Reality Check: 'Dance Moms' steps up the drama


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When last we observed the joys and tribulations of Lifetime's "Dance Moms," Penn Hills studio owner Abby Lee Miller was throwing a hissy fit and abandoning her girls -- and the Moms -- at an out-of-state competition.

Thus ended Season 2. Happily, last Tuesday's Season 3 debut came less than three months later and we discovered the reason for Abby's sudden departure was... really not going to be explained.

Not since the 'RuPaul's Drag Race" reunion, when Willam offered up a lame excuse for getting kicked out of the competition, have we been so let down. Accountability, people.

This brief exercise in she said/she said didn't really matter, because, as usual, Abby had pyramids to reveal, new routines to teach and fights to engage.

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Holly Hatcher-Frazier -- "Dance Mom Holly" to legions of the show's fans around the world -- is shown once again as the voice of reason amid the chaos. Her daughter is Nia.

"This season has a lot of the same elements as the previous seasons, and you will see a lot of familiar strands of stories that keep resurfacing," she said earlier the week.

"But there are new dimensions to them... there's a little bit more background brought into the stories and I think the audience gets to see more of why we do the things we do."

"Dance Moms," which runs new episodes every Tuesday, has settled into a rhythm that provides viewers with numerous clear elements of drama, she said.

"You have the dance, which is the primary focus. There is this parent-teacher conflict. Then there is this other dynamic of mothers and daughters that is a whole other side to the show that is appealing to families, because there is no rule book on being a parent."

Last but not least is the interaction of the moms, who are expected, nay, demanded to sit, watching hours of classes and rehearsals. A conflict last season involved the fact that Ms. Hatcher-Frazier, a former middle-school principal and Fulbright Scholar with degrees from Williams College, Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania, was often absent due to work.

She ended up leaving her job.

"It was a tough decision to make; I've been in education for just about 20 years," she said. "Being an educator is just as much a part as being a mom and a wife. At the same time... something had to go."

The idea of not continuing with "Dance Mom," she said "was not an option. Nia loves the show. She loves being on television."

Lifetime has a spin-off show, "Dance Moms: Miami," that launched a few months back. So far, there have been no showdowns between the Abby Lee Miller dancers and the kids from Stars, but it would be a natural.

'American Ninja Warrior'

For really daring feats of strength and agility, with just a dash of insanity, look no further than "American Ninja Warrior (Sundays on G4, Mondays on NBC).

Mt. Lebanon motion graphics artist Danny Johnson advanced to the national finals by placing 10th at the Northeast Regional in Miami. He was shown surviving a misstep on a bungee-cord bridge in the qualifying round, then making it far into an even tougher obstacle course the following day.

Brian Senta, 23, a native of Palmer, Alaska who is getting his graduate degree in software engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University, also was chosen to compete.

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But he couldn't master the trampoline leap to the jumping bars, and fell into the water.

"Everyone failed at that... the trampolines are unpredictable," said Mr. Senta, who has an outdoorsy background that includes cross country skiing.

Although he didn't reach the regional final, he said he's eager to return.

"I wouldn't call it my life's goal, but it's sort of my life outside of my professional life," he said.

His audtion tape is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipP5jVadp1E.

Mr. Johnson, 27, said watching himself on television was educational.

"Once you start on the course, it's a blur." But he learned more about climbing the salmon ladder, which was his Achilles heel in Miami.

The national final in Las Vegas -- which will be shown in about a month on NBC -- was a different sort of experience.

"It was pretty fun, staying in a hotel with 100 people doing Ninja Warrior stuff in the hallways. It was a pretty crazy group," Mr. Johnson said.

'Design Star'

After a shaky first week on "Design Star" (HGTV, Tuesdays), Hampton native Stanley Boyd Palmieri earned oohs and aahs from the judges. It was the dreaded "White room" challenge, and Mr. Palmieri made a bold choice by adding color only through light.

Penn Hills' Luca Paganico didn't fare as well, landing in the bottom three. His accessorizing was found lacking, although he was praised for creating an interesting light fixture.

'Breaking Pointe'

More of the personal lives of the Ballet West ballet company was revealed in the season's second episode (the CW, Thursdays): principal dancer Christiana Bennett is married to another of the dancers, and the Tilton brothers -- Rex and Ronald -- have a brother, Raymond, who is in the corps de ballet with the San Francisco Ballet.

Also, Chartiers Valley grad Allison DeBona shares an apartment with colleague Katie Critchlow, where they use their near-empty dining room as a studio for stretching. There was a bit more about what is shaping up to be sort of a love-hate thing between Ms. DeBona and Rex. And we are shown the early rehearsal stages of Jiri Kylian's "le petit mort," an incredibly sexy choreography involving men and fencing foils.

'Honey Boo Boo'

Although she has nothing to do with Pittsburgh, the return of Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson is such big news, we just have to mention this. In the past, TLC has given the star treatment to "Toddlers & Tiaras" stars such as Eden Wood -- who now has her own docu-series on Logo -- by bringing them back for another episode or two.

But in the case of Alana, who was 6 when she and her, um, earthy family were featured in an episode six months ago, TLC is springing for a six-part show.

"Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" will premiere in August. The pint-sized pageant pro isn't all that different from any other little kid acting out, but scenes of her guzzling a sugary drink she calls "Go-Go Juice" are a viral video hit (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABzMAuI1vj0).

A press release notes "when she's not chasing after crowns, Alana's with her family in rural Georgia doing what her family does best: four-wheeling through mud pits and picking up road kill for the family cookout."

Now there's an image.

Alana's family is described this way: "stay-at-home mom June, chalk-mining dad Sugar Bear, and sisters 12-year-old Lauryn 'Pumpkin,' 15-year-old Jessica 'Chubbs,' and 17-year-old pregnant Anna 'Chickadee.' "

As we learned from the original T&T episode, Mom is a "coupon queen" whose rooms are lined with dozens of products such as laundry detergent and paper towels. And, just as an aside -- who knew chalk is mined in Georgia?

tvradio

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published June 9, 2012 4:00 AM


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