Welcome to “Dumpster Dive,” a new recurring feature in which our intrepid reality-TV junkie will put on his rubber gloves and face mask and wade into the murky depths of the genre’s nastiest-looking offerings.
Lifetime’s Dance Moms raises an important societal question: Is it ever too late for a woman to drop her child off in front of the fire station with a note that says, “I’m sorry: I’m just not cut out for motherhood”? Based on this Wednesday’s episode — which featured one 8-year-old pondering suicide as the only possible alternative to dancing, and a raspy-voiced she-beast forcing a 13-year-old into a creepy dating situation — I’m going to go out on a limb and respond with a resounding, “Hell, no!”
Under the heading of “I watched it so you don’t have to,” let’s recount some of the “highlights” of shrieking harpy Abby Lee Miller dragging her emotionally tormented dance troupe and their mothers/jailers to Orlando, Fla., to compete in a “Star Power” competition.
• While choreographing a group number which envisioned the tiny dancers as sexy swimsuit models, Abby decides she needs a male presence to heighten the drama. Enter her prize pupil Brandon — Abby prides herself on all of “her boys” being masculine, naturally — to play a leering photographer and engage in some “partner work” with 13-year-old Brooke. “You’re getting older. You need to step up to the plate!” she screeches at the kids, lamenting that witnessing their “chemistry” is like “waiting for paste to get sticky.” (Eww.)
• Abby decides the only way to remedy the lack of sexual tension is to send Brooke and Brandon on a date. But wait, Brooke and Brandon have history (or, rather, they had crushes on each other back in grade school). “It never really went anywhere,” Brooke explains. [Insert the sound of me screaming "I SHOULD HOPE NOT!"] Next thing you know, the kids are riding bumper cars and staring awkwardly at a Ferris wheel at a place called Fun Spot USA. “I can drive you around when I get my license,” says Brandon, hopefully. But Brooke isn’t having it. “If Brandon thinks anything’s going to happen between us on this date, he’s crazy,” she says, becoming the first person to say anything reasonable in the entire episode. Then, proving she’s been raised on a steady diet of navel-gazing reality-TV ridiculata, Brooke adds: “I’m really not the same person I was when I was nine years old.”
• When the “Snapshot” dance finally occurs, our pre-teen troupe busts out onto the stage in bikinis, sunhats, and 11 lbs of troweled-on makeup and false eyelashes. My husband looks up from his comic book, aghast: “They shouldn’t look like women, for f–k’s sake!” Yep, that about sums things up. Thankfully, the team is not rewarded with a trophy for a routine that flirts with the outer edges of child pornography. Abby, however, is disgusted with the outcome.
• Luckily, Abby’s unbeaten champion, 8-year-old Maddie, takes home the crown in the pageant portion of the competition. Maddie says she’s a perfectionist… or that’s what her mom always tells her. “I would kill myself if I didn’t dance,” she offers cheerily, as I try to Google the contact info for National Child Protective Services.
• Our final bit of drama comes when Holly — who last week expressed concern that her African-American daughter Nia’s “ethnic” dance involved an afro wig, a tight leopard pantsuit, and a song called “My Name Is Laqueefa” (possibly by RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Shangela) — has another run-in with Abby over the demoralizing language she uses during training for a Bollywood solo. Holly, who I am pretty sure identifies herself as a school principal (hopefully a school for dolls or other inanimate objects), keeps pointing out the “vicious,” “really mean” treatment that Nia silently accepts, but at no point considers removing her daughter from Abby’s talons or the glare of Lifetime’s cameras. Finally, realizing she’s subjected her daughter to a horrific situation, Holly breaks down in tears. “What’s wrong?” Nia asks, comforting her mother, not the other way around. But fret not, there’s a happy ending. No, Holly doesn’t withdraw Nia from the competition and from Dance Moms altogether. Rather, Nia takes home a first-place trophy for her age group, so it was all worth it!
Buckle your seatbelts, girls, in the next few weeks, you’re headed to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Tahoe!
Have you watched Dance Moms? How do you feel about it? Is it valid entertainment, or too awful to exist? And most importantly: What show should I watch for the next installment of “Dumpster Dive”? Sound off below!