Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DWTS's Missed Opportunity

This week was big for Dancing with the Stars for a couple of reasons. In a season that has been rather tame, Monday night was not only the strongest night all season but for the last few seasons as well. The dancing was terrific and the night overall was very emotional with multiple occasions where most of the audience was in tears. At one point, host Tom Bergeron was also in tears! Six of Monday night's right dances received perfect scores, something I don't think I've ever seen after watching for eleven seasons.

It was also a big week because it saw front runner Nastia Luikin and pro partner Derek Hough voted off the show. Luikin's last three dances (including her final one from last week) all received perfect scores from the judges. Fandom has been get vocally upset about this elimination, a bigger surprise than the mid-season elimination of Willow Shields. Many have voiced that Nastia should have made it to next week's finale while Noah Galloway (the Army vet missing one arm and one leg) should've been sent home.

Dancing with the Stars is no stranger to controversy when it comes to which stars stay and which are sent home. Conspiracy theories abound that it's all arbitrarily decided by the show's producers and not by fan votes as is advertised. I, however, believe that the producers don't directly choose who stays but merely "stack the deck".

I point to Season 18 when pro Max an partner Meryl won the Mirror Ball Trophy. Meryl certainly deserved to win and is a fantastic dancer. However, much of the season's narrative centered on Max who had been absent for several of the show's previous seasons and was regarded as the "Bad Boy of Dance". However, the entire season portrayed Max as having changed and gave him a much softer image. So the only resolution to the story crafted by the producers was for Max to finally win. I say Max and not Meryl because ultimately it was more about Max's journey that season than it was about Meryl's, which is the usual storyline. Max's image was changed to make him more appealing to voters, thus stacking the deck in his favor.

This season, however, the anger over Nastia's elimination has been focused on Noah. While Noah is certainly no great dancer, he's been inspirational and a fan favorite. But, the deck wasn't stacked in his favor so much as it was against Nastia in favor of Val, Max's brother. Nastia has never had the greatest image since her days as an Olympic gold medal winning gymnast, earning the nickname of "Nasty" Luikin. The early weeks of the season seemed to change that perspective and showed a softer side of her...until a few weeks ago when the tone of her video packages shifted negatively. She was shown as frustrated, irritable and not getting along with Derek. People started to see the hard-to-like Nastia they remembered. Derek has gone public to defend his partner by not only saying that those are brief moments that don't truly represent what really goes on, but saying that producers were intentionally pushing her buttons. As a result, people started to dislike Nastia.

Meanwhile, the video packages about Rumer Willis became more centered on Val and softening his image and making him more sympathetic. Val has always been more likable than brother Max, but has always fallen just shy of winning. From the beginning of this season, Rumer's talented dancing looked to change that until she stagnated and her scores dropped. That's when the narrative for Val and Nastia changed.

If the producers truly are stacking the deck, than they missed a huge opportunity for a wonderful finale. No offense to Noah, but this week should've been his last. That would've left Rumer, Nastia and Riker all competing for the Mirror Ball in what would've been easily the most competitive finale this show has likely ever seen. Any of these three could've won and deserved to win, something I can't say for any of the final three I've ever seem during my time watching this show. Instead, with Nastia gone the finale won't be quite so thrilling. While Noah touch's peoples hearts, he's not as talented a dancer as the other finalists. The producers would've had the most genuinely suspenseful finale this show would've ever seen. Instead, in order to help deliver a win to Val, they may have just stacked things against Nastia who likely would've won if she made it to next week.

Now, in case anyone is wondering, no, I don't think Nastia should've won. In fact, my wife and I both believe that Riker should win (even if Nastia had stayed) because he's the best dancer this season. However, that probably won't be the case.

My prediction? If the producers are stacking the deck, I believe that it's Val who will win...oh, and Rumer too.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Great Star Wars Debate

Since 2005, there have been two debates that have riddled Star Wars fandom; 1) Han Shot First! And 2) In what order do you watch the Star Wars movies? This is a debate that I'm sure will continue, especially with the upcoming Sequel Trilogy and the subsequent spin-offs that are likely to take place at different points throughout the Star Wars timeline. But until then, there's just the Original and Prequel Trilogies to debate.

1. Chronological Order
The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi
There are fans who subscribe to this order because it keeps the upbeat ending of Return of the Jedi as opposed to the more solemn, downbeat ending of Revenge of the Sith. Two big problems however is the difference in filmmaking techniques. The visual effects of the Prequel Trilogy are much more advanced than those of the Original Trilogy and will be especially noticeable if you "jump back" in time. The biggest drawback, however, is the big revelation at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. While very few people don't know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father, Empire's big reveal won't pack the emotional or dramatic punch if the viewer already knows this because of the Prequels.

2. Release Order
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith
This is the viewing method with which I subscribe. It's the order each of the films was released so most people saw it in this order already and Empire's big reveal is kept for new viewers. Of course, the one drawback is finishing the Saga on a downer note with Revenge of the Sith. Still, I think this method is best and that drawback will be obsolete once the new trilogy comes out later this year.

3. Splitting the Original Trilogy with the Prequels as Flashbacks
Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi
This is the most convoluted viewing order that tries to counter the cons of both previously mentioned orders while keeping their pros. Empire's reveal is maintained while still ending the Saga on Jedi's upbeat note. However, narratively it interrupts the flow of the Original Trilogy by splitting it up. The momentum will be lost by jumping back to the Prequels and then returning to Jedi as the finale. Of the three methods, I consider this to be the weakest.

However, the release of the new trilogy will render the downbeat ending of Method 2 obsolete as there will be a new set of films to watch after Sith. Of course, the debate will continue because even though there will be a new trilogy, there will be spin-off films that will take place at various points between these movies. Thus, fans will try to figure out when to watch those films so that they form one long narrative.

Ah, the life of a geek...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Visit with the Family

Here are some recent pictures of the family!