SYTYCD’s big stumble: post-Olympics, Mia Michaels reruns add to its worst episode ever

So You Think You Can Dance took two weeks off to get out of the way of the television truck known as the Olympics, and while that was probably a smart idea, it came back with an episode that didn’t do much to regain the lost momentum. In fact, for a series that is so consistently high-quality–it just won the TV Critics Association award for outstanding achievement in reality television–this was probably its worst episode ever.

The performances were all repeats of classic Mia Michaels pieces that reminded us that the show has had some incredible performances and memorable dancers–and has had neither so far this interrupted season.

Even executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe thought this episode was bad. “I’ve been a little disappointed this evening,” Nigel said, “and a lot of it is about these routines were not choreographed for these people,” though he added that “this makes sense to test you out like this” because real dancers have to step into choreography that wasn’t created for them.

The performances were pretty much a disaster all around. Even when the dancers did extremely well, which was rare, the clips we saw of the original performances just illustrated how much the choreography depends on the skill and personality of the dancers to create a truly excellent and memorable dance. For example, Mary Murphy was moved to tears by Mia Michaels’ piece about the death of her father, but basically said it was the idea of the piece and the music, not the dancing, that impacted her the most.

The show also stumbled with its guest judges, the Ballet Boyz from the UK, who have a new Nigel Lythgoe-produced dance docudrama/competition series on Ovation that debuts this Friday. They were pretty open about never having watched So You Think You Can Dance or even bothering to learn the dancers’ names, never mind being familiar with the show’s history. They may be talented guys, but this did not show them off well, as they gave odd or no feedback, or just highlighted their ignorance (“whoever this ‘Titch’ guy is…”). It actually made me long for celebrity judges who have no business judging dance, but at least they have a coherent reaction to what they’ve just seen.

Finally, the new single-episode format meant that dancers were placed in the bottom by viewers as a result of what they did three weeks ago. I like the efficiency of the new format, and that the judges are still making the decisions–and thus can evaluate the live performances before they make their decisions–but perhaps because we lost four dancers last night, it still seemed quite odd.

Five episodes remain, and I hope the show can find its footing next week, showcasing the dancers it has and creating new memorable routines that, years later, can be used to trip up a whole new group of finalists.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.