An elimination-free week brought us maximum entertainment and minimum heartache. But also Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
The heartbreaking conundrum that is every reality competition is that our joy is under constant threat of elimination. Like, we love competition in concept but when the time comes to give someone the boot it seems like too much of a bummer sometimes and can even ruin a season for us. This specter of heartache can especially mar the good time spirit of something like So You Think You Can Dance, which over the past few seasons has de-emphasized manufactured suspense in favor of tutorials, audience participation, and genuine celebration. Obviously when it was on twice a week we got at least two hours a week where the threat of expulsion didn't immediately follow, but things are different now. For the most part SYTYCD survived the amalgamation of both episodes, but I still think it works best when the party atmosphere is kept separate from the episode-concluding tears. That's why I objected to learning who were the bottom two dancers after they'd just performed. Like, don't remind me of the grim reaper's ever-swinging scythe!
Guys, this is a long way of saying that I was very glad there were no eliminations tonight. We got to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the myriad excellent performances by a very strong Top 4. Let's talk about the best parts!
Jessica & Ricky's Jazz routine, choreographed by Ray Leeper. Everybody knows that a song does 45% of the work and that's especially true when someone chooses a Disclosure song, but especially the Mary J. Blige version of "F For You." Like, is it even possible to perform a bad routine to this song? I highly doubt it. That being said, I'm always impressed when jazz routines are this dark and exacting, and absent Sonya Tayeh, Ray Leeper has been making big strides in this arena. It helped that my own personal Top 2 absolutely nailed it.
The Top 4 routine, choreographed by Travis Wall. This show-opening group routine bore all of Travis Wall's best trademarks—emotion, flow, atypical pairings, possibly non-heterosexual themes—before we were even told he'd choreographed it, but it should've been clear from the beginning. Overall, just a lovely, moving, and emotionally complex piece that demands a rewatch. So good.
Ricky & All-Star Kathryn's Contemporary routine, choreographed by Stacey Tookey. Another lovely example of contemporary done right. In this case the flowy outfits were actually part of the choreography (Ricky pulling Katherine around the stage and later using her gauzy dress to pantomime angel wings) and it wasn't just another empty, beautiful-people-are-sad-and-dramatic piece that too often get a pass on this show. While it wasn't exactly shoved down our throats that the piece was about suicide, Nigel really took it there in his critique when he went on a tangent about how he'd recently lost two friends "through suicide and through stupidity," before railing against suicide as a concept and admitting that "it hurt me a great deal to watch this routine tonight." Suicide is definitely a hot-button issue lately (somehow), but it was still bracing to see Nigel speak so candidly about something that troubles him. Meanwhile Jesse Tyler Ferguson took the opportunity to openly hit on Ricky. (More about this in a sec.)
Jessica & All-Star Robert's Contemporary routine, choreographed by Travis Wall. More than any other choreographer Travis Wall always seems to be working through some IRL relationship struggles via his work. This one suggested a sort of one-sided relationship where one person tries to understand how the other would want to leave her, only to grow tired of it and leave him. A simple but stirring concept executed flawlessly. Again, it felt lived-in and observed in a way that a fluffy Mandy Moore contemporary usually doesn't. Yeah, I said it. (Tangent: No Mia Michaels at all this season? What's the deal?)
Jessica & Zack's Broadway routine choreographed by Spencer Liff. First of all, hey, Spencer Liff! Second of all, the judges kept comparing Jessica to Jessica Rabbit and it was actually very accurate. Both she and Zack imbued what could have been Broadway 101 with charisma and even some heat. I'm not a huge Broadway person, but I really dug this one.
Ricky & Zack's Hip Hop routine, choreographed by Pharside & Phoenix. Personally I just love same-sex pairings on this show. They don't even have to be romantic! [EDITOR'S NOTE: Which is good because they never, ever are. Boys may dance with each other if the routine is about fighting. Except that one time it was about fighting AND being boyfriends. — JR] I mostly just like how different they seem, how a simple shift in the gender dynamic can create whole new scenarios that the show doesn't explore too often. This was something to do with kings from a deck of cards, uh, popping and locking or whatever, doesn't matter. But it was just very fun to see Zack and Ricky do hip hop, I don't know what to tell you. (And of course I was a sucker for the moment Cat ran behind the giant playing cards and outed the crewmembers tasked with moving them during the performance. I live for stuff like that.)
Uhhhh-kay. Here's the thing. The second I saw Jesse Tyler Ferguson sitting there on the panel I cringed for sure, but because Christina Applegate has been surprisingly non-awful this season I made my best effort to give him the benefit of the doubt as well. Verdict: Nope. Still bad. Sorry. I appreciate that he seems charming and funny, but I think the part that best summed up his role on the panel was when he said to Ricky and Jessica, "I don't know what else to say to you, so I'm just going to take a selfie instead." And then he did. Guys, these are the FINAL performances. Maybe get a judge who actually has things to say? And we have to talk about how Jesse Tyler Ferguson broke one of SYTYCD's cardinal rules: Don't reference dancers' possible homosexuality until the season's over. How exactly was Ricky supposed to respond when a middle-aged man with ostensible power of influence over voters leaned into the microphone and sang, "Hey Ricky you're so great, if you were older we could date, Hey Ricky"? Obviously I disapprove of the way this show pretends gayness doesn't exist, don't get it twisted, the voters' retrograde biases are their own problem. But still. If you're going to be a guest here, know the House Rules, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
This week's best host is Cat Deeley, who continued her so far unbroken streak of being charming and funny while also appearing to have sprung from the forehead of Zeus. Also there was the time she accidentally bopped Nigel in the face with her microphone.
Let's not discuss the fact that she was robbed of an Emmy YET AGAIN this year. The Emmys are beneath Cat Deeley. Cat Deeley don't need no paperweights.
... I'm no conspiracy theorist, but is there a chance Valerie's only pretending that Tap is her specialty when she's actually better trained in other genres? Whenever we see childhood footage it appears her actual background is jazz and contemporary. I'm just saying that maybe presenting herself as a tapper would be a brilliant way to exceed expectations every week (which is undeniably part of both her and Zack's respective narratives). Anyway, I LIKE Valerie and everything, so I'm not mad about it, I'm mostly pointing it out because I appreciate a certain amount of savviness on the dancers' part. (And points for choosing the Ronson/Winehouse version of "Valerie" for her solo music! That made me laugh.)
... No, Tyce Diorio. Just no. My condolences to Valerie and Zack for having drawn the shortest straw possible this week, choreographer-wise. This blindness-themed piece was really terrible, but the judges seemed to enjoy it. Here's Nigel: "I'm sure that no one here who's not blind could not see how beautifully you danced there." Take a break, everybody.
... Hey, Mira Sorvino. Whatcha been up to?
... During the end credits the producers showed us the selfie Jesse Tyler Ferguson snapped when he couldn't think of an actual critique, and I'll say this: The photo-bombing made it all worth it. Ricky's leg!
... The final dance party was restricted to the Top 4, who mostly twirled around in circles and did the robot like you or I might after a few too many glasses of rosé, but man was it great to see Cat mixing it up with the kids. Lady's got moves!