt Sally in drag a creepy magician in the Quick Step. It was fucking brilliant, especially because so far Vaughany (yeah, I’m using his nickname. Deal with it.) has been a likeable member of the cast but a really poor dancer.
Helping things along were his pro-partner Natalie Lowe’s choice of song, That Old Black Magic, which to my mind was the best of the night. Nice work, team.
Another sportsperson who improved massively when hidden under a costume was Victoria Pendleton who performed a Tango to Billy Idol’s White Wedding.
Vicky’s performance was much improved this week – she actually acted! Her posture was great! Excellent choreography, too!
Next, and looking amazing was pro-dancer Kristina Rihanoff and her celeb partner Colin Salmon. You may have noticed that every time this couple are on, I talk about Kristina first. I’d attribute this to the fact that, as Mammy so succinctly put it, “You could put her in a turd and she’d look good.”
I Liked her mask much more than their salsa, though. Mammy reckons she’s getting something similar for Halloween.
Easily the best performance of the night, and one that earned them 35 points, was the Tango that Louis Smith and Flavia performed to Disturbia by Rihanna. I dare anyone to watch this and argue:
Finally, we had Kimberley and Pasha’a creative take on the Paso Doble, a Spanish dance based on bullfights, in which one dancer plays the bull and the other the matador or cape.
Their routine use Red Riding Hood’s cloak as the cape and was, to my mind, thoroughly enjoyable.
In terms of overall performances, the Halloween special proved an odd week for contestants with some apparently finding their confidence and abilities hugely boosted by the donning of costumes and white grease paint, and others definitely not.
Favourites Lisa and Denise, who previously appeared to be more than steady on their feet, found themselves knocked sideways by none other than the usually mal-co cricketer Michael Vaughan. Something in the toffee apple cider?
The Results:Most remarkably, Paloma Faith performed on the results show dressed as Catrinas, and accompanied by dancers and a band made up of skeletons. It was kind of amaze… and not just because that’s what I’m dressing up as this Halloween, too!
This week’s dance-off was between my pro-females of choice, Ola and Kristina, and their respective celeb partners, Sid and Colin. All of the judges bar Len chose to let Colin and Kristina dance stay, which Sid Owen handled like a gent.
I cannot overstate how much delight I get from the good sportsmanship Strictly competitors demonstrate each year. My heart swells every time.
Favourites:Louis and Flavia’s Tango, Michael and Natalie’s Quick Step, Victoria and Brendan’s Tango, Kimberley and Pasha’s Paso Doble.
Quotes of the Week:“Oh, you are getting tired aren’t you?” Bruce Forsyth to the audience after they failed to react to a particularly bad joke. Yes, Bruce. Tired of you.
“You still look like you’re covered in ectoplasm.” Bruno Tonioli to Sid Owen, who’d just danced to the theme from Ghostbusters. He’s not entirely wrong…
“That was more than magical. It was a miracle! What a transformation!” Bruno Tonioli to a newly-able-footed Michael Vaughan. Then Craig clapped. Wow.
So, who are you loving/ hating/ loving-to-hate this series? And more importantly, what did you dress up as for Halloween? [Also, does anyone else want to see a picture of Alisande's mammy next time? --Rebecca]@AlisandeF
*Not really, we were watching it live, which meant zipping past the fucker wasn’t actually an option.