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Battle of the Blades III review: Recapping Week 1 debuts

Harrison Mooney
Puck Daddy

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BOTB3 - Ep. 1 - Violetta Afanasieva & Cale Hulse 2

Greetings, nonselective fans of live events that take place on ice! Welcome to the third season of Battle of the Blades, the program that awkwardly combines two of Canada's favourite things, Kurt Browning and Ron Maclean (or hockey and figure skating, I guess, whatever). BotB is apparently the highest-rated program in Canada, a country clearly in need of some mentoring.

My name is Harrison Mooney, the Poochy of Puck Daddy and, because I have a lifetime of sins for which to atone, I'll be reviewing this program weekly for all of you.

I don't hate myself, so before last night, I had never watched an episode of BotB in my life, but after sitting through an hour of this thing, I understand why it's so highly-regarded in my home and native land: it's the most Canadian program ever, narrowly edging out Just for Laughs: Gags (a show where a bunch of Francophone comedians trick — and then immediately apologize to — strangers).

Only Canada could get behind a reality program where the three judges spend the evening tripping over one another to be the kindest and most encouraging, even when the performances are excruciatingly bad. It's like having three sober Paula Abduls, one of whom hits on all the female contestants (that's Jeremy Roenick, clearly a man of appetites).

If, for whatever reason, you're still following me, here's what happened this week:

Like Hockey Night in Canada, the program opened with a black and white montage set to slightly ominous drumming and voiced over by an unnecessarily melodramatic Ron Maclean, who informed us that BotB is "a leap of faith," where "Old skills are set aside, new ones learned." And then, this needless and probably-not-accidental couplet: "Familiar skates gone / new blades laced on."

Ron Maclean is the T.S. Eliot of the CBC.

Then the live portion of the program began, with Kurt Browning, wearing what appeared to be a shirt made of camouflage saran, dancing to Maroon 5's latest hit, "Moves Like Jagger," with all the preening and finger-snapping we've come to expect from Canada's figure skating darling. Then, after a brief performance, he was joined by Maclean, and the two sprinted towards the camera like they were involved in an XFL coin toss. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Then we met our cast, describes by Maclean as "this year's heroes", officially laying the word "hero" to rest. This season, like the two that preceded it, features 8 pairs, each a combination of a hockey player untrained in skating of the "figure" variety and a figure skater untrained in wearing non-sequined attire. Those pairs are:

1. Former Calgary Flames' assistant captain Cale Hulse and Extreme Ice Skating world champion Violetta Afanasieva.

2. Boyd Devereaux of the 2002 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings and Olympic silver medallist Tanith Belbin.

3. Former Colorado Avalanche defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn and Olympic silver and gold medallist Elena Berezhnaya.

4. Former New York Islanders' first overall pick Bryan Berard and five-time Canadian ice dance champion Marie-France Dubreuil.

5. Former Calgary Flames' captain Todd Simpson and US pairs silver and bronze medallist Marcy Hinzman-Harris.

6. Brad May of the 2008 Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup team and eight-time Canadian national medallist Annabelle Langlois, 1990-91.

7. Montreal Canadiens' leading scorer Russ Courtnall and two-time ice dance bronze medallist Kim Navarro.

8. and finally, for the first time, a female hockey player in 2010 Olympic women's hockey gold medallist Tessa Bonhomme, who is paired with David Pelletier, 2002 Olympic pairs champion.

By the way, Maclean introduced the Bonhomme/Pelletier pairing as "the gender-benders." I looked very closely, but I could see no evidence of cross-dressing or androgyny. In other words, "gender-bender" may be a bit of an overstatement for what is still a fairly nuclear mixed pairing. That's probably for the best, though. One assumes that, if the inclusion of a female hockey player on the program calls for a backpat, Canada certainly isn't ready for actual transsexuality.

Anyway. Then we met our judges, a panel that consisted of Sandra Bezic, the aforementioned Roenick, and guest judge Darcy Tucker, who came dressed as a cross between a professor of anthropology and Crispin Glover.

What, no impossible-to-please French judge? Then this isn't figure skating.

Additionally, we met "social media tour guide" Maura Grierson, added to the lineup, one assumes, so that at least one of the hosts had hair, and she overcompensated with some fairly conspicuous hair extensions. Sitting between two women in the audience, Grierson asked the one to her left, "Who are you here to see?", and the woman responded, "Kurt Browning." Funny, I thought Curtis Leschyshyn was the main draw.

