Tuesday 19 March 2019

Leslie Ann Horgan: 'Please God, someone put a stop to 'Dancing With The Stars''

 

Johnny Ward and dance partner Emily Barker. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Johnny Ward and dance partner Emily Barker. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Johnny Ward and dance partner Emily Barker. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan

The boxer is on the ropes, the overrun team are being punished in extra time, the competitor is down and receiving some swift boots to the stomach - at what point do we call stop? I personally made that call about 100 times last Sunday night, but it seems that yelling at a TV screen is not enough and so I'm committing my plea to print: please god, someone put a stop to Dancing With The Stars.

In the way that reality TV shows like this appear to be able to loop time back on itself, the third series of the RTE dance competition has been running for, oh, about 2,000 weeks now. Each Sunday night in the ballroom court a troupe of personalities present themselves before the bench - made of up stern but fair Lorraine, SPARKLETASTIC Julian, and Beelzebub Brian - for final judgement. Will they quickstep their way into another week or is this the last waltz?

The Sunday night show is light entertainment at its best, and has been something of a guilty pleasure for me - until now. Over the past few weeks, the pleasure has slowly been evaporating, leaving me only with the guilt. Why are we putting them through this? How can we stand by while they suffer? Why have the viewing public been turned into cruel voyeurs?

The sources of my agony are two-fold: Johnny Ward and Fred Cooke.

Love/Hate and Fair City star Johnny is the best dancer in the competition. In fact, he's the best dancer to appear any of the three years of the Irish competition. You'd think, then, that all the lovely Walkinstown lad has to do is show up, shake his perfectly-timed hips and walk away with the trophy. But there's a problem. Johnny is by far the best dancer in the competition. He's at a level virtually indistinguishable from the professionals to the untrained eye. None of the other celebrities come close, meaning the competition here is null and void - we have a clear winner.

This understandably causes a problem for a broadcaster with a plethora of primetime hours to fill. Would anyone keep watching - and voting - if Johnny got a deserved three 10s every week? The solution has been to judge him at the level of the professionals, therefore closing the mammoth gap that should rightly be between his scores and everyone else's.

It's an effective fix to keep the show alive, but has anyone told Johnny about the plan? Those wide eyes look like they are about to fill with tears every time some needlessly technical criticism is given. That boyish bottom lip looks like it might quiver when giving his all returns an average score. It's death by a thousand nitpicks, and it's agonising to watch - especially last week when he bravely delivered not one but two brilliant performances just hours after the death of his father.

And then there's Fred. Oh Fred… The Kells comedian is at the other end of the dancing scale. It's fair to say that grace and finesse don't come naturally to him, but he's got rhythm and boy has he got heart. Like Des 'two left feet' Cahill and Bernard 'so bad he's brilliant' O'Shea before him, Fred was clearly marked out as being the novelty act. He was supposed to be the flat-footed also-ran who gives us all a laugh, but again, it looks like no one let him know. As a result his hardworking heart his being broken weekly - and mine along with it.

Maybe it's because I took dance lessons myself as a child, or maybe it's just because I once was a child, but how well I know that mix of hurt and upset that ripples across Fred's face after another stinging critique. As the dutiful comedian he tries to laugh it off, but it's clear that it's not water off a duck's back. It's bloody hard when you try your best only to have it fall far short of the mark, let alone on national television.

I know that, ultimately, it's all supposed to be a bit of fun but when two of the five remaining contestants look as though they're in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Rather than Dancing With The Stars it's got to be time to call it to a halt. So please, oh lords of the dance, put a stop to this. No more scores or critiques or dance-offs. No more shattered confidence. No more 'Humiliating The Stars'. No more Sunday night guilt. Everyone's a winner here. (But especially you, Johnny.)

Irish Independent

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