By Week 3 of “Dancing With the Stars,” you already know what you’re getting — which makes it more exciting from the jump, even when you’re worried about a favorite falling into a rut.
For example: Mr. T is going to work hard, and take criticism well, and make it through a routine the same way he would a training march at boot camp. Heather Morris is going to dance each routine so flawlessly and slip so deeply into the character of each performance that you’ll love her routine but forget about it basically as soon as it’s done. They couldn’t be farther away from each other on the dance spectrum, but they are both predictable in their own ways. Mr. T’s capacity for growth is limited in this venue, while Morris doesn’t actually need to grow much at all — which means watching them is both enjoyable and sends us into the kind of existential crisis we like to save for “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
Not all dancers are at such extreme ends of the spectrum. Nick Viall, for instance, lies somewhere in the middle between Mr. T and Morris when it comes to dancing — though that’s not saying much, as we probably all fall somewhere on that spectrum. The great thing about Nick is that he’s already trying harder then every past “Bachelor” dancer combined: Admirable, but it’s also causing him to overreach. Instead of staying in his comfort zone and performing well, he’s pushing for more challenging choreography and then not delivering. And as there’s no extra points for degree of difficulty, at home or onscreen, Viall ends up looking just as far out of his element as the Bachelors of yore. He needs to rein in his image of himself as an overachiever, because it’s predictable, and on “Dancing With The Stars,” predictability is the mind-killer.
Simone Biles is closer to the Heather Morris end of the spectrum: An incredibly gifted athlete with a great sense of rhythm, which means our expectations are too high. Part of it is that her steps are picture perfect, but she has trouble connecting emotionally with the audience. Her skill will carry her through a long way — but if she can’t tap into the emotional aspect she’ll have trouble securing the win.
All that being said, there are still moments that give us a glimpse into what the show can do when it’s at its glimmering, glittery, over-the-top best. Here are some highlights from last night that remind us why we keep watching, even when things slow down.
Opening Number: Vegas Week
While we love Mandy Moore’s work on “So You Think You Can Dance,” we can often do without the elaborate set pieces she choreographs almost every week at the top of this show: They tend to involve a lot of mugging to the camera and not much actual dancing. This week’s has all that -- but it also has a comedic, tongue-in-cheek feel. The interpretation of the "Vegas Week" theme is hysterically accurate.
Erika Jayne makes a flawlessly sexy showgirl, Nick Viall holds his own with the professional male dancers as a Bachelor -- wink! -- out on the town, Normani Kordei shows surprising comedic deftness as a nerdy tourist, and Mr. T plays a bouncer, in a clever nod to his early career.
It’s Heather Morris who steals the show as a drunken bachelorette -- shoes slung over her shoulders, tiara perched precariously on her hair... There's even a great moment when she and her “bridesmaids” pause while running up to the balcony, so they can hold her hair back while Heather pretends to throw up over the railing. It’s only for a split second, and it sounds like it should be gross, but it’s weirdly adorable. Anyone who has ever done a puke-and-rally at a college party can relate.
Bonner Bolton Cowboys Down
The show tends to get a lot of drama from contestants that face physical challenges due to a past injury. They haven’t done that much with Bonner Bolton this season, largely because of his tendency to “cowboy up” -- he’s at turns stoic and positive, which is why it’s heart-wrenching to see a moment of genuine vulnerability when he physically can’t do some of the choreography necessary for the Charleston. This is a young man who was at the top of the world, in a physically challenging sport: He’s competitive, and he feels like his body is letting him down. That’s a lot to process at all, let alone on national TV.
Charo Chills Out
Charo has been a polarizing force throughout this competition. Love her or hate her, you certainly have to admit that she’s anything but predictable. In fact, this week she surprises everyone with an elegant foxtrot. Her arms are so subtle and graceful! Had she pulled this out in Week 2, she might have bought herself another week in the competition...
But as it is, she ends up being eliminated at the end of the night... Though not without giving us one more truly amazing malapropism.
Nancy Kerrigan & Special Guest Ricky Martin shake their bon bons
Nancy Kerrigan easily could have slid into the "predictable dancer" group -- but even though she has a natural affinity for musicality thanks to her days as a professional ice skater she’s had some room for growth. The past few weeks, her perfectionism's manifested in stiff nervousness, but this week she lets go. She even drops an f-bomb in rehearsal, making her our kind of people.
Kerrigan ultimately manages to let it all go, and really lose herself in a saucy samba. Her body looks absolutely slamming in that dress -- but more importantly, she’s having a blast. Though we bet no one had as much fun as her partner Artem this week when he adorably freaked out over getting to meet Ricky Martin...
David Ross Pulls a great routine out of his hat
David Ross manages to pull off the impossible this week: A jazz routine that is simultaneously sexy and hilarious. He hits the moves hard and really commits himself to the dance, all without losing the twinkle in his eye. We’re actually a little conflicted over how effective this routine is -- no single GIF can do it justice; you must watch the whole bizarre thing to understand its genuine, subversive brilliance.
Erika Jayne lets her guard down, finally
It’s not a secret that we love Erika Jayne. She hasn’t quite been serving it on the dance floor as much as we had hoped, but this week she’s doing something better: Showing her softer side. "Housewives" fans know that Erika Jayne often hides her true feelings behind a facade of fabulosity -- and luckily, her partner Gleb seems to truly get that, and her. We love watching this genuine friendship as it evolves.
Rashad Jennings shakes his bon bon also
Rashad Jennings, like Nancy Kerrigan, performed the samba -- and his hips don't lie, he’s one to watch. He didn’t need a celebrity coach to help him learn how to shake it. His athleticism lends itself well to dancing, but it’s really his charisma and personality that makes him so enjoyable to watch. Watching him gleefully shake his hips for two seconds provides enough happiness to sustain us all day.
Normani Kordei steals the show
Many of the contestants have busy schedules, but none as insane as Normani Kordei. She’s been flying back and forth between Los Angeles and various cities in Asia where she’s performing with her group Fifth Harmony -- this week, she learned an elaborate routine during a roundtrip to a Hong Kong tour date. Not only does she not even look tired, she looks as good as any pro.
Hopefully Kordei can keep up with this grueling schedule -- right now, we’re liking her to win this whole thing.
"Dancing With the Stars" airs 8-10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.