Fangirl Thursday: Making an Impact

parks prom

We’ve all seen those lists popping up on our Facebook feeds—“15 Movies that Changed My Life,” “10 Books that Stayed with Me,” “10 Albums that Have Defined My Life,” etc. We’ve probably even made one or more of those lists ourselves. (I’ve done both the book and movies ones.) But I haven’t seen any of these “challenges” devoted to television.

That’s about to change.

I am the woman I am in no small part due to the movies I’ve watched and the books I’ve read in my 26 years. However, I’m also the woman I am because of the TV shows I’ve watched and the television characters I’ve loved. More than any other form of media, television has given me characters and stories to grow up with, to be inspired by, and to learn from over the course of many years.

Therefore, today I’m making a list of the 10 TV shows that have had the deepest impact on me. And I’m challenging all of my fellow nerds to make their own lists and post them in the comments!

1. Sesame Street: My love for television as a medium and my respect for it as a positive force in people’s lives can be traced back to mornings spent watching Sesame Street with my mom. It was the first TV show I was ever exposed to, and I want it to be the first TV show I expose my own children to someday. I love Sesame Street not only for the things it taught me (Spanish, letters and numbers, the continents…) but also for how happy it made me as kid and still makes me as an adult every time I see Grover or Big Bird or Cookie Monster spreading joy to a new generation of kids.

2. Boy Meets World: This was the first show to teach me that a piece of media can mean different things to you at different times in your life. I grew up with these characters not only when the show first aired but also through reruns that seemed to air just when I needed them in high school, in college, and even now. Boy Meets World’s series finale is one I treasure as an adult far more than I did as a preteen watching it for the first time, and it gave me some of the most profound advice any TV show could ever hope to give: “Dream. Try. Do good.”

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (8/31 – 9/7)

This week in television began with the penultimate episode of Bachelor in Paradise, which mercifully featured Jesse Kovacs’s exit from the show while basically everyone else found a romantic partner. On Wednesday, Ricky was crowned the winner of Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance. And Thursday brought the NFL back to our TV screens, as the Seattle Seahawks dominated the Green Bay Packers in the league’s opening game.

If I’m being honest, the best thing I saw on my TV this week was probably the first three episodes of Masters of Sex, which I started watching on DVD Saturday afternoon. However, I know that’s cheating, so I’ll go with my second choice, which happened on Wednesday’s SYTYCD finale.

While I was disappointed with the fact that my favorite and pick to win (Zack) came in fourth, I have to admit that the most technically talented dancer won. And I couldn’t stay mad for long when there was so much good dancing to watch. In an episode full of reminders of some of the show’s best moments of the season, my favorite routine was a new one: the group routined that combined this season’s Top 10 and All Stars. It was incredibly cinematic; this routine was like something out of a movie musical. Sonya Tayeh and Christopher Scott created something so contagiously joyful. It was a true celebration of these dancers, and it was incredibly fun to watch.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (8/24 – 8/31)

I apologize for the slight delay with this post. I’ve been enjoying the holiday weekend, and I hope all of you who are celebrating this unofficial end of summer have been enjoying yourselves, too! 

An entertaining—if very unimaginative—Emmy telecast began this week in television. The week continued with a “dramatic” two-part episode of Bachelor in Paradise that featured way too many people falling in love way too fast, an emotional breakdown in the middle of the jungle, and even a trip to the hospital. Wednesday’s So You Think You Can Dance performance finale was quite possibly the most entertaining episode of the season. And the Labor Day holiday weekend featured plenty of marathons of both TV shows and movies to keep viewers thoroughly entertained as they enjoyed their days off. 

While part me thinks I should choose Billy Crystal’s incredibly personal and moving tribute to Robin Williams at the Emmys as the best thing I saw on television this week, I decided to go in a bit lighter direction. August has been a heavy and often sad month on a lot of levels, so it was nice to leave this month with a smile brought to me via the SYTYCD stage. I’ve said probably too much already about the brilliance of Zack and Aaron’s “Piano Man” tap duet, but I could talk about it for days and never be able to fully express how happy it made me to watch (and re-watch…and re-watch…). Dance has always been my greatest source of happiness when other areas of my life have been stressful or sad. So it was a beautiful thing to see that happiness brought to such a large audience with the pure, easy joy of this tap routine. 

