Two hour finale. Let's do this.
Actually, before we do this, I wanted to touch on the series as a whole, since there's been a rash of "How to Fix So You Think You Can Dance" articles across the internet lately. And while I don't think the show is broken -- and in fact, I think the dance talent this season was as good as we've ever had on the show -- I do think there was something off this season. I mean, the all-stars concept was a wrinkle, and in some ways it worked (getting to see Lauren and Pasha and Mark and Courtney and Twitch again; watching how far dancers like Anya and Neil and Allison have come), and some it didn't. I definitely missed watching the contestants find their footing with each other, in pairs that stayed constant for a while. I know there has been bitching in previous seasons about good dancers "carrying" bad ones, but I think those rare cases are worth it to see the bonds that develop between a Joshua and Katee, or a Legacy and Kathryn, or a Lauren and Neil. This show is about amazing dancing, yes, but we all enter it through the dancers' personalities, and they were harder to come by in the early goings this year.
Now, I don't think all-stars was a concept that was designed to return every year. I'd like to see them go back to a Top 20 next season, keeping the pairs constant until Top 10. However, at that stage, once we've gotten to know them, mix it up as much as you can. All-stars, same-sex routines, whatever. If I can point at one positive change that has arisen this season, it's those boy-boy and girl-girl routines which really shook up the norm.
As for the judges' table ... look, I thought Adam Shankman was the best judge in Season 6, but this season he really devolved into a one-dimensional praise machine who just cranked out crazy hyperbole and tears. I find him delightful as a person, but he's outlived his usefulness as a judge. Without him, I think Mia's occasional lapses into metaphor become more palatable, and I do think her willingness to actually criticize is essential; she should stay. I've seen a surprising number of writers call for the return of Mary Murphy, which...no. It's like the Paula Abdul nostalgists: you're remembering through some seriously rose-colored glasses. That said, Mary always provided great insight into the ballroom routines, and as an occasional presence, I think she'd be fine. If it were up to me, I'd say keep Nigel and Mia and bring back the rotating third judge. Don't make me go through another season pining for Debbie Allen.
I don't think the show needs a major overhaul. Better casting (more hip-hop dancers, or at least more dancers who have had varied training), fewer routines (though with two hours to fill, that seems unlikely), swapping out Tyce Diorio for Spencer Liff. It won't take much. In truth, the biggest problem the show faces is that infernal stage. It also seems like the most fixable problem, right? It's too big -- make it smaller. We need intimacy with these routines. The current, cavernous stage makes everybody look small and less impressive. This isn't a difficult concept. Fix it, Uncle Nigel. Get off the phone with Shania and fix it.
Anyway! We have a finale. We're reminded at the top that tonight's winner will join the ranks of Nick Lazzarini, Benji Schwimmer, my beloved Jeanine Mason ... and some others who don't get mentioned. Sorry, Josh, Sabra, and Russell! (Um...did we really exclude all three black winners? Now I'm uncomfortable.) The opening group number feels very Inception-inspired, with the guys all in gray suits, and the movements feeling very zero-gravity at times. It's the entire Top 11 plus all-stars, which means when they all take the stage it's quite a sight. Alex Wong gets brought out strapped to a chair (again, reminded me of Inception), to great applause, and the whole routine ends with some fast-paced militarized synchronization. Very impressive. Choreographed by one of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, which I'm told is bananas. Oh, hello Neil Patrick Harris in the audience! I still want you and Cat Deeley to host the Emmys some day.
The judges' table is full to bursting -- seven of them, in fact. Nigel, Mia, Adam, Tyce, Stacey Tookey, the useless Kenny Ortega, and ... Mary Murphy. Aw, it is good to see your Botoxed face, you howler monkey of a woman, you. Am I ignoring the montage dedicated to Nigel's hair over the years? You bet! They did, however, unearth my favorite Mia moment of all time, when she called one shirtless, smarmy auditioner "sexful" instead of "successful." Adam also gets a montage of his various "looks," highlighted by a few old-school Shankman photographs.
Rundown of last night's performances, most of which I found totally fine and largely unmemorable. Robert and Allison were gorgeous with that pillow, but they've been better. Lauren and Kent together deserved better than nerds and Huey Lewis. The one exception, I will say, was Robert and Kathryn's West Side Story routine, in which Spencer Liff put Tyce Diorio to shame, forever and ever.
After the break, the judges begin with the selection of the season's best routines. It's funny, despite my high regard for the dance talent this season, I can only think of a handful off the top of my head that are shoo-ins for reprise. And one of them is Alex Wong and Twitch, which is out of the running. Kenny Ortega is up first, and he chooses the Kent and Neil Broadway routine (via Tyce) from Damn Yankees. You guys, I really loved this one. This really capitalized on the Big Brother/Little Brother vibe between these two, and the boundless energy found in Kent. This time, at the end, they slide into the company of a waiting Cat Deeley. Cute!
Nigel's choice is the Billy and Ade "Rich Man, Poor Man" routine, which I am on the record as having loved, particularly for Stacey Tookey's clever, layered choreography. And honestly, you can't go wrong with the dancing -- Billy and Ade are two of the finest contemporary dancers this show has ever seen, and Tookey really capitalized on their contrasting styles.
Cat then introduces Quest Crew, who you may remember from America's Best Dance Crew, and who you may also remember features Dance alums Ryan (Season 1) and Hok (Season 3). And Dominic, usually, but I guess he's busy with all-star stuff. They're awesome, and I could pretend to review the specifics of the performance, but honestly? I was just watching Hok the whole time. Love you, Hok!
Mia's pick is a Napoleon/Tabitha routine, as performed by Adechike and Comfort. Mia takes a moment to give props to how far Comfort has come since her time on the show. This is the one about domestic abuse, set to Alicia Keys. It's well-danced (especially by Comfort, who's a total powerhouse), but it falls a smidge short of classic, to me. But seriously, if Comfort danced this way in her season, she'd have been in the finale herself.
Cat then kicks it to a true classic of the filler genre: the "everybody loved each other this season" montage. And while I am the first guy to endorse intra-season couples (guys, I still think Legacy and Kathryn are deeply in love), I didn't get any of that this season. Even Kent and Lauren -- who at one point seemed kind of couple-ish -- have settled into comfortable BFF-dom. I will say, I'm happy they didn't linger on Dominic's tiresome Pepe Le Pew act vis-à-vis Cat. This then gives way to Kent and Anya performing their 3OH!3 "Hot For Teacher" routine, which I found slightly embarrassing the first time. This time, I think I appreciated the actual cha-cha within all the unconvincing creeping.
Tyce's choice is the clown dance with Robert and Dominic. Easily Robert's best work outside of his own genre, and if this hadn't shared a season with Alex Wong's miraculous NappyTab routine, it'd be the best hip-hop of the season too. Robert doesn't have as much clown makeup on this time, likely due to time constraints, which will maybe help the clown-phobics out there like him better.
I'm skipping past both a National Dance Day montage as well as Nigel tap-dancing. I