Dancing With the Stars Season Premiere Recap: The Old(er) and the Beautiful

Dancing With the Stars is perfect turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy television, and yet even in the hypnotic throes of swirling sequins and sweat and Bruno Tonioli metaphors, the mind can’t help but percolate with questions: How often does Maksim Chmerkovskiy get his chest waxed these days? Will Brooke Burke, like Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit, one day become real? And did Carrie Ann Inaba seriously give the same score to Romeo and Chris Jericho as she did to the obviously superior Hines Ward?

The beauty of DWTS, of course, is that none of the answers ultimately matter. Which doesn’t mean that I’m not already developing sudden and passionate rooting interests (of the pro and con varieties) or that a good 15-20 percent of my conversations between now and May won’t focus on the ballroom. It’s just that everything in DWTS Kingdom is played for a lighthearted laugh: From Kendra’s stripper-y past to Len’s depiction of Wendy Williams’ heaving bazooms as “dumplings” boiling over (!). No wonder I couldn’t suppress a goofy grin as those scenes of a “long, cold winter” gave way to images of the ballroom battlefield, and the familiar strains of the DWTS theme began to play.

So in the spirit of not taking things too seriously — at least not in this first week of Season 12 — I’m going to recap the action in chronological order, along with raising what I think is a pertinent question pertaining to each of our celebrity-pro pairings.

Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas, Foxtrot | How many weeks before these kids start coyly “dodging” the word “showmance”?
Oh, come on, I can’t be the only one thinking it. Mark said his Disney star partner is “young” and “cute.” Chelsea told us she was home-schooled and never got to go to the big dance with a handsome boy who can swivel his hips 100 times per minute. And Bruno described their opening dance thusly: “You started on your back, ended on your back, and the middle was one-and-a-half minutes of pure afterglow!” In all seriousness, though, this was a rock-solid opening routine: I didn’t mind the way Mark’s choreography painted a story of a couple going through their daily routine, but I was more impressed with Chelsea’s elegant spins, and the way she was able to effortlessly make herself perpendicular to the ground when Mark went in for the deep dip. I wish the stylists would do something a little more youthful with her hair, but I was hypnotized by the sparkling curved straps on the back of her gown, which were oddly reminiscent of the Chanel logo. (Wow, we’re only one performance in, and yet we’ve already locked up the race for gayest sentence in a DWTS recap for the 2011 calendar year.) The scoring might’ve been a tick too high, given how Chelsea seemed to lose a little energy in the final 30 seconds of the routine, flopping rather than easing back to “bed,” but she should easily sail into Week Two. Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 7; Bruno, 7. Total: 21.

Wendy Williams and Tony Dovolani, Cha Cha Cha | Will Wendy get her groove back?
It was clear this routine was in trouble when the music began to play and Wendy’s eyes were already filled with tears. Actually, scratch that. It was clear this routine was in trouble when Wendy arrived for her first rehearsal and greeted Tony with this question: “What’s your name?” Um, no. It’s Season 12, and the only people in the ballroom to whom that question wouldn’t be a total affront are “Psycho” Mike Catherwood, Petra Nemcova, and select members of the DWTS house band. (Or Brooke Burke, immediately following her weekly reboot.) In other words, if you’re not a “Dancing With the Stars ho” like Kirstie Alley, then at least do your homework! Plusses: Wendy drying her tears into her weave in rehearsal; barely trying to suppress her rage when Brooke asked about her uniformly negative critiques: “How does this feel?” Minuses: Wendy mouthing the words to “I’m Every Woman”; moving with the grace and ease of a sluggish racing ostrich. Here’s hoping next week the fabulous talk-show host takes Carrie Ann’s advice, shakes off her fear, and “unleashes the beast.” Scores: Carrie Ann, 5; Len, 4; Bruno, 5. Total: 14.

