Moments before eight o’clock and I am urging the taxi driver onward, cajoling him to consider stop signs as optional. He dutifully speeds as though he were rushing a fully dilated woman to the hospital or Kirstie Alley to the drive-through. Tires squeal. The brakes squeal. The driver squeals. Rules of the road be damned, my good man: Battle of the Blades is about to start!
Driveway, door, stairs two at a time, and—whew!—I enter to catch the opening credits. That old lady we clipped at the last intersection won’t have died in vain. I throw myself on the couch, relieved to have made it and ashamed to realize I am in the crushing grip of a full-blown addiction to a reality show about . . . ice dancing. I say unto you: help me, Canada.
A hit this fall for CBC, Battle of the Blades takes several talented former National Hockey League players and also Tie Domi, pairs them with champion female figure skaters and obliges them to perform routines on ice wearing tight trousers and tighter smiles. The show is brilliant in that it combines the two things Canadians love most: hockey players and the risk of serious head wounds. The way these guys grab their ladies by the ankles and swing them around . . . well, let’s just say the last woman I saw looking this nervous was prime minister Kim Campbell on election day.
As this past week’s episode began, there were five pairs remaining. So exciting! To the shock of some people every person ever, one of the pairs included Domi, who has survived several elimination rounds despite displaying all the grace and fluidity of an epileptic zebra. Domi is a real curiosity: he refuses to wear figure skates, presumably for manly-man-based reasons, but thinks nothing of slipping into a peach blouse. Meanwhile, loyal viewers were still getting over the recent ousting of Ron Duguay and Barb Underhill, which was tough to take because a) Barb was very emotional and weepy, and b) Ron’s departure robbed the competition of 98 per cent of its chest hair.
Part of the show’s appeal is the jarring experience of seeing former NHL players out of their element. Consider Claude Lemieux, who ranks first on ESPN’s list of Dirtiest NHL Players of All Time. Villainous Claude showed up for Latin Week sporting a smile and a jaunty neck scarf. Wha?? This past week, he was wearing a heavily sequined leopard-print shirt. It looked like something Elton John would think about slipping into but then, no, too garish. Claude’s been on his best behaviour but there’s only so long a man can hide his true nature. Surely he’s plotting a finale in which he “accidentally” drives Craig Simpson face-first into the boards and then slew-foots Jamie Sale.
Other enjoyable elements of the series:
Dick Button’s judging. It’s reason enough to tune in. A couple of weeks back, he told Domi that “you really pulsated out there tonight.” (Surely it was all the former Leaf could do to stop himself from replying, “Heh, that’s what she said.”) This past week, Button declared of a female skater: “She knows how to pull it out of her partners.” It’s too bad Dick won’t be around for the finale—by then he’ll be off to The Hague to face charges of crimes against innuendo.
Ron MacLean’s hosting. He’s all weird—enjoyably weird—out there on the ice. He’s got his Brow Furrower set to 11. He employs theatrical gestures. He SPEAKS in a MANNER meant TO! CONVEY! DRAMA!! It’s fun to guess the instructions he must have been given by the show’s producers. During Latin Week, for instance, I’m pretty sure from his pugilistic poses and rolling r’s that Ron was told to pretend to be the love child of George Foreman and Charo.
Guest judges. Celebrity judges have included Don Cherry, George Stromboulopetc. and Lanny McDonald’s moustache (Lanny McDonald also came). That was a strange night because Lanny kept complimenting the male skaters on their “soft hands.” Dude, it’s figure skating. No need to gay it up.
Audience cameos. CBC indulges the very American tradition of cutting away to celebrities in the audience, but with the distinctly Canadian twist of the celebrities being not all that famous. We’ve seen Jeffrey Buttle. We’ve seen Wendy Mesley for some reason. This past week we got a glimpse of Josée Chouinard. The camera stayed on her for two, maybe three seconds and she didn’t fall down. A new record!
This being a Canadian reality show, there is no backstabbing, no conflict, no cattiness—in other words, no reality. At best, the competitors work their way up to some amiable bickering during practice sessions. All the women are beautiful and talented, all the men are good sports and everyone’s a winner, even the losers. Those watching it on television are winners, too. You haven’t experienced real entertainment until you’ve seen Tie Domi try to emote while skating backwards.