A late-in-the-game acquisition of the BBC behemoth, Sunday's debut was flat but fine, strictly speaking
Dancing with the Stars, the international licensing title the BBC rather strictly insists upon for the international versions of its flagship dancing competition, has never been about the calibre of its celebrity line-up. Certainly the British iteration has pulling power, its most recent season, the 14th, averaging 11m viewers every Saturday night, with 10m of them wondering who exactly Danny Mac and Claudia Fragapane were before the ever gingerly stepped and smoothly Americaned their way into the hearts of the nation. But complaints that Ireland is an entertainment galaxy too small to fill three months of Sunday nights with star wattage squarely ignore what Sunday papers have been filling their glossy-page magazine supplements for decades.
Far more concerning is the selection of hosts in Amanda Byram and Nicky Byrne. Both alumni of the Strictly (Byrne having reached the top six in 2012 and Byram taken the helm on the show’s 2010 arena tour across the UK and Ireland), neither is a particularly natural fit for the job. Stiff and wooden, with less chemistry than a Bible Belt science class, they both appear to be aping the worst of Tess Daly’s tedious delivery, their one-liners the kind that an intern in the Strictly writers room might offer in desperation. “The Kingdom is very impressed with your moves – and your tan,” Nicky tells GAA player Aidan O’Mahony, presumably missing his cue to throw in an ironic “Not!”
The eleven Irish stars fulfil all the archetypes we’ve come to anticipate in a show like this, a show cast with one person whiter than the last, their milky complexions caked under make-up and bottled sunshine. That said, when the penny dropped that the two-hour launch show would only feature the male contestants doing their 90-second spins and the women hoofing their way through a group number, even the keenest of fans must have thought that a series link and liberal fast-forwarding might be the only way to watch this show going forward.
First up was Des Bishop, the imported comedian whose penchant for diving head first into projects has seen him living on the minimum wage, ag rince in rural céili halls, and intoning a desire for a Chinese wife in Mandarin – his spirited singing of Come out ye Black and Tans a foreshadowing of the costume he’d be sporting during his DwtS tango. Big Brother runner-up Hughie Maughan’s Cha Cha offered ample opportunities for a critical panning that never came, while veteran sports broadcaster Des Cahill seemed to be enjoying himself more than anyone else. Dayl Cronin, late of the boyband Hometown, offered the biggest smirk of the night, both with his lively Charleston and his unfortunate phrasing about being breathless with five men behind him.
The aforementioned O’Mahony offered up a salsa so mild it might as well have been houmous and messed around with a football for far longer than Len would have let him, which leads to the problem of the judges. Julian Benson, Lorraine Barry, and Brian Redmond have the heaviest load of anyone in the show, having to somehow explain to those uninitiated the finer points of a rumba or paso doblé, while having enough wit and wisdom to entertain on their own merit. It is not an easy thing to do, and while it could be expected that one of them would have made a limelight-grabbing stab at being the mean one, instead the trio trifled off some meaningless words about posture and poise, offering everyone a “god love ya for trying.”
Make no mistake, RTÉ’s take on Dancing with the Stars was a perfectly fine hour of Sunday night TV stretched tighter over two hours than Aidan O’Mahony’s shirt was over his abdominal muscles. The Ardmore set was a necessary break from the limitations of the Helix, and the lack of a live band was understandable, both in terms of budgetary constraints and the fact that the warbled butchering of pop standards across the Irish Sea can often be distracting from the main event.
Bear in mind that this is a show that is the lightest of light entertainment, requiring its featured performers to gracefully spin or incompetently stomp around the stage. A little more earnest than was required, Dancing with the Stars may not have quite hit the ground running, but the tap of a few numbered paddles on its cheeks should be the kick it needs.
Dancing with the Stars airs on RTÉ One on Sundays at 6.30pm and is available on the RTÉ player