Hines Ward and Kym Johnson, Cha Cha Cha: Could we see an honest-to-God ballroom routine in an NFL end zone next fall?
Man alive, the superstar wide receiver has some moves, but even better, he seems utterly serious about adding the Mirrorball Trophy to his collection of two Super Bowl rings. And I just love unbridled enthusiasm in a DWTS contestant. For their opening routine set to Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me,” Kym threw in some fairly ambitious moves, and wore a glamorous shawl of unfeasibly long fringe that swooped at the bottom like the tailfeather of an exotic bird. And speaking of tailfeathers, Hines has perhaps the finest derriere (non-Maks, non-host edition) that DWTS has ever seen. Heck, even Len had to comment: “Your bum is the tops!” I also liked that Hines seemed as comfortable in hold and with Kym’s leg over his shoulder as he did getting his groove on solo-style. This bodes well indeed! Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 7; Bruno, 7. Total: 21. (Exclusive: This was not high enough!)

Petra Nemcova and Dmitry Chaplin, Foxtrot: Will America punish this couple for being so excessively attractive?
Probably so. I mean, Dmitry’s pre-interview dance sequence had him challenging Maks to a chest-off, while Petra received a “Wow. She is hot.” upon entering the rehearsal studio. Still, it was pretty harrowing to see Petra, a survivor of the 2004 Thailand tsunami, have to face footage of the current tragic events in Japan while trying to prepare for a televised dancing competition. On the whole, the routine was elegant, albeit fairly simple, but I wish Dmitry hadn’t choreographed it so that Petra spent the last 20-30 seconds standing around waiting for him to give her his jacket. Scores: Carrie Ann, 6; Len, 6; Bruno, 6. Total: 18.

Romeo and Chelsie Hightower, Cha Cha Cha: Dude isn’t going to turn “fear of looking too feminine” into an exhausting season-long theme, is he? (‘Cause otherwise, he can just head home next week.)
Okay, so even if you’ve never watched DWTS before — possibly understandable in this instance, given how dreadfully Romeo’s dad fared during his Season Two run — a 10-minute scan of YouTube might clue you in to the fact that, yeah, you’re gonna have to get in touch with your inner Shakira if you want to be a ballroom dancer. Which is why I wondered momentarily if i’d been transported back to 1952, what with all this talk of Romeo struggling to get in touch with his feminine side for his Cha Cha Cha. I’ll say this for Romeo: There was plenty of energy in his routine, and he seemed to take two steps for every one his competitors threw down. But as Sir Len Shakespeare noted, you can’t just dance “as you like it,” or as my very technical notes read, “a lot of these moves don’t look all that cha-cha-cha-y.” Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 6; Bruno, 6. Total: 19.

Sugar Ray Leonard and Anna Trebunskaya, Foxtrot: VILL Anna actually break the boxing champ?
Color me shocked: Just when you think you’ve seen it all on DWTS, Sugar Ray Leonard goes and cries during his first rehearsal. Dude, it’s okay if your posture is reminiscent of a man looking for a breadcrumb in a shag carpet; there’s no way America will boot you before the radio host dude. (Or at least I hope they won’t.) And anyhow, despite Sugar’s hunched stance in hold, he brought good energy to a routine set to Huey Lewis’ “Power of Love,” even if Anna’s “dancer picks reluctant dude from the audience” shtick felt a little played out. Scores: Carrie Ann, 6; Len, 5; Bruno, 6. Total: 17.

Kendra Wilkinson and Louis Van Amstel, Cha Cha Cha: So is there some actual charm to this tabloid staple/E! star I’ve been vigorously ignoring? (Or, alternately, can we never show Hugh Hefner in the audience again?)
Everything about Kendra’s segment — from the pre-performance interview to her actual Cha Cha Cha to her scores — seemed like they were sped up to include 50 percent more everything. “For me dancing is shaking my butt, flicking my hair, not choreography,” Kendra breezily declared, and when Louis suggested she should become a stripper, Kendra’s response actually made me guffaw: “Well, I was, but…” The dance itself was fun and boppy and a little bit goofy — maybe, as the judges noticed, it’s because Kendra kept bending her knees — and took the reality star a third of the way toward her destination of turning “all those years of club dancing into elegant ballroom.” Now if we can just stop Louis from trying to constantly turn ballroom into a metaphor for one’s personal “journey,” right? I mean, I can’t be the only one who cringed when he said he wanted  “the little girl waiting inside [Kendra] to come out and grow up.” Louis, you do realize you’re talking to a grown-ass woman and mother of a one-year-old child, right? Stick with the dance training, not the pop psychology. Scores: Carrie Ann, 6; Len, 6; Bruno, 6. Total: 18.

Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff, Foxtrot: In what attic is this modern-day Dorian Gray keeping his portrait?
Don’t let his perpetually youthful face fool you, warned The Artist Formerly Known as the Karate Kid, the “working parts” of his 49-year-old body are a lot older. Um, we’ll be the judge of that! Ralph’s Foxtot was nothing short of breathtaking. The man’s carriage was effortlessly breezy, and he glided across the floor with the grace of a silent film star (at least in Week One terms). Karina cooked up a fairly complex routine to “Aint That a Kick in the Head” — even if the prop marquee was unnecessary, that olde-tyme-y shuffle step with arms and legs extended was terrific — but I was surprised none of the judges mentioned that Ralph looked awfully unsteady as he turned a one-legged Karina during the routine’s final moments. Maybe they were just distracted by Karina’s hideous pink taffeta gown with a missing midriff and shimmering gloves. (Moment of brutal honesty: Does anyone else wish Ralph had been paired with Edyta instead of the self-described “sexy, sultry dancer of the ballroom”?) Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 8; Bruno, 8. Total: 24.

Chris Jericho and Cheryl Burke, Cha Cha Cha: Why do I suddenly crave donuts?
I don’t know if Chris’ declaration that he just wanted to “make the donuts and win this thing” was some kind of wrestling reference, but it sure got me off on the right foot with the WWE star (who I’m going to admit I’d never heard of prior to his DWTS casting.) I also really dug that shot of him in the wrestling ring, suspended in midair, with his head pointed directly toward the mat. Terrifying! Len was right that Cheryl’s routine, set to “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” could’ve used a tad more difficulty, but you can’t dock any points from Chris in terms of embracing the cheesy spirit of the show. There was a leap from the stage, the removal of pleather sleeves to display a pair of studded bicep bands, and a fine self-assessment when it was all said and done: “I did it, and it didn’t kill me.” Chris was, in DWTS season 12 terms, the male Kendra, even though Len was right when he said the man’s hips “are allergic to music.” I don’t know why I’m worried about this dude being the shock boot of our very first results night, but I hope it’s just faulty intuition. Chris deserves to stick around, based on dancing alone, not to mention his willingness to wear whatever campy concoction Cheryl and the DWTS styling team throw at him. (Then again, he’s worn this, this, and this at his day job.) Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 6; Bruno, 6. Total: 19.

“Psycho” Mike Catherwood and Lacey Schwimmer: Will they be the first couple out?
Hey, sorry, “Psycho Mike,” but somebody’s got to go first. And your joke about your lack of dancing skill making up for “being the least well-known person in the cast” may be all too prescient. Lacey’s ragged, two-tone hair and colorless Rubix Cube belt worked hard to distract from Mike’s Tin-Man-after-a-rainstorm gait, but ultimately, not even the contestant himself looked like he was having much fun. As Len pointed out, dancing is movement to music; Mike did move and there was music. That’s about all you can say, really, without being overtly cruel. Scores: Carrie Ann, 5; Len, 4; Bruno, 4. Total: 13. (Fair, and yet was this really a point worse than Wendy?)

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Cha Cha Cha: Has ABC already signed Kirstie to a holding deal to get her on a new or existing series for fall 2011?
Seriously, this needs to happen (even if it’s just Kirstie subbing for Brooke until the pretty, pretty robot is outfitted with a personality chip). The woman does self-deprecating in the best possible way: Hilarious, without being self-destructive. Kirstie’s rehearsal footage deserved 9s across the board, with the comedienne noting everything would be easier if she was age 22 and a size zero. As it is, though, while the curvaceous 60-year-old brings a great sense of humor to the ballroom, she’s also a total bombshell, thrusting her hips in perfect sync with her insanely chiseled partner, then pausing to lift a breast with a knowing glance to the audience. Kirstie far exceeded her stated goal of “staying upright on my feet for the entire dance.” In fact, she earned a “best foot-placement of the night” from Bruno and “looked as though [she] felt good doing it,” said Len. Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 7; Bruno, 8. Total: 23.

What did you think of the DWTS season premiere? Did it live up to your expectations? Were any of the celebs better or worse than you’d expected them to be? How about Kirstie and Ralph’s “makeout” session going into commercial? And who forgot to detach Brooke’s Kentucky Derby hat from the side of her dress? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.