On tonight's Dancing With the Stars, the contestants are taking on the jive and the tango.
First on the floor are Marlee Matlin and Fabian Sanchez, with the jive. In the interview, she says this is the toughest dance so far, but also, "It's on." I notice a couple of bobbles, but generally, it's another strong performance from these two. Whether it's a classic jive, as Fabian promised? I'll leave that to the judges. Head judge Len Goodman: "Marlee, you never cease to amaze me. The jive is such a fast, difficult dance when you've got good hearing, and to dance as sharply as that without hearing, you did a great job." Bruno Tonioli says they lost their timing a couple of times, but overall, "a good job." Carrie Ann Inaba praises their chemistry and teamwork but mentions that Marlee should watch her hands. Scores: 7-7-7, for a 21/30.
Steve Guttenberg and Anna Trebunskaya prepare for the tango, but Anna gets so ill that she sends her husband Jonathan Roberts in to help train him, which is amusing. Anna dances enough for the both of them, almost, but Steve seems to be holding his own (largely with the intense look on his face), though I'm no expert on the technicalities. Before the judges get started, Steve stops and says he needs to prepare, runs over and puts on goggles and a steel bowl on his head. Um, OK. Carrie Ann says that was his best dance so far and he was completely determined. Len says he had great footwork and lots of improvement. Bruno agrees. Tom Bergeron sends them backstage, calling Steve "a little pothead." I think he meant bowlhead. Scores: 7-7-7, for a 21/30.
Cristian de la Fuente and Cheryl Burke prepare for the jive by hanging out with a sea lion at Sea World. Yeah, I don't know, either. It's a fun, fast-paced performance. Bruno asks if they are on rocket fuel tonight. He says it was Cristian's best dance yet. Len says his legs were loose and arms could have been better, but it was his best so far. Carrie Ann says he has been showing improvement every week, and if he keeps this up, he's got a chance at this. Scores: 8-8-9, for a 25/30.
Mario and Karina Smirnoff work on the tango and try to balance that with Mario's schedule, as he mentioned in his interview with Sun TV critic David Zurawik. They dance to "Roxanne," but not the Police version; it's the version from Moulin Rouge. They've got drama -- and some seriously complex footwork. Mario said on Friday he was hoping to bring some acting chops to the performance, and I think he did. Len said the dance had a lot of flair, but lacked posture, footwork and his hold was bad. "Mario, I'm sorry, I've been a fan of yours for the past two weeks, but you've bitterly disappointed me tonight," he concludes. Carrie Ann says Mario has style, and that leads to high expectations, and they messed up in the corner. (I did notice that part -- seemed like they got so close to the audience, they ran out of maneuvering room.) Bruno says Mario is a charismatic performer and fascinating to watch. He says they gave a dramatic and strong tango, but they can do better. Scores: 7-6-8, for a 21/30. Mario tells Samantha Harris he needs to get more rehearsal time in and work more on his form (including listening to Karina more).
Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough work on the jive, with Shannon using some kickboxing skills to figure out some of the dance's kicks. For the performance, she still seemed to have some moments of gangliness, but it was an improvement over her first week's Latin dance. Plus: cartwheel. They're so tired afterward that they sit on the floor to listen to the judges' comments. Bruno says she came out and "went all the way." He adds that she needs to work on her control and precision. Len says there is no bluffing in dancing, and he saw a really good jive. Carrie Ann says Shannon is a surprise every week, and she's a ton of fun to watch. Scores: 8-8-8, for a 24/30.
Adam Carolla and Julianne Hough are taking on the tango and having some trouble with it during practice, but they keep trying. They dance to "I Can't Tell a Waltz From a Tango" (great song choice), and Adam manages to keep it together somehow. It's not as painful as last week's attempt at the mambo, at the very least. Before the judges talk, Adam says the Julianne's "Sandy Duncan wig and friar's frock" are not helping their cause. Not that he wants to pimp out his 19-year-old partner for votes or anything. The judges are ready for him to shut up. Carrie Ann: "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Adam Carolla was quite sexy out there." Bruno says he isn't a master technician, but he's getting better. Len says choreography is like makeup; "it can cover a multitude of sins." He says Julianne's choregraphy covered a lot of Adam's issues and made him look like a dancer. Scores: 7-7-7, for a 21/30. I lose it because Bruno says "SE-VEN!" exactly like Len always does when that's his score. You might have had to have been there (or watched too many episodes of this show, like me), but it was funny.
Marissa Jaret Winokur and Tony Dovolani prepare for the jive, which Marissa says might be her dance during practice. They dance to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" and give a boppy, fun performance. Len says what they did, they did well, but overall it was "a little bit careful." He tells her to come out and give it a little more "welly." Carrie Ann says she's going to be tough: "That was boring, you are so much better than that." She says Marissa is not giving her best. Bruno says it "was like a jive in cruise control." He tells her to flaunt her talent. I'm actually kind of wondering whether the weakness was in Tony's choreography -- if he wasn't pushing it hard enough. Scores: 6-7-6, for a 19/30.
Priscilla Presley and Louis van Amstel work on the dramatic side of the tango during practice. Their performance is very intense and passionate and, yes, dramatic. Bruno: "Priscilla Presley, starring in the hot cougar tango!" He says it was well-acted, had great choreography and was great. Len: "Passion, drama, fire and ice. Great!" Carrie Ann says it was great and totally believable, adding that the one thing she should work on is the posture of her neck. Scores: 8-9-9, for a 26/30.
Jason Taylor and Edyta Sliwinska hope to follow up their 27/30 mambo with a great jive, but Jason isn't sure during practice. Their performance seems to be pretty on point, though not quite as energetic as last week. Also, during the parts where they are separate and doing synchonized kicking, you can see Jason thinking through the steps. Carrie Ann says it blows her mind that someone as tall as him can move as fast as he can, but that overall, she didn't see the same confidence as last week. Bruno agrees with Carrie Ann that Jason has some simply amazing lines during some moves, and he liked it. Len says he liked the lines and the tricks, but not the rest of it. "The kicks were sloppy. ... Jason, one week you're a rooster, the next week, you're a feather duster. That's life." Carrie Ann and Bruno balk and sound shocked. Scores: 8-7-8, for a 23/30.
Randomly, for the next break, Tom acts like he has something in his throat and hands the mike off to ... Survivor host Jeff Probst, who throws it to commercial. Well, OK, then. I don't know what that was about.
Last up are Kristi Yamaguchi and Mark Ballas with the tango. During practice, Kristi works on showing anger, since it's part of the dance. She maintains an intense expression during the performance (and her intense hairdo helps sell it, too), and their moves are good, as has become typical for them. Len says he liked it very much, and he tells Kristi she is a very good dancer, and overall: "It was a great routine; well done." Carrie Ann says no one can fault Kristi's technique, but her anger was one-dimensional. Bruno says it was sharp, clean and clear, but she needs to have more emotional engagement because "technically, you have nothing to worry about." Scores: 9-9-9, for a(nother) 27/30.
Who are you rooting for after tonight's performances? It was an interesting night since some of the previous top scorers took some hits, and some of the lower scorers did better this week. Is the tango the great equalizer?