Episode 2 of CBC reality program Battle of the Blades was half as long as the insufferable two-hour season premiere, so naturally, it was twice as good. I don't intend this as a slight on the quality of the program, by the way -- although, considering the program is entirely befitting of such a slight, I make no apologies if you read it this way. Truth is, by trimming an hour off the running time of the premiere, Battle of the Blades saw a marked improvement in its pacing.
In fact, if anything, episode 2 felt rushed. This is ideal for a program you hate. This week was a sprint, with eight skating performances, no mini-documentaries, and even, incredibly, concise and valuable comments from two-thirds of the judging panel. If Battle of the Blades is like this every week, why, I could see myself reaching an uneasy truce with it.
Beside the hour format, there was another big change this week that I actually loved: no results show. Results shows are the worst thing on television -- an attempt to stretch five seconds of information (who's eliminated) into anywhere from 30 to 120 minutes of programming. Fortunately, Battle of the Blades has gone a different way. Rather than following up Sunday's skates with a Monday night elimination show, they'll be eliminating a couple every Sunday. The bottom two pairs after last week's skates do the programs they prepared, but with the added pressure of knowing they're skating for their lives. It's a great way to do things.
The program opened, then, with host Ron MacLean revealing the bottom two couples. With that, Mike Krushelnyski & Marcy Heizmann and Vladimir Malakhov and Oksana Kazakova learned they were on the hot seat. Yes, The old team and the Russian team. Way to go, Canada. You have prejudices.
MacLean even acknowledged this in an attempt to console the Russian pair. "Val Bure and Katia Gordeeva," he said, bringing up the season one winners. "Canadians crowned them the champion so you can get the support, but it took a while to warm up to them." In other words, Sorry, it's just that you're Russian. Good luck with that.
Following the reveal, Sandra Bezic arrived to set us up for the week in a weekly segment I like to call "Sandra says ridiculous and unconvincing things."
The skates will be challenging, she said, but "the bigger challenge tonight is the mental challenge." Yeah, doubt it. The biggest challenge is probably still figure skating despite being bad at it. And as for the bottom-two couples and their skate-off: "The mindset for a skate-off is similar to a Game 7 in the playoffs." Yeah, no it's not. I doubt a loss in Battle of the Blades will haunt anyone for years.
Finally, Ron MacLean gave us the theme of the evening skates in perfectly cringeworthy MacLeanian fashion. "No need for a great save, we need great suave tonight. The theme is suit and tie." Get this man off my television.
Fortunately, the program recovered from Sandra and Ron being Sandra and Ron quite quickly: Brian Savage and Jessica Dube batted leadoff, and they treated us to the first fall of the competition, a truly terrible throw from Brian. Seriously, he tossed Jessica with all the grace of a goaltender drinking from and then discarding his water bottle after a goal against.
Yesssssss. A fall.
Even better than the fall: the judging panel, actually. After a shaky outing last week, Kurt Browning was in top form this evening. He gave actual criticism beyond the fall, telling Brian he didn't recover it as well as he should have, I think in terms of body language.
Even Jamie Sale was good. "I love roleplaying," she said. Um.
But then she recovered. "Work on your leg extensions," she added. "I'd like to see your leg extended a little bit more."
Total score: 16.2.
Scott Thornton and Amanda Evora went next, and actually treated us to a pretty good skate. Some footwork, cheesy finger snaps, some scary flips.
"Watch your posture," Jamie Sale said. "The guys have a tendency when they're looking at the girls to go down with their posture." Actually, that's true. Thornton spent much of the skate crouching like he was about to take a face-off. I wouldn't have put it together without Sale pointing is out, though. Holy heck, the judges are useful this week. This is an historic moment.
Kurt Browning criticized Thornton's "tendency to skate through the music", which I take to mean he has no rhythm, because of course he doesn't. Again it was a helpful comment. What is this?
Fortunately, for those that fear too much change, P.J. Stock is the third guy here, and he's in full P.J. Stock mode, adding pretty much nothing to the panel. I even got the sense he was cheating on his scoring, just picking the number between Kurt and Jamie's and calling it a day.
Total score: 16.8.
I don't have much to say about Jason Strudwick and Violetta Afanasieva. They had an actual chemistry, and Browning commented on it, raving that he normally watches the hockey player to see how he's keeping up with the figure skater, but "I can't believe I watched you two as a team."
Total score: 17.1
On the flipside was Shae Lynn Bourne and Anson Carter, who didn't look nearly as in synch. "Last week I felt like you kept up with Shae," Browning said. Not so this week. Fortunately, Jamie Sale differed, because she's the nice judge. While Browning had a bit of edge, any time he did, she would counter him with niceties, because these are some fragile personalities up here, apparently.
"Elegant and sweet," she said of the skate. "I liked it."
My P.J. Stock theory was fully validated here, by the way. Kurt and Jamie disagreed on this one, giving the couple a 5.4 and a 5.8, respectively. So Stock safely settled at a 5.6. Mailin' it in.
Total score: 16.8.
I hated Grant Marshall and Sinead Kerr's skate. Why? Because I liked it. I don't want to like anything on this program. Unfortunately, they were good for real. It was fun to watch. He was the first guy in the competition that didn't look like a hockey player playing along with this stupid show. He got good.
"That, to me, was a free dance, and done super well," Jamie said, and she's right. Holy heck, you guys, Grant Marshall is a natural ice dancer.
Kurt Browning commented on the lifts, pointing out the speed was consistent. "You did two of them back to back and never lost speed on either one of them." What is happening? Good skating? Good judges? This isn't the terrible show I've come to know. Give me back my awkwardly bad television, please.
Total score: 17.3.
Fortunately, Mathieu Dandendault and Marie-France Dubrieil drove us back to Awkwardville. This was a bad skate. Kurt wasn't so into it, but Jamie countered with some nice-judging. "You guys just heated it up. So romantic, you guys." Yeah, no they didn't and no it wasn't.
Total score: 17.0.
This brings us to the skate-off, where the old team and the Russian team tried to skate back into Canada's hearts despite their obvious shortcomings.
Mike and Marcy went first, and it was clear pretty early on that they were going home. Mike's problem is he skates like an old hockey player. Juxtapose him with someone like Grant, who's a legit natural at this and moves his extremities, and there's just no way Mike's winning. He's painful to watch. When he's skating, you spend most of your time wondering which parts of his body have been surgically reconstructed. Letting him go from the competition would be a mercy kill.
"I think you guys probably have the best attitude and your effort has been amazing," Jamie said, which is how the nice judge says this skate was the viewing equivalent of, well, most episodes of this show.
Vladimir and Oksana looked terrified to start their skate, which was weird, since they could have unlaced their skates and played Boggle at centre ice and it would have been a better performance than Mike and Marcy. But, as it turns out, they weren't nervous about the skate-off -- they were nervous about the throw built into the early portion of their skate.
When they landed it, Malakhov pumped a fist like he'd just scored a goal. It was actually pretty great. The rest of the skate, the couple were are smiles.
Sure enough, Mike and Marcy were booted, and then, just like that, the show was over.
It all happened so fast, you guys. I've never been happier. Again, this is still a bad show, but this was far and away the best episode of this bad show I've ever seen.