Even by reality TV standards it seems a thin concept: take ten public figures in varying stages of decline or repose, and see if any of them can learn to approximate various ancient dancing styles. Eliminate them one by one, before eventually declaring one of them the winner, pretending the whole bizarre mess meant something.
It seems somehow grimly appropriate that 48 hours after TV3 emotionally farewelled their biggest star and most meaningful show that it debuted Dancing with the Stars, the ferociously silly reality franchise which proved hugely, inexplicably popular here for five seasons on One in the '00s. But thanks to MediaWorks' ravenous appetite for local reality, it's back on our screens in 2015, stepping into the slot recently vacated by X Factor on Sunday and Monday evenings.
It is, by some distance, the most gaudily moronic show I've watched this year. Yet somehow it's more enjoyable than it has any right to be. X Factor was weighed down by its seriousness, reminding you constantly of the career in the music industry which was supposedly at stake. Despite that contention being manifestly false - winner Beau Monga's single dropped out of the top 10 after one lonely week - the constant references to it grated immensely by the end. Dancing With the Stars knows that its winner is crowned champion of a competition to which no one on earth attaches any importance. Everyone involved acknowledges and even revels in its emptiness, in the inexplicability of both the show's existence and their participation.
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The format is very simple, to the point where it was barely explained. Our celebrities have a minute or so to talk about just how bad they are at dancing and how little experience they've had, followed by a training montage. Then they emerge, bronzed and bedazzled, to dance the jive, or the swing, or the cha cha for maybe 90 seconds, while a breathtakingly horrible muzak cover of a song plays. (This time there's no live band, and they're saving further money by using the covers - this show is nothing if not reliably budget-conscious).
After the dance, host Dom Bowden asks them how they're feeling, at a time when they're invariably unable to speak through exertion, before they're gushingly praised by the judges. Two of whom are Candy Lane and Stefano Olivieri, rivetingly strange dance lifers, the other being the Crowd Goes Wild's Hayley Holt, gamely buying into all this glittering nonsense. Lastly they're marched across stage to Sharyn Casey, who does a friendlier version of what Dom's just done, where the contestants receive scores which are entirely disconnected from the commentary they've just received.
Every component part is ludicrous, but the first episode had a kind of cheap champagne energy, thanks to the judges and some brilliantly strange contestant casting. Pam Corkery is an enchantress on stage, her face contorted into a thousand magnificently extreme expressions, the majority of which bear no relationship to what she could rationally be feeling at the time. She threw up gang signs, and commenced her routine by vigourously rubbing her breasts while strutting across the stage.
She should always, always have a camera trained upon her. The Cork is good pals with Shane Cameron, the punch-drunk former boxer, who wanders the stage with the wooden heroism of a circus strongman, and seems as oblivious to the aims of dancing as he is to the fact that his "wife's wedding", to which he referred absent-mindedly, was also his own.
The ceaseless flow of the MediaWorks cross-promotional sewer brings us a number of radio DJs, all of whom have more than enough shamelessness to justify their existence, along with former bachelorette Chrystal Chenery who remains killer TV talent, and will probably win the whole thing. The rest is rounded out with actors, who are mostly a little too self-conscious - an entirely rational response to their having trained and dreamed and sweat blood only to end up in this monumentally embarrassing situation.
But that's the show's goofy, end-of-days appeal: everyone from the contestants, to the hosts, to the viewer knows that we're better than this. When they signed up, it was with a heavy heart and for the cheque, just as we watch knowing that every other channel is playing something better than this. But because the show embraces its inanity - celebrities having a bloody dance! - rather than claiming an unearned gravity, it has an honesty that many self-serious rivals will never approach. So putting aside what it means for our minds individually and collectively, and for what passes for MediaWorks' soul, Dancing With the Stars is oddly but undeniably charming.