On to the performances, of which there were four Sunday night, and there will be four more Monday. I'll try to provide video wherever possible, and since BotB has its own Youtube channel, this shouldn't be too hard.

Annabelle & Brad opened "Rock Week" by "dancing" to Nickelback hit "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting." They began the performance with a choreographed punch-dance/air guitar power strum combo that was so egregiously stupid that even May gave the whole thing a bemused look. Then May, who has clearly never played a guitar in his life, reprised the moves later on.

The pair performed a series of impressive lifts, then May did three of the most hilarious bunny hops I've ever seen in my life, and then, because there is a God, they (and the music) stopped. What did the judges think? Sandra called the pair "equal parts physicality and charisma," and marveled that May was surprisingly quick-footed. Tucker suggested "Maybe a couple knee bends to loosen up the hips and the corners," and Jeremy Roenick shouted "Mayday!" and then hit on Annabelle. Total score: 16.2.

Violetta & Cale (who looks a bit like Nick Carter from the "Get Down" video), went next. Prior to their performance, they appeared in one of those pre-filmed spots that advertises a car, and I'm not sure why they were chosen. Clearly, Ford assumes the vehicle will be the star, because Violetta and Cale are the most boring couple on the program.

They danced to "ET" by Katy Perry, a song that is neither rock nor lyrically sound enough for me to forgive the genre-violation, especially with a line like "Infect me with your love." (Is this a desired portion of relationships nowadays? Times have changed.) The performance was exceedingly awkward, as Hulse moved about the ice with the grace of a yule log and Violetta gesticulated wildly to make up for his woodenness. Then Jeremy called it "fantastic", because he lies, Darcy claimed it had a Hollywood look, probably because both Violetta and Cale are ridiculously attractive, and Sandra said it was "part smiling and a lot of thinking," a nice way of saying that Cale spent the entire performance gazing at Violetta and holding her with a frozen stare of terrified wonder, like Lenny from "Of Mice and Men". Total score: 16.6.

Tanith & Boyd, were clearly unaware that the Canadian Contant portion had already been filled by Nickelback (and also, everything else), so they danced to Our Lady Peace's "We Are All Innocent." It's an awesome song, but a figure skating track it's not. Thankfully, the pair made up for it with the best outfits of the evening, with Boyd dressed in a basic grey dress shirt and jeans, and Tanith in a sparkly black dress. Hooray for sensibility!

Unfortunately, that was the only part of their performance that was any good. In my favourite bit of irony so far, Boyd, a famously swift skater, moved about the ice so slow that I wondered if my wife was rapid-tapping the pause button.

Ron Maclean introduced the judges by saying two of them "were never innocent." Huh? Anyway, Sandra suggested the pair work on their speed, presentation, and unity," which is a nice way of saying it looked like a Christmas Eve skate down at the rec centre. Darcy said the pair was "smooth, silky, and technically sound," proving he knows as little about adjectives as he does about figure skating, Jeremy said Tanith was "very easy on the eyes." Total score: 16.2.

Marie-France & Bryan "Thor" Berard continued the theme of misunderstanding rock week, dancing to "Rocketeer" by Far East Movement. In my favourite forced storyline, the program tried to sell Berard's eye injury as some sort of superhero origin tale, with his "heightened sense of awareness for touching, feeling, and hearing." I don't buy that Bryan Berard is Daredevil on skates, especially since he looks more like Thor.

Like the other three performances, it was stiff, slow, and uncomfortable. Mostly, Berard just drifted around the ice while Marie-France climbed about him like a squirrel on a telephone pole. What did the judges think? Jeremy Roenick said "it was nice of Hell's Angels let Bryan come do the show for us," then hit on Marie-France. Darcy Tucker said "you look great out there", and Sandra said this was Berard's best performance, which is evidence that he won't be around that long. Total score: 16.5.

Stray observations and things my wife said:

At one point, Maclean introduced the show's trophy. Am I the only one that thinks it looks a little the Zephyr from Battlestar Galactica's Colonial Fleet?

My wife: "Ron Maclean is a ref person, right? He refs?"

Jeremy Roenick just copies Sandra's score and calls it a day. It's a good strategy. It makes him look like he knows what he's doing, when he clearly doesn't.

My wife: "Who decides the costumes? Because you know what would look better? A nice plaid button-up."

And that's it for today. Stay tuned Tuesday morning for recap and snark of Monday night's performances.

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Harrison Mooney is also the co-editor of Canucks blog Pass it to Bulis.

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