It was "movie night" on "Dancing With The Stars," which makes two weeks in a row that the show — currently riding a wave of improved ratings and Gosselin-driven hype — has avoided straightforward routines in favor of things that allow greater use of gimmicky costumes.
Unfortunately, if these theme shows are supposed to drum up excitement, movie night was not a success, because those who are always bad were still bad, the presumptive favorite was returned to her throne, and the chosen punching bag was restored to the bottom.
Nicole Scherzinger, after spending two weeks being lightly dinged by the judges for minor form imperfections, apparently finished serving her time in the penalty box for being too far ahead of everyone else. She returned to the top of the leader board with a tango that couldn't have had less to do with "Pretty Woman" — the movie it was supposedly "interpreting" — but was safe and predictable, and therefore a perfect showcase for Nicole's superior technical skills. Judge Len Goodman denied her a perfect score by giving her 9 points instead of 10, but her 29-point total easily returned her to dominance, now that the (mostly phony) narrative suggesting that Evan Lysacek can give her a run for her money has been established.
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At the other end of the spectrum was Kate Gosselin, who is still no dancer. Kate made barely visible progress last week, only to return to form this week by foxtrotting in her usual manner, which is to say: music plays, and she walks around. The judges are trying to encourage her, and Carrie Ann Inaba even claimed to have spotted some measure of "grace." Still, Kate was easily the worst dancer again, she probably won't go home again, and the judges will eventually start giving her 3s and 4s in an attempt to force her out. (So far, they're staying with 5s.)
Mostly, the middle remains the middle. Jake Pavelka probably has the smallest chance of picking up any new fans, since non-"Bachelor" people have absolutely no reason to care about him. He saw a small uptick in his scores with a "Risky Business" cha-cha that included a strange interlude in which he put his pants on while partner Chelsie Hightower vamped uncomfortably and waited for him. There's never really been a "putting on pants" section of a dance on this show before, so if they were looking to break the mold, they succeeded.
Jake didn't take as much heat for that gimmick, surprisingly, as Pamela Anderson and partner Damian Whitewood did for starting their "9 to 5" quickstep with a scene taking place at the breakfast table. Judge Len Goodman despises props and other messing about, so his aggravation was to be expected. Still, the judges all insist that Pamela's thrusting out her chest and forcing her lips into a pout constitute consistently excellent portrayals of the "characters" in her dances.
Niecy Nash had a good night, with the judges praising her personality and spirit as she did the jive to "La Bamba," but despite the praise, they stuck her with a total of 18 points, which is exactly the same score she's been getting every week. It's not clear whether there's any point in her actually performing anymore, or whether the paddles that say "6" just have her name on them for good.
Movie night wasn't even fun for Chad Ochocinco, who did the quickstep to "Bare Necessities" from "The Jungle Book." He actually did worse this week than usual, as the show worked hard to keep pressing the story that he has a romance going with partner Cheryl Burke — as they did with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Erin Andrews, who also stayed very consistent with a "Pulp Fiction" number.
Despite the high ratings, the season is noticeably sagging, which may be why someone dreamed up movie night. It didn't help that the best technical dancer, Nicole, didn't take the opportunity to do anything creative, but instead did a very traditional tango that didn't allow judges to dock her points for overly "creative" choreography.
At this point, they could introduce mime night, disco night, or Throw Pies At The Celebrities Night, and it wouldn't make any difference unless the judges can find ways to stop saying the same thing every week, and the celebrities can find a way to break their patterns (less pouting from Pamela, better posture from Chad) in unexpected ways. Until then, it's like watching a movie you've already seen.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington