Battle of the Blades III review: Week 1′s bad Leschyshyn

Puck Daddy

Welcome back to Battle of the Blades, the show so awkward and excruciating, it's a little like watching your own circumcision.

This was a difficult episode to cover, because it was nearly identical to Sunday night's: we open with Kurt Browning and Ron Maclean power-skating from one end of the ice to the other, at which point they introduce the show and then Browning gives the exact same performance he gave the night before.

Sure, he does it in hockey skates, but this is a variation that works better conceptually than it does in execution, and not because Browning is or was unable to do it. The problem is that he could. Browning repeated his "Moves Like Jagger" routine step for step, meaning the hockey skates didn't impede him in the slightest. Where's the fun in that? He may as well have told everyone he was wearing really uncomfortable underwear or that he'd give the entire performance with intestinal bleeding. It didn't change what we saw, so why should we care? I, for one, did not.

Just before they brought out the contestants, Ron and Kurt collaborated for the most rigid and awkward fistbump of all time. It was impressively uncomfortable: in a show that pairs figure skaters with hockey players, it's pretty amazing that the most awkward physical contact between two people could take place before any of them even arrived.

If there are any regular BotB watchers reading this, I'm wondering if Maclean does quippy intros for all the skaters every week. If so, I plan to deafen myself before the next episode, so I never have to hear anything as lame as "She performs on cruise ships and he's a born captain," as Maclean said when introducing Todd and Marcy. And that still wasn't as bad as when he introduced Kim and Russ, explaining how Courtnall stepped up after the show's great loss, then saying "In two weeks, they've become Kim Navarro and Russ Courtnall." I assure you, Ron, that they were Kim Navarro and Russ Courtnall two weeks ago as well.

Golly, this show is a travesty. Let's talk about the performances.

As further evidence of this telecast's infuriating similarity to Sunday night's, consider the first performance, which, just like episode 1, was set to a Nickelback song.

Kim & Russ opened the evening skating to "Hero", and I'm seriously wondering if the contestants are aware that there are other Canadian rock bands. We're five songs into the week and two have been Nickelback. Further proof this show is an abomination: it's 40% Nickelback. Granted, this song had some special meaning, as the performance was dedicated not only to Russ's father Archie but to the late Wade Belak, whom Courtnall admirably stepped in to replace.

As someone who doesn't like this show and is expecting to hate every aspect of every segment, I'm loath to admit that Kim and Russ's performance was surprisingly good (relatively speaking). Their tempo was strong, and I was shocked at how well their lifts and choreography synched up with the music.

It was really disappointing, then, to discover that neither the judges nor the producers had any interest in the performance whatsoever. As the music ended, the cameras melodramatically zoomed in on Russ's outstretched hand, then, when MacLean turned things over to the judges, each one merely gushed about Courtnall the human being.

"You're an inspiration," Sandra said, her voice dripping with emotion. "You're a role model as a father, a son, and as a friend. On behalf of all Canadians, from the bottom of my heart, thank you." Darcy Tucker followed this up with the stunningly unhelpful and somewhat contentious statement, "Great choice for a song." And finally, Roenick added that Courtnall agreeing to do the show in Belak's place "Goes beyond self-giving." Anyway, then they assigned a totally arbitrary score. Total score: 16.7

Elena and Curtis were next, although the real fun began before they hit the ice. Kurt Browning forgot Curtis Leschyshyn's first and last name and wound up calling him "Mr. Neshizzin," who sounds like a Dr. Seuss character. Then, as the cameras cut away, Browning remembered the easier half, shouting "Curtis! I'm so sorry!"

Truthfully, the thing that deserved forgetting was Leschyshyn's performance. Elena and Curtis danced to "Animal' by Neon Trees, and I use the word "danced" very loosely. Leschyshyn's footwork was impressive, but most dances involve some range of upper-body motion, and Leschyshyn is incapable of such — he's about as lithe as a bucket of mayonnaise. As evidence, I point to the first ten seconds of the above video, in which the pair show off some of the most painful synchronized dance moves I've ever seen in my life. It was so traumatizing, I hid myself in the back of the closet until the police found me.

Afterwards, the judges gushed over the performance. Sandra called the pair "the purists of the competition," proving that this program is in dire need of judges with eyes. Total score: 16.4

Marcy & Todd were the third group on the ice, acting as the comic relief, of sorts. In the brief mini-doc before their performance, we learned that Todd, who bears a slight resemblance to Mark Ruffalo, has been getting amusing T-shirts made. How amusing!

They danced to "Fire" by Raghav, and it was no more or less terrible than everything that preceded it.

Like everyone else, Todd is an atrocious dancer, but he's in his element when he's holding his partner above his head. However, he did seem the most terrified to drop her. It took them a long time get in and out of every lift — he was less a figure skater than a service elevator. "Great performance," Sandra said, "Loved it top to bottom," and Darcy helpfully added, "I liked it too." Anyway, then Jeremy hit on Marcy, as is the formula. Total score: 16.5

And finally, Tessa & David went next, breaking BotB history by being the first pairing of a male figure skater and a female hockey player. It was a surprisingly strong performance, which I chalk up to Tessa's fundamental misunderstanding of how we watch this program. "I'm not going to be compared to what [the other hockey players] can do," she said. "I'm going to be compared to the professional female figure skaters." No, Tessa, you aren't, because we aren't that stupid. BotB isn't about being like the best. It's about not being the worst. Tonight, all you had to do was dance better than Curtis Leschyshyn. Still, Tessa's impossibly high standard drove her to the performance of the night, so what do I know?

Tessa and Jamie's performance was a progressive step forward, but thankfully, Jeremy Roenick helpfully provided the two steps back by hitting on Tessa like a creepy old man. "I'm glad I didn't play against you, because I'd have a lot of holding penalties in my time," he said. Worth a chuckle, but he failed to quit while he was ahead, adding, "And maybe a couple high-sticking penalties too." Attaboy, JR, the show is celebrating genuine progress and you just made a boner joke.

Darcy made a better joke, ribbing Tessa's outfit and talk of the Stanley Cup lift. "With that shirt on, I don't know if you could get away with a Stanley Cup lift," he said. In short, the Maple Leafs suck. I was disappointed when the crowd booed him for it.

Seriously, Jeremy Roenick implied that he would like to hit Tessa in the head with his genitals, and you booed Darcy Tucker? For shame, Canada.

Anyway, then Sandra Bezic tried to right the ship, saying, "you're the epitome of the modern woman," and the show was saved by a round of self-congratulatory applause. Total score: 17.0.

Stray observations and things my wife said:

• Ron MacLean's finest moment came when he tried to be ominous like Ryan Seacrest, saying "One week from today, we will have our first Monday night skateoff." Then he made an ominous, and when no one "oohed" or "aahed", he made a Mr. Burns face, and moved on..

• My wife: "I imagine self-giving to be like Thanksgiving, except you do it in your room with the door closed."

• Every time I see Bryan Berard and Marie-France Dubreil, I wonder if there's a rose slowly losing its petals in a castle somewhere, and an anthropomorphic candelabra waiting for Berard to find love so that he can return to human form.

• One thing I can't stand about these performance-based reality shows are the mini-documentaries used to pad out the hour. When it comes down to it, a forty-four minute show like this is about ten minutes of performance, and thirty minutes of padding, so they're necessary, but what really bugs me is that every second one is about a family member that was sick or died. I'm willing to admit that these are very personal segments, primarily because the subject always, always cries, but they're so stock nowadays it's difficult to feel anything along with them.

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