Thanks, Aaron, Zack, and Anthony Morigerato, for this lovely dose of instant happiness that we can all turn to whenever we need to smile. 

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week? 

TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 4 Perform”

What a time to be a fan of great dancing. Last night’s So You Think You Can Dance finale felt like a true celebration of dance—from the lack of eliminations to the adorable final moments of camaraderie at the end of the episode. Even with so many routines, each dancer managed to keep their energy impressively high, and they actually seemed to get stronger as the night went on (maybe the presence of the All Stars helped). In doing so, they produced my favorite Final Four night of routines in quite some time. However, that might just because of all the tapping.

Yes, this week was a great week to be a tapper or even just a tap enthusiast. Having one of my all-time favorites, Aaron, back as an All Star was the icing on the cake that was this week’s joyful explosion of tap. As someone who spent years wishing this show would throw even the tiniest of crumbs of attention towards tappers, this episode was a feast. Each of the duets and solos showcased not just how technically difficult tap is as style but also how much fun it is to watch and to dance. If nothing else, I hope this finale inspired some little kid to try their first tap class because they want to be like Aaron, Valerie, or Zack.

More tap love to come later on in this recap. For now, let’s get to the rest of the dances!

Top Four Routine
When Travis Wall is at his best, there is nobody better. And this was Travis at his best. No dance this season moved me with its message like this one did, and that that’s because we weren’t told ahead of time that we were supposed to be moved by it. We could interpret it however we wanted to, and I chose to interpret it as an ode to marriage equality. The story unfolded through the choreography in such a beautiful, gentle way, with gorgeous contemporary partnering between both girls and both guys. Ultimately, I think the guys caught my eye a little more than the girls did because of their total commitment to every emotional facet of this piece, but that final image—with the two guys and two girls holding hands before joining to form one unified line—was so powerful and inspiring and joyful that I forgot for a second that this was still a competition at all.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 6 Perform”

I sincerely apologize for not posting a recap of last week’s episode. I spent most of the week traveling, so I didn’t have a chance to watch the Top Eight episode until Tuesday night. I hope this recap makes up for it!

How is it already almost So You Think You Can Dance finale time? My heart always ends up broken when it gets to the Top Six eliminations because, by this point, I’ve fallen in love with all of these dancers for one reason or another. This season was no exception. While I was fairly indifferent toward Jacque, I’d grown to love Casey. Watching him grow to become the confident, poised dancer he is every time he takes the stage now was a pleasure.

With that being said, I am ecstatic to see not just one but two tappers in the Top Four. In case any of you missed this the other 8 billion times I’ve made my bias known, I’m a tapper, and I get ridiculously attached to any and all SYTYCD tappers. I remember the days when there weren’t even any tap auditions shown, when any tapper who actually made the show was eliminated before the Top 10, and when “tapper” was basically a dirty word that the judges said with disdain (which still happens sometimes, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why). To see Aaron make the Top Four last season and be asked back as an All Star is incredible, and the sense of pride I feel when I think about his success only grows when thinking about Valerie and Zack both bringing the style I love to audiences in a SYTYCD finale. I know Ricky is probably going to win (and let’s be honest—he should win), but it’s incredible to see the style that has meant everything to me for 21 years represented in half of this season’s Top Four.

I cry at every tap solo on this show, so I can only imagine what a mess I’m going to be next week watching so much tap on that SYTYCD stage.

In a shocking turn of events, my favorite solo of the night actually belonged to Ricky and not one of my beloved tappers. I still think Zack is otherworldly in terms of the rhythms he creates and the ease with which he carries himself onstage (he’s also a noticeably better tapper than Valerie, actually), but Ricky danced with such abandon in his solo. His technique is flawless, but what astounds me the most about his dancing is the incredible emotion and passion he gives to each movement. He is poetry in motion. I thought Jacque’s solo was creative and cute; Casey’s was pretty predictable but still impressive with all of his turns; and Jessica’s was much stronger than Nigel made it seem. However, Ricky is just in another league. It’s a true joy to get to watch him dance every week.

