Week 8 featured the first-ever Celebrity Dance Duel — a cool idea, I suppose, even though it kept sounding like “Dance Stool” as Tom Bergeron announced it in Spooky Voice. Plus: an actual stool, incorporated into an Argentine tango. And last and most certainly least, guest judge Abby Lee Miller, the dark cloud of pure evil that hovers over Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” and Earth itself, threatening at every moment to pelt humanity with smug corrections about technique and hideously ill-timed, unveiled references to how she never has sex, but would like to. Her presence on our cherished Planet Mirrorballus was nothing short of a living nightmare — stripped of sequins, wrapped in contempt, and cloaked in a jersey knit as black as her soul. SAVE THE PLANET.
Ugh, no one could stand her. Head judge Len Goodman couldn’t even look at her. My mom weighed in via text: “Is this ALM for real? Or is she basically a nice person and this is all her TV bitch persona? Clueless to her stardom, I am. (No regrets).” Oh, to have zero prior Abby Lee Miller awareness after this much time aliiiiiiiiiive! I bow down to my creator. And soon Our Pros would bow down to Maks…
“I don’t really care for anything she has to say,” Maksim Chmerkovskiy announced, igniting a fresh wave of camaraderie up in the Celebriquarium after Abby Lee called out his partner Meryl Davis for her “sickle feet” in the rumba. Sure, his comment was kind of rude. But consider the target: a narcissistic non-dancer infamous for yelling at kids to not do their homework. It’s safe to say Maks spoke for most.
Darkness dominated until the episode’s very last moment, which saw “DWTS” super fan Danica McKellar and her partner/fellow intellectual giant Valentin Chmerkovskiy ascend to their permanent place in ballroom heaven. Danica’s broken rib had limited her mobility, but the couple still turned in a sexy and powerful tango that played out as a sort of futuristic parable about the dangers of not listening to one's doctor. Poor Danica. And what a tough break for Val. A super-talented partner saddled with an injury, PLUS an ever-growing suspicion that their grandmother, this week’s special guest Sofiya, might favor brother Maks over him? Why, it was almost more than he could bear. (“More beer?” “What for? Nothing helps.” Obligatory “Beauty and the Beast” shoutout for Danica and Val.)
Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhh-ba!
Amy Purdy and Derek Hough: 40/40 Argentine tango + 39/40 jive duel = 79/80 “The Argentine tango is a very physical dance, and it’s targeting the exact spot that’s injured,” Amy informed us. Oh, goody. There was no rest for the weary sufferer of last week’s painful back spasm — well, unless you count the portion of their dance executed atop a wobbly stool. How did this earn a perfect 40? It offered a sultry vibe and some explosive, tango-appropriate music, but nowhere near the intensity of plenty of other perfect Argentine tangos on this show (including so very many of Derek’s!) This wasn’t even my favorite dance of Amy’s. Were the judges just ready to hand over 10s because they'd performed the last solo of the night? Bruno said he felt like he was in a trance. Perhaps he'd got caught in the crossfire of Abby Lee’s passionate Derek-worship.
Charlie White and Sharna Burgess: 40/40 quickstep + 38/40 contemporary duel = 78/80 I didn’t understand the perfect score for their opening quickstep either, especially after Abby’s comment about Charlie’s bent back leg in an arabesque (“It’s called attitude!” protested Bruno, the rightful Duke of Attitude) and Bruno’s mention of “not quite so clean” stops. I’m fine with the perfect score; I just didn’t expect it, and their first 40 probably would’ve had much more impact if it’d happened later in the show. Oh, well. Kudos to Charlie’s mother Jacqueline for reinvigorating my tainted notion of what a “dance mom” should really be with her uplifting pep talk to her son. The back half of a grueling “Dancing With the Stars” season can get even the most chipper floppy-haired Olympian down, so I loved how his mom gently reminded him of how positive Charlie would normally be if he had to support someone else in this situation. And as an extra dash of sweetness: The dozens of giant hearts on the ballroom floor during their quickstep reminded ME of the uplifting experience that is (usually) watching this show! #sparklebarf
Charlie caught the cane this time! Cheers to Mark Ballas — officially the Robin Thicke of the Ballroom — for cheekily allowing for and then announcing this great prop triumph backstage.
James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd: 36/40 Viennese waltz + 39/40 jive duel = 75/80 This week James brought in the other members of Big Time Rush so someone other than the same producer would be on hand to ask James and Peta if they were “dating or something.” No denial this time! Just a friendly shared grimace towards the camera. In some languages that’s a yes! (Australian.) Their Viennese waltz was another stunning visual delight, set-wise — the cherry blossom tree in one corner and fluffy white clouds on Peta’s gown threatened to overtake the dark and stormy presence behind the judges’ table. But they needn’t have worried: Abby Lee Miller has a major crush. “It’s the male dancer’s job to make the woman look amazing, and that’s what you did… I was like, look at ME! That way! I’m over here!” Eww. No. Remember when the promo at the top of the show asked “WHO. WILL. FALL?” In a surprise twist, the answer turned out to be Abby Lee Miller. Clunk, clunk, clunk. It was so awful I can barely even make fun of it. To lighten the mood, Bruno generously offered to help James control his buttocks.
Candace Cameron Bure and Mark Ballas: 36/40 foxtrot + 38/40 contemporary duel = 74/80 With Danica out, there’s still room on the mirrored path to the COVETED TROPHY for a turtle whose greatest dance talent is “being lifted.” As Mark explained it, “It’s a turtle race, and she is my turtle.” (Perhaps I just had ‘90s sitcoms on the mind, but this struck me as very “She’s your lobster” a la “Friends.”) As tragic as Danica’s elimination was, I can’t be mad at Candace’s comeback. Mark choreographed this week’s foxtrot to her strengths (delighted facial expressions and sitcom acting, this time ‘50s-style), and she seemed much more relaxed and open than ever before. Barely having to touch the ground during the the Charlie-Sharna-Candace-Mark Dance Duel definitely helped!
Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 36/40 rumba + 34/40 samba duel = 70/80 Here is how to tame a wild beast, as presented by Meryl Davis: Simply insist, via consistent soft squeaks, that the true nature of said wild beast is actually that of a teddy bear. Then cradle the teddy bear as it kneels before you, TOTALLY LOVING YOU. Gently refine his preconceived behavioral notions as you caress his bulging shoulder blade. The transformation is now complete.
Witness this bout of Meryl Davis genius:
Maks: “You can’t pet me.”
Meryl: “Yes, I can.”
Maks: “Well, you can, but you shouldn’t.”
Meryl: “I should.”
Teddy Bearkovskiy: “Okay, fine.”
That was the rehearsal/reality version. In the ballroom version, Meryl slapped Maks after the couple endured a “totally Tennessee Williams” (according to Bruno) heated dinner table argument at the top of their rumba, which contained a bit too much contemporary content for Len and Carrie Ann. Abby Lee Miller would NEVER hit Maks, she insisted, before harping on Meryl’s sickled feet. But it didn’t matter what she said. Maks. Doesn’t. Care!
It’s hard to believe Meryl and Maks are at the bottom of the leaderboard considering their raging chemistry and the emotional quality of that rumba. Their ensuing Dance Duel with Danica and Val was not the most melt-in-you-mouth Chmerkovskiy sandwich we’ve ever tasted, though, and the judges had it in for Maks after his Abby Lee Miller slam. (Gross! Every time I mention Abby Lee Miller, I am sorry. Please know that.)
I vote that next week’s guest judge should be the Grandmerkovskiy. Who’s with me? There’s no need to ship her back to New York just yet. She and Tom and the unnamed bearded relation to Sofiya’s left have a lot to awkwardly/delightfully discuss.
Speaking of which: Be sure and check out my midseason Q&A with Our Host Tom Bergeron on THR.com.
Keep up with Annie on Twitter @AnnieBarrett