There are few things in baseball as disheartening and uninspiring as getting called out on a checked swing, caught in limbo between swinging at a pitch and holding still. If you swing away, at least you put in an effort and put the gears in motion for something exiting to happen.
There's a reason why we praise people who swing for the fences, regardless if they succeed or fail. But a checked swing? At best, you've put your fate in someone else's hands; at worst, you've weakly grounded out with something not even dignified enough to call a swinging bunt. It's a disappointing lack of commitment, a limp half-measure.
This micro-season of "Dancing with the Stars" was a checked swing, a four-week shrug that only came out to play because ABC had a month of Mondays to kill before "The Bachelorette." And Monday night's finale didn't even bother to hide that fact, delivering a single rushed hour that just wanted to give away its mirror ball trophy and go home already. What could've been one of the show's more exciting, competitive seasons – athletes have always served as some of the better performers on "Dancing with the Stars" – instead was disappointing and predictable. Like opening up your recap of an athletes-only reality competition with a belabored sports metaphor.
Olympic ice skater Adam Rippon was the only winner of the night, coming away with the coveted mirror ball trophy – because obviously. Not even a freestyle routine that was more coordinated poses than dance and featured a vaguely Japanese theme that had even Nicki Minaj's recent "SNL" performance wondering about cultural appropriation could stop Rippon's rise to reality TV victory. (His old school, bordering on cornball jazz routine was much better.)
From the first dance of the season all that month ago, Rippon was the obvious winner – not only based on his polished dance skills, but because he had just come off an Olympic stage that showcased both his athletic prowess and his unapologetic, charismatic personality. He was arguably the brightest star on the show and, not particularly surprising for an ice skater, ended up having the footwork to keep it shining.
This was far from the first time the eventual winner came out of the blocks early. It was just last season that Jordan Fisher breezed his way to the mirror ball – shocking for a Broadway performer and Disney Channel star, I know. Going further back, who could've ever predicted the star of "Dirty Dancing" would climb to the top of a dancing competition?
But in those cases, at least they had full seasons for some tension to build or at least some characters and storylines to emerge. Early favorites often would stagnate or perhaps lose voters due to boring brilliance or a sense that, "Oh, I'm sure they'll be fine" (aka Heather Morris), while clod-steppers from episode one would evolve into impressive dancers or at least charm their way into convincing you they had, such as David Ross or Drew Scott. Even forgetting the ballroom floor, you had at least a few weeks to develop personalities and characters – albeit trite and PR-approved – worth investing in.
This micro-season, however, had no time for those journeys. Imagine what could've been this season if "Dancing with the Stars" didn't axe a third of its cast every episode. Maybe Arike Ogunbowale would build on the flowing movement she showed in her early flawed routines and grow a fan base. Perhaps Mirai Nagasu gets to reveal more of her personality over more dances and episodes to get her into the finale. For all we know, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could've developed into a decent dancer given more time. OK, now that's crazy talk – but at least we possibly get a few more funky piggyback dancer routines?
Instead, with only four weeks to work with, we only got brief pops of personality and even less drama with those already famous and dancing-inclined from the beginning locked into the podium.
Even the final three were just the outlines of standard contestant types. The Confident Frontrunner. The Unsurprisingly Surprisingly Fleet-Footed Football Player. (The only surprise with Josh Norman was how restrained he was – minus his buff torso, which always found a way to break free of its clothing confines.) The Redemption Tour, this time unconvincingly played by Tonya Harding – despite the show's constant efforts to turn the infamous Olympian into a heart-tugging inspirational figure, with the judges drooling over tonight's passable Viennese waltz, for instance.
I wonder how Nancy Kerrigan felt watching her assailant applauded while triumphantly dancing her freestyle routine to "I Will Survive." Could've been more tone-deaf, I suppose – could've been "I'm Still Standing." Maybe Harding realized that, which is why she looked so unhappy to be there during the intros.
I know complaining about the lack of story or characters on "Dancing with the Stars" is like complaining about the poor dining presentation at a Taco Bell, but at least that drive-thru junk food satisfies where it counts. Meanwhile, tonight's hurried finale just cemented how little this little season delivered, an attempt to pump fresh blood into an almost 15-year-old show coagulating quickly inside a hollow husk of its usual self. The dances themselves Monday night felt abnormally short, in season that already delivered fewer routines –and definitely fewer impactful ones – than usual.
There was talk of journeys and growth from some of the judges in the name of gravitas, but everyone seemed pretty much like the dancer they started as. Meanwhile there were no special musical performances, finale bonus features or memorable dance redos save for one tiny group number that barely crammed all the former contestants into its short timeframe. It was a rushed, forgettable ending to a rushed, forgettable season that couldn't have screamed "This is filler!" more if the live audience was entirely replaced with goose down.
Not that the world needs a two-hour "Dancing with the Stars" conclusion, but it'd be nice for the finale to feel like a finale. That a season – no matter how small – culminated to something more than an obligation. That it swung for the fences rather than dribbled out on a half-hearted checked swing that's uncertain why it even got going in the first place.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.