Ricky and Valerie: Broadway
These two are still a match made in dance heaven. Ricky’s technical brilliance makes Valerie a better dancer, and Valerie’s effusive joy makes Ricky a better performer. That was true during their first weeks as partners, and it was true in their reunion, too. Is Valerie the most graceful dancer ever? No. But I can’t help but get caught up in how happy she looks onstage, and it’s a happiness that comes from within, a light that can’t be faked. Valerie shows on her face what I feel when I dance, and that pure, radiant joy was such a great fit for this routine. It wasn’t the night’s most memorable dance, but it did exactly what it was supposed to do: It made me happy.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 10 Perform”

This week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance was a tough one to break down because so much of it boiled down to the politics of the show, which I dislike to the point that I actually stopped watching the show for a time because of it. I understand why Emilio and Bridget when home, so it didn’t come as much of a disappointment, despite the fact that they were one of my favorite pairings to develop this season. However, their elimination still frustrated me because it was telegraphed from the moment the show started last week: They were given a boring routine with uninspired choreography, ugly costumes that hid their expressive faces, and the unfortunate position of dancing first. I like when shows surprise me, and there was nothing surprising about this elimination.

This season appears to be yet another where the powers that be have anointed their favorites and will do anything to keep those favorites in the competition, including telling them over and over again just how much they hope they make it to the finale. Don’t get me wrong; Ricky is clearly on another planet in terms of his talent, but sometimes I wish the judges would just let us see that for ourselves.

It was also a bit of a bummer to see which contestants ended up in something close to their style of dance and which ones were thrown to the wolves. Thankfully, those results were a lot more surprising than I thought they’d be.

Bridget and Brandon: Bollywood Disco
If you need a clear-cut example of a contestant being thrown under the bus (and then run over by said bus), look no further than Bridget. Not only did she get stuck with last week’s forgettable jazz routine and first-dancer position, she also had to go first this week with a style that’s a made-up fusion of two types of dance that aren’t known to bring in voters. If Bridget wouldn’t have gone home this week, they certainly seemed to make sure she would go home next week. Her performance was bright and energetic, but I couldn’t pay much attention because I was so frustrated with the blatant fact that they clearly wanted her to go home.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 14 Perform”

It’s amazing how in one week So You Think You Can Dance can go from feeling it like it was struggling for content to being jam-packed with dancing this week. While it was a bit jarring to have to see four dancers go home instead of two, I think the cuts that were made were fair. Carly and Serge had become one of my favorite partnerships on the show, but sometimes a pair does something so special that they simply can’t go home, which is what happened with Jessica and Casey.

It was nice to see the dancers in the bottom do their solos, but it reminded me of how generic most SYTYCD solos are. Nobody really stood out to me, which made their work in the group routines even more important. Sadly, Carly and Serge were given the dreaded quickstep, which I thought they did a great job performing, but it wasn’t going to beat what Jessica and Casey did. And Teddy and Emily have been a difficult pair for me to connect with from the start; their inability to accurately translate Bob Fosse’s signature style just made it worse.

It was sad to watch those four dancers receive their critiques from the judges because it was so obvious who they were keeping. However, I can’t blame them. What Casey, Jessica, and Travis Wall created together was stunning. There was a simple beauty to the choreography that made it my favorite Travis piece in quite some time. (I even liked it better than his small group routine for the guys this week.) Travis uses music brilliantly, and when his dancers exhibit that same musicality, it’s a match made in heaven. Both Casey and Jessica were so fluid in this piece, but Jessica’s strength is what absolutely blew me away. Her movements required incredible amounts of control, and her lines looked flawless throughout. And for two people who I’ve had trouble connecting with in terms of genuine emotion, I found myself completely buying the joy they exuded through their whole bodies.

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 16 Perform”

This week gave me a couple of things I’ve been waiting for since the live shows began: a breakout moment for more than one contestant and a bottom six that I actually really felt really invested in. I’m still sad that no one dancer has stepped up to the point of becoming my favorite yet, but some are starting to separate themselves from the pack. And I think seeing some dancers I really enjoy in the bottom six had something to do with that separation. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s (almost) gone.

Seeing Tanisha, Bridget, Serge, and Zack face elimination made me see how much I’d come to really enjoy all four of them. It’s never easy to watch people on this show go home, but the outcome of this elimination—with Marcquet and Brooklyn leaving—turned out as well as I could have hoped for. I appreciate both of them as dancers, but they never really had that spark that makes a great So You Think You Can Dance contestant. If people had to go home, I was okay with it being them.

Despite giving me a scare right away with the bottom six, this was an entertaining episode, and I think a lot of that entertainment came from watching a series of dancers have their first shining moments on the SYTYCD stage. Yes, there were some blasé routines. I couldn’t believe Dmitry tried to pass off that mess as a foxtrot; Brooklyn and Casey’s hip hop was boring at best; I appreciated Zack and Jacque’s technique but found their routine a pretty uninspired Sonya effort; and I’ve decided I’m just not a fan of trying to make these dancers learn Bollywood. (They always look like they’re trying, when dance should always seem effortless.)

However, there were more standout moments than we’ve had yet this season. Serge continued to prove himself as an outstanding partner for Carly, and her final move displayed a strength that was astounding. Emilio and Bridget followed up their adorable jive from last week with a very grounded and beautiful contemporary piece that allowed both of them to really compliment each other as dancers, and it allowed Emilio to show some serious growth (pointed feet!). Tanisha wowed everyone with her very unforced sexy stage presence in her hip hop with Rudy. And Ricky blew me away in Travis’s small group routine with both his technique and his style.

I may not have a dedicated favorite yet, but the list is narrowing down. And I love that I’m starting to really get invested in these dancers and their journeys.

Standout Performers: Carly, Tanisha, Bridget, Emilio, Serge, and Ricky

Favorite Routine: I love a good group routine, and this week had two of them. Don’t get me wrong; the small group contemporary piece was pretty, but we’ve seen all of that before. The Top 16 Mandy Moore routine was a wonderful exercise in synchronicity. It’s always a brave thing to show these dancers doing the same thing side-by-side because it highlights strengths and weaknesses, but when it works, it works so well. The same thing happened with Travis’s small group routine, which was my favorite routine of the night.

This was the first routine of the season where I know I’ll think of the dance whenever I hear the song (in this case, “Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic). The song has a great beat and wonderful dynamics; it was made for routines like this one. And Travis’s choreography pushed a lot of his dancers out of their comfort zones to great effect. Like Mandy Moore, he didn’t shy away from big choreography sections done by the whole group, which can have a very powerful impact. It was fun to watch each dancer really embrace the style of the dance, and it was a unique style that didn’t look like the same kinds of dances we watch every week. The lifts were creative, and the movement was fresh. And it seemed like a dance tailor-made for a contestant like Ricky. It was fun to watch him shine technically, but it was even more fun to watch him so clearly enjoying performing this routine. It was the perfect marriage of dancer and dance, and I could watch him in this piece all day long.

TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 18 Perform”

And so it begins…

This week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance was the first of what I’m sure will be many times this season that I was disappointed with at least half of the duo that was sent home. I wasn’t heartbroken to see Jourdan leave—I didn’t connect with her in her pieces, and I think, out of the two ballerinas on the show, Jacque seems to be more versatile and energetic as a performer. But I loved Stanley. He wasn’t given the best material to work with (that boring telephone Broadway routine last week and this week’s Tyce Diorio flop), but I saw so much potential in him. His leaps were a thing of beauty, and he had a quality of movement that was truly unique. The good thing about SYTYCD is that I usually like all of the dancers that make the Top 20. The bad thing is that it makes watching eliminations difficult from the beginning, and it’s only going to get harder from now on.

One thing that wasn’t hard for me to watch at all was another fabulous week of Misty Copeland commentary from the judges’ table. Her critiques are always so direct and constructive, and I loved that she called Nigel out for his comments about Serge and Carly’s hip hop. She’s right; a judge’s job on this show is to educate the audience about the difficulty inherent in different routines—because a dancer’s job is to make the difficult look easy, so a judge’s job is to explain just how challenging a routine really was. Nigel doesn’t do that enough, and I am so happy he got taken to task even a little bit for it.

Misty was also on-point with her comments about the dancers’ performances this week. Technique is important, but so is stage presence. My favorite routines of the night were ones that had that X-factor in terms of the overall performance of a piece, while the routines I can barely remember were ones that missed the mark when it came to facial expressions. Everyone on this show is a good dancer; the ones who will separate themselves from the pack will be ones who stand out as strong performers and commanding presences on the stage (see last season’s entire Top Four).

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TV Time: SYTYCD Season 11 “Top 20 to Top 18”

Sorry for the delay in my recap this week, everyone! I went on a little long weekend getaway, but now I’m back and ready to talk dance with all of you.

After being very impressed with the diversity and overall performances in the first week of live So You Think You Can Dance competition, I’m sad to say I found myself less than impressed with what we were presented this week. There weren’t any truly terrible routines, but there wasn’t anything groundbreaking either. I was sad to see Malene and Nick go because I liked both of their performances last week, but their work this week wasn’t nearly as memorable.

The biggest thing I took away from this week was the difficulty these partners seemed to have connecting with each other and sometimes also with the material they were given. There were more than a couple of routines where one partner seemed far more emotionally invested in the partnership than the other half of the duo. Valerie was so focused on her (surprisingly graceful) technique in her contemporary with Ricky that I felt nothing coming from her emotionally. Jessica and Nick seemed too labored in their West Coast Swing routine to create the fun atmosphere Benji Schwimmer wanted. And in perhaps the most egregious lack of connection this week, Emily was almost comically pandering to the audience and cameras instead of trying to create a connection with Teddy.

Many of the routines suffered from looking too much like routines we’ve already seen done and done better on the show (a common complaint I have after watching since the show’s early days). All of Sonya Tayeh’s jazz pieces feel the same now, and the same can be said for many of Travis Wall’s contemporary routines. All Argentine Tango routines will be measured against Allison and Ivan in Season Two, and all West Coast Swings will be measured against Sara and Pasha’s from Season Three—and the two we saw this week simply weren’t as good.

However, there still were some standout performances on the stage this week—especially from dancers excelling out of their given styles (with the exception of the brilliant work Ricky did in his contemporary routine, of course). Tanisha’s power and flexibility surprised me, as did Zack’s jazz technique (although the rhythmic nature of African Jazz works perfectly for a dancer with a tap background). And no one blew me away like Serge did this week. He was a bit of a disappointment last week, but his maturity and partnering abilities served him so well in his contemporary routine.

Standout Performers: Serge, Carly, Tanisha, Zack, and Ricky

Favorite Routine: I like being surprised by SYTYCD dancers, and Serge completely surprised me this week in his Sonya contemporary piece with Carly. Nigel was right when he said Serge dances from his heart. There was something so genuine about his performance, and I think it brought something deeper out of Carly than she would have found with anyone else in the competition. As is true for most male ballroom partners, he let Carly shine and was there for her in every lift and trick. I feel like that steady presence allowed Carly to find an impressively fluid kind of strength to her movements. They were one of the only partnerships on the show this week where I could feel real trust between them.

Serge’s maturity gave this piece a lovely, unforced kind of tenderness. Nothing felt overwrought, which can happen sometimes in SYTYCD contemporary pieces. Instead, it felt honest; it felt grounded. Carly’s technical precision elevated Serge’s technique, and Serge’s emotional honesty elevated Carly’s performance. That’s what good partnerships are all about, and I love that this partnership surprised me with just how good it was.