Ah, fauxmance: one of the mainstays of scripted reality TV. It's a conceit that's always had a huge presence on Dancing with the Stars – after all, if our dancers and stars can get tongues wagging, it helps viewership and the voting. But is it really the right avenue for the show to be traveling? The forced flirtation can get uncomfortable at times, and this season's milking our speculation for all it is worth with not one, not two, but three potential fauxmances:
* First, we've got James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd – legend has it, they went out on a date before the show started, yet he never called (ouch). Nowadays, they talk a lot about their good chemistry, and tease us with the tidbit that they might give it another try once the mirrorball trophy is safe in their hands.
* Next, we've got Cody Simpson and Witney Carson. He has a girlfriend, yet much hullabaloo was made when he deemed her moves "distracting."
* And last, but not least, we've got Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who can't seem to stop singing each other's praises. And after a particularly steamy number a couple of weeks ago, Erin Andrews presented them with a rather intimate-looking screen grab, causing Davis to go scarlet and get all giggly.
Even in the most recent episode, where everyone switched partners, the mixed-up pairs didn't get away scot free. Maslow jokingly tweeted at Charlie White not to get too comfortable with Murgatroyd, prompting host Erin Andrews to question their relationship status – then as Davis made the "Chmer-swap-skiy" from Maks to Val, more than a little playful banter about "incestuous adultery" ensued.
The fauxmances might be a fun way to stir speculation and recruit voters, but is it really something the show needs? It's true that DWTS really comes down to the relationships between partners, but the non-romantic (and perhaps more genuine) feelings are just as, if not more, compelling. Last season's Emma Slater and Bill Engvall's father-daughter relationship got more followers than Brant Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd's flirtatious banter, after all.
What do you think?
Former DWTS professional Maksim "Maks" Chmerkovskiy joined us on the other side of the judging table, where he was handily wedged in between Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. Bruno's playfully lecherous flirtation was, needless to say, pretty entertaining. Plus, in such close quarters, Bruno's wild gestures almost decapitated him at one point – luckily, Maks used his dancers' swift instincts to dodge.
The challenge this week was quite interesting as well; the dancers were given the task of performing two distinct dances to different versions (original and acoustic) of the same song – the theme was plugged/unplugged. High points included Amber Riley and Derek Hough's eye-poppingly energetic jazz dance to "Bad Romance," and Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke's fiery tango to the Moulin Rouge acoustic version of "Roxanne" (in the face of M.S. flare-ups, no less). Lowpoints: Bill Engvall and Emma Slater's half-baked "Sexy and I Know It" routine (he was pushing through a groin injury, but still), and Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff's overly flame-inspired tango to "Light 'Em Up" (seriously, that was just too much fire. And what was with the hooded cloaks?)
We also got to hear a bit of each contestant's backstory, which was quite sentimental (schmaltzy even for DWTS, but that's why we love it) – we got to see how The Osbournes messed with Jack's childhood, and how Multiple Sclerosis now plagues his adulthood. Also notable were the struggles Amber faced with casting directors, largely based off of her race and weight. I almost wish we could have had these testimonials earlier in the season, but I guess going through it with all 12 of the original couples would have been overwhelming to say the least.
As for eliminations: the reign of Bill Engvall continues...it's getting tricky, isn't it? He truly is delightful (as the judges continually remind us before docking major points), and he has a compelling relationship with his partner – but how far should that take you on a dancing competition? The fan vote has saved him week after week after week, with technically more proficient dancers going home. With Brant Daugherty and Elizabeth Berkley, it was surprising, but with Leah, it was almost melancholy. The two of them came from the same place – both inexperienced dancers with enough personality to make up for it. But even though she has technically improved much more than he has, she was the one who was booted off the show.
We were sad to see her go. With her copious wisecracking, she brought a sense of levity to the show; watching her and Tony imitate each other's sexy faces at each other was kind of awesome. And while they didn't have the chemistry of say, Brant and Peta, you really got the sense that they were looking out for each other. Tony has oft voiced the opinion that Leah is what DWTS is all about – and in a lot of ways, she was. She came in insecure, with little-to-no dance experience (ahem, Corbin), and has slowly worked her way up to the semi-finals, all the way as an underdog through and through; someone you could root for. She in turn, has said how much his belief in her has meant to her as a competitor – their mutual respect for each other led to some lovely moments throughout the season, and as Corbin, Bill, Jack, and Amber continue on as finalists, she'll definitely be missed.
* Worst costume of the week: Emma Slater's mesh bodysuit/furry-looking bikini.
* Some of the song covers were just plain awful. "Locked Out of Heaven" in the style of Evanescence? No. Just, no.
* Leah's daughter crying after her elimination was awfully precious.
The competition continues to get tighter – this week, the term "semi-finalist" was thrown around quite a bit. It turns out the semi-finals begin next week, and the dancers continued to up their game accordingly. Corbin and Karina danced a beautiful waltz (they always have the best outfits, amirite?), and fan favorites Jack Osborne and Leah Remini continued to climb their way up the scoreboard. Bill Engvall faltered, his exuberance only enough to earn him sevens across the board in light of his poor sense of rhythm.
This week's special challenge was the trio dance – it didn't sound quite as exciting as the freestyle, but it turned out to be hugely entertaining. For many of the dancers, adding in a third person to the group improved their dances exponentially. Elizabeth and Val (plus Gleb Savchenko) walked away with perfect 10s all around, and Corbin and Karina (plus Witney Carson) were so good that they drew comparisons to Bob Fosse. Carrie Ann was so charmed, she said something bleep-worthy – all we know is that it had something to do with Usher...?
And the best part of the trio dances? Leah (along with Tony Dovolani, and Henry Byalikov) decided to poke a bit of fun at the three judges (WATCH IT. No, seriously). I suppose as professional dancers, it would make sense that they would make great physical mimics – Tony in particular got Bruno's sweeping gestures down to a T!
Though the odds seemed stacked against Bill (he had the lowest score by quite a bit in both of this week's dances) his legions of fans were enough to keep him on for the semi-final round. He's stolen our hearts, along with the judges, who continue to express regret that they can't score him off of his likability rather than his poor rhythm. Great for Bill, but someone had to suffer this week. And that someone? Elizabeth Berkley. Even after her consistently stellar scores, her fans were not strong enough to save her.
I know nothing about dancing, but even I could tell she had a willowy elegance and sensibility that was a rare find on a reality show like DWTS. Her considerable skill, in addition to her wide (and oh-so-slightly crazy) eyes and rapport with partner Val Chmerkovskiy will make her sorely missed – she definitely belonged up on that semi-finalist stage! It makes you really think about the popularity contest aspect of the show. I suppose that the equally weighted scores means that the show itself really belongs equally to the fans as it does to the judges. But really, it goes to show you that your dancing's not necessarily going to get you that trophy. Like fellow proficient dancers Christina Milian and Brant Daugherty before her, Elizabeth went home before her time.
* Loved the awkward cut to a reaction shot of Bill Engvall's wife as he extolled his two exceedingly gorgeous dance partners, Emma Slater and Peta Murgatroyd
* Okay I get that for whatever reason, ballroom dance costumes are often ridiculously ugly, but Jack's leopard-printed samba outfit was off the charts!
* There was a competition for best abs between Val Chmerkovskiy and Gleb Savchenko. Yes.
ABC did exactly what everyone was saying they were trying to do when they hired Bill Nye the Science Guy: they hooked the nerdy millenials. I mean, Bill was eliminated way back on episode 3 (after an adorable immobilized-knee robot dance to "Get Lucky") and I'm still hooked. Glitter and sequins aside, there's something that's touching about watching the stars and "the professionals" really bond as they spend hours a day training. Watching Valerie Harper dance the Viennese waltz to "Carry On" with her very-sweet partner Tristan McManus was -- cheesy as it sounds -- beautiful in more ways than one.
Mushiness aside, this week the dancers/stars were in for a very special treat: Cher was guest judging, in place of at-times astringent head judge Len Goodman. Everyone was over the moon – Cher was über-complimentary and supportive, and she handed out exclusively 8s and 9s. That must have been a nice break (Leah Remini in particular, expressed this sentiment multiple times), and it was fun to see the starstruck stars: Elizabeth Berkley publicly (and only slightly awkwardly) thanked Cher for what she's done to empower women.
As we move into week 8, the competition has been getting tighter and tighter. The scores don't vary that much, and it really comes down to the fan vote: even after earning a respectable 27 after an electrifying foxtrot, Pretty Little Liars star Brant Daugherty and partner Peta Murgatroyd (keep wanting to spell it "Peeta." Damn you, Hunger Games!) were sent home.
It's a shame – as judge Carrie Ann Inaba put it, he's one of the contestants that's actually shown the most growth. He started fairly strong, but has markedly improved on a week-to-week basis, which is no easy feat. Plus, there's the fact that he literally looked like a '70s Disney prince in his peach-colored suit this week, with a kind of scary mannequin smile to match. I may have found it a little odd, but Cher sure loved it, and that's what's important.
Anyways, I think I'm not alone when I say I'll miss Brant, and I'm not just making salacious comments about his abs. (Although: dayyyyyyum!) He had an earnestness and work ethic that we don't always expect to see in handsome young actors, and he and Peta had the best chemistry on the show. (If you google them, you'll find piles of dating rumors.) Farewell Brant and Peta – may you dance again.
With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.