Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kirstie Alley: in it to win it

Get one thing straight, people. I never watch Dancing with the Stars. It's just too cheesy and spangly and phony. OK, I did watch Kate Gosselin until she was eliminated, but that was that.

I don't quite know how I got hooked in this time, but I am ashamed to admit that, like a lot of people, I began to follow Kirstie Alley because I was surprised that she'd even try a thing like this. I think a lot of people tuned in to see her fail.

The thing about Kirstie is that she rampages through life with a lusty recklessness that kind of reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor. She's up, she's down; she's a Vulcan in Wrath of Khan, she's a wisecracking comedienne on Cheers; she's fat, she's thin, she's on Oprah showing off her body in a bikini, then, shit, she's fat again!

Because of her yo-yoing weight, women view her with a mixture of compassion and scorn. For God's sake, an attractive woman like that - a woman who used to look downright sultry, with smoky eyes and a husky, almost Kathleen Turner-esque voice - how could she ruin it all with nachos and beer? On top of that, she made a desperate grab at restoring her career by starring in a "reality" show called Fat Actress. It was a case of "look at me, I'm pathetic," and I had to look away.

But this is a different Kirstie, feisty, energetic, and determined to win. In a marriage of opposites, she has been paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, a man who has that arrogant indifference (combined with a prowling panther's body) that attracts women like kamakaze flies. The two of them either hit it off, or hit each other, I'm not sure which.

Her first dance was dynamite and wowed the judges, who were probably feeling sorry for her right out of the gate. I think it was a cha-cha, the kind of dance where your feet can't be half an inch out of place. She was rather heavy but looking sultry again, and her joy in performing was evident.

There followed a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs which somehow reflected the course of Kirstie's life: Max's leg collapsed under him and both of them tumbled to the floor. This was a fault in choreography, as far as I am concerned - a 200-lb. woman should not throw her whole weight on a 150-pound man's knee. But it was painful to see the "fat girl" fall, and I am sure many people sneered.

And just when you thought she had (literally) picked herself up again, there she was sitting on the floor frantically fiddling with her shoe. It had partly come off and she was trying to get the strap back on. It was an awkward moment, but somehow they graced through it.

After fast-forwarding innumerable boring routines by I-don't-care-who (including that guy who used to be the Karate Kid, who seems to be cleaning the floor with his feet), my admiration for the Big K just grows. We're coming up to the finals next week, and Kirstie's still in! It's obviously gruelling work for a 60-year-old of substantial build. The rehearsal scenes look painful: she always seems to be falling down. She looks blowsy and dishevelled, and you wonder how in the world she'll ever make it.

But every week it's the same: she somehow pulls herself together and, tossing back that caramel mane, struts out onto the dance floor with her Ukrainian (or whatever-he-is) paramour. She sells the dance through sheer acting talent and a kind of voluptuous joie de vivre. When she and Maks or Max or whatever-he's-called did their Argentine tango, he showed off her considerable weight loss by lifting her gracefully and effortlessly off the floor.

Kirstie Alley is more than twice the age of most of the other dancers and at least 50 pounds heavier, though every week more of it seems to melt away. In reality, she's rehearsing and rehearsing (and cursing) it off. She's in it to win it. It's not likely, but she'll give the others (and who cares what their names are anyway? That guy with the Chiclet teeth, that blonde, or those blondes - hey, are they really the same person?) a good run for their money.

Kirstie Alley is back, and we're glad to see her center-stage where she belongs. Cheers.