It was a surprising thing last night, when Len on "Dancing With the Stars" admitted -- a week late -- that he had "undermarked" the Green Bay Packers' Donald Driver on his dance a week ago.
Readers of my Twitter/Facebook notes on the show know that I thought Driver was one of the best dancers of that night (I'd have had him and Jaleel White at the top of my leaderboard) but the judges had been far less enthusiastic, not only in giving Driver modest scores but overscoring dancers who didn't seem that good. Katherine, the "classical singer," had gotten considerable praise for what struck me as a fairly routine dance that seemed aimed at the judges love of so-called elegance. That the judges missed Driver's skill was bad enough. Even worse was that, after Len's acknowledgment of misjudgment a week ago, they still collectively gave Driver 24 (three 8's) this week after given wildly higher marks to the likes of Roshon (26, on the first dance of the night no less) and Maria (25, for pete's sake). Either they don't like him, or they don't want him to win.
The judges, in short, are nuts. Theiir nuttiness seems directed particularly at Driver, though not only him; Jaleel White wasn't as good as a week ago but can anyone seriously think he was worse than Sherri Shepherd? Martina Navratilova, meanwhile, is a disaster, not only as a dancer but in tarted-up makeup and costuming that mocks her natural beauty. (She is the rare dancer who looks better in the rehearsal footage than in full performance.) But her scores, though the lowest of the night, seemed kind; two judges gave her 6's, while I had her at 4.
But beyond that, I think the show is feeling a little desperate right now. The production around the dancers has gotten more elaborate, and more clumsy. Lights hit the cameras in such a way that you couldn't see the dancers in places; one graphic, for Cheryl and William, was held onscreen too long, cutting off the beginning of their dance. And since when does Robo-Brooke know how a dancer is going to do in the votes? She told Gavin, "You're gonna have another shot at (dancing) next week."
In terms of audience grabbing, there's no real lightning rod among the contestants, so the producers have to convince the audience -- and, by word of mouth, the audience's friends who will then check the show again -- that remarkable things are happening on the show when they're not, really. Or they're being done by someone like Katherine -- who, I must concede, was really good in her second go-round -- who doesn't have an immediate connection to the audience at large. So there's a tendency to protect dancers they think need help, like Katherine or Roshon, one of those DIsney kids who knows how to dance but is largely unknown to the older-skewing "DWTS" audience (which may be even older this season if younger viewers are leaning toward "The Voice"); and to make the show seem more impressive by giving high marks to the first dancer on the show, to suggest great things are coming, and the last one, so the audience leaves with happy thoughts.
Anyway, here's how my leaderboard looked for last night's dances, with the judges' scores in parentheses: Katherine, 9 (26); Donald, 9 (24); William, 8 (25); Jaleel, 8 (22); a 7 each for Sherri (23), Jack (21), Maria (25, including a 9 from freakin' Bruno) and Gavin (21); 6 for Roshon (26); 5s for Melissa (20) and Gladys (19) and 4 for Martina (17). And I realize that in some respects, those standings look similar to the judges' board. But I still think there's some score-inflation going on which will be more of a problem as the season continues. If they're handing out 9s already, on the first two shows of the season, what will they do as dancers continue to improve? Will this be the year of an 11 paddle? A 12?