Monday, December 18, 2006

Dirty Dancing, the Reality Show: Nobody Puts Cris Judd in a Corner

As part of a misguided attempt to fulfill the promise of their network’s name, WE: Women’s Entertainment is now offering viewers a little reality show gem called “Dirty Dancing.” Of course, if they really wanted to provide women’s entertainment, they would have done better to eschew all other programming and simply play the film “Dirty Dancing” on a constant loop. (Fall schedule, done.)

The show’s concept is rather questionable. A group of women, who presumably ended up here after not making the final casting cut for “The Bachelor,” are pitted against each other in order to win “The Dirty Dancing Championship.” Although none are professional dancers, the grand prize entails a vague-sounding promise of a dance contract, as well as a trip for two to the London premiere of “Dirty Dancing: The Musical.” Which sounds awesome, as I’d wager we’ll now finally get to see the fully choreographed interpretive dance that “She’s Like The Wind” has always demanded.

In the premiere episode, we are introduced to host Cris Judd, professional dancer and Jennifer Lopez ex-husband number two. Now, if you think I’m going to rip on the man best known for being the guy J-Lo abandoned for Ben Affleck, think again. I am a card-carrying Cris Judd fan, thanks to a little show called “I’m A Celebrity — Get Me Out of Here!” which aired on ABC in 2003. The show featured a group of D-list celebrities sent to live in the Australian rainforest for a few weeks, without the benefit of shelter or publicists. During his time on camera, Judd came off as one hell of a great guy – kind, strong, courageous, and handsome — the stuff Harlequin romance heroes are made of. Watching fellow cast member Melissa Rivers practically ovulate every time he approached her was one of the highlights of the show. At the end, Judd emerged victorious and proved to be the last celebrity standing, winning the hearts and votes of the show’s five viewers.

So, I’m thrilled that Judd is back on my television, even if it is under the auspices of this rather dopey show. One of his first duties is to assemble the contestants and introduce them to their six male “instructors,” who will ideally partner with them as naturally as Johnny did with Baby. Nothing unusual here — we meet Artem, the token hot Russian required by the FCC on every reality dance show — his style, we learn is the cha cha. Jonathan, a tango specialist who resembles a more hirsute Kevin Federline, informs us, “I look at these girls (as) more than just dancers, I look at them as human beings.”

Judd then asks the girls to warm up and demonstrate their mad skillz for the guys. Mayhem ensues, as the contestants crowd around the six male dancers, having been encouraged to cut in on the other women whenever possible. It’s a big, incoherent mess. In the middle of it, instructor Ryan tells the camera exactly what he was hoping to gain from the exercise, noting, “I was really looking for the girls who wanted to dance up on me.”

Next, it’s time for some cuts to be made. Judd does the job stoically, identifying the contestants who will continue on with a brief, “Melanie, please stay.” What, no giant clocks or roses to hand out? What kind of budget does this show have, anyway? That question was answered when I more closely noticed the setting for all the action — a sparsely forested camp of sorts. In certain shots, pedestrian and car traffic are visible in the background. The idea is that the contestants are supposed to be at “dirty dancing boot camp.” In any case, Kellerman’s, it ain’t.

After the eliminations, the lucky remaining girls are sent to check out their bunks. They of course provide the obligatory squeals of delight at the sight of their lodgings, which appear to border on the level of a two-star bed and breakfast. Then, they gather together to receive instruction from a Maybelline makeup artist, who, after talking for a while about the concept of metamorphosis, reassures the audience at home that “we’re not here to paint the butterfly.” Good to know.

The final scene of the episode takes us to a barn on the campgrounds. Judd, clad adorably in a buttery leather jacket, tells the contestants they’re going to “freestyle” for the guys, once again giving them the opportunity to thoroughly embarrass themselves. Now, I’ve got to give these women kudos for being willing to put it all out there without the aid of alcohol or dark of night. Accordingly, I’m not going to comment on their dancing skills. Let’s just say that although some of the women demonstrate ability, during this segment there was a fair amount of wincing coming from the general vicinity of my couch.

After the freestyling bit (thankfully, no one got served), the six instructors each pick three contestants to train on an individual basis. One of the three will ultimately become “Baby” to her respective teacher’s “Johnny” in the final round of competition. I’m not exactly sure what form the final dance contest will take; however, I fully expect the phrase “spaghetti arms” to be tossed around freely during the rehearsal footage montages.

While I realize that “Dirty Dancing,” the reality show, unlike “Dirty Dancing,” the movie, is not going to provide me with the time of my life, I’ll probably keep watching. Mostly because I’m hoping that Cris Judd is going to throw on some Johnny Castle pants and enter the fray.