Somebody fetch the glitterball a fry-up, a full-fat Coke and two paracetamol. A post-Blackpool hangover seemed to have taken hold of Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One). Not only did the quality of hoofing dip but behaviour was erratic, both in the live band and behind the judges’ table. Too many bags of chips, sticks of rock and sickly seaside cocktails, was it?
It was back to normal ballroom business as the contest returned to its familiar Elstree Studios base, stripping away the extra props and backing dancers from last Saturday’s Tower Ballroom spectacular. Sadly, the magnificent seven were reduced to a sparkly six. Kym Marsh wasn’t allowed to compete following a positive Covid test. She and professional partner Graziano Di Prima were taking a week out to recover, self-isolate and be grateful they’d missed such a sub-standard show.
Dave Arch’s house band usually do a fine job with an eclectic playlist but tonight’s renditions of Sugababes and Billie Eilish hits were especially lacklustre. The band’s singers no longer get name-checked nor shown on-screen. If BBC cost-cutting is biting in the vocal department, it’s a false economy.
Will Mellor rightly topped the leaderboard for the first time since way back in week one with a slick contemporary Charleston. Clad it bold black-and-neon tailoring, Mellor and his partner Nancy Xu incorporated hip-hop flavours and slo-mo moves, while displaying plenty of that vital swivel. It opened the show, scored a near-perfect 38 points and was just about the last thing the judges agreed on all night.
The panel’s scores for Ellie Taylor’s flat-footed jive - a bizarre Thelma & Louise-themed affair, clad in pink plaid - ranged from five to seven points. That gap widened for Helen Skelton’s misfiring samba, which seriously lacked bounce and body action. Craig Revel Horwood gave it five points, which was too harsh. His colleagues gave it eight, which was too generous. This was the second week in a row that the running order closed the show on a samba, hoping for a joyous party climax but actually ending on a whimper.
The panel also squabbled about Hamza Yassin’s Argentine tango. Motsi Mabuse and head judge Shirley Ballas hailed how well Yassin led the dance and gave it a perfect 10. Revel Horwood said his bottom half was “very messy” and gave it an eight. Anton Du Beke, who was in waffly mood all evening, slated Yassin’s leg action, got booed by the studio audience, then gave it a nine anyway.
Ballas continued her cringe-inducing habit of getting the female professionals’ names wrong. She repeatedly called Dianne Buswell “Diana” a few weeks ago and now mispronounced the name of Yassin’s excellent partner Jowita Przystal. When the crowd booed her criticism of Taylor, she turned around and told them: "Hang on, let's learn.” Hey, at least she didn’t whip out that sinister pair of children’s shoes to demonstrate her point. Du Beke condescended and rambled. Ballas and Mabuse praised the “mood” of dances while letting technical details slide, which wasn’t good enough with the finish line sight.
All being well, Marsh will return for next week’s musicals-themed quarter-final. If justice is done, Taylor won’t. She’s been bottom of the scoreboard for the last two weeks. Tyler West and Ellie Simmonds especially must be sitting in front of their TVs, wondering why she remains in the contest while they’re sat at home. Time for the curtain to come down on Taylor's choreographic contest. If Ms Ballas and Mr Arch could get their houses in order for the home stretch too, that would be a Brucey bonus.