An early win for Dancing with the Stars’ great cast

Dancing with the Stars’ cast follows pretty much the same formula that it has for its previous 16 seasons—Disney Channel star; beloved, older, comedic star; reality TV cast member; athlete; et cetera—but for several reasons, this cast stands out, and the first episode convinced me to keep watching a show I gave up on years ago.

I grew tired of the show’s formula: the band mangling pop songs, the carefully crafted clip packages, Brooke’s pointless questions, Bruno needing to be strapped into his chair. It was totally predictable, and not worth waiting around for a potentially interesting dance; So You Think You Can Dance fell into a similar rut recently. (A formula isn’t the problem on its own: Survivor follows a pretty familiar formula episode to episode, season to season, but I’d never call it predictable.)

But I’m back to watching Dancing with the Stars for now, thanks to season 17’s combination of its new one-night-a-week schedule and what really seems like its best cast ever.

Its contestants were consistently surprising: Amber Riley’s incredible dance that totally made her usually camera-hogging partner Derek evaporate; Jack Osbourne’s fluid dance that brought his mother to tears; Valerie Harper’s elegant dance. Add in nostalgia (Bill Nye, Saved by the Bell) and heartwarming stories that weren’t overplayed and had a lot of power as a result (Jack Osbourne, Valerie Harper), and it worked very well. Snooki was, you know, Snooki, but at least there was just a few minutes of her.

All in all, for a show that still shows its age and probably is incapable of structural change beyond moving its judges’ desk to the other side of the studio, the casting this season represents smart decision-